‘Extraordinary leader’ Gilbertson commemorated

This Monday marks the end of an era.

In his 24 years as president, Eric Gilbertson had the opportunity to work with hundreds of students, faculty and administrators.

“I want to say just how grateful I am to have had this opportunity,” Gilbertson said. “I’m proud of people we’ve hired that have done great things, I’m proud of students who stepped up, led and developed and I’m really proud that a lot of students have come to love this place.”

Gilbertson officially stepped down as president Monday as Don Bachand assumed the position.

Mary Kowaleski, administrative assistant to the president and secretary to the Board of Control, has worked with Gilbertson for several years.

“He’s an extraordinary leader. He has high standards, and he leads by example. I’ve learned so much from him,” she said. “He cares deeply about the institution, and he cares deeply about the students. I’ll miss the passion he brought to his work each day.”

Gilbertson said one of his favorite things about the position was the variety of areas he was involved in, including working with architects, accountants, police officers, administrators, faculty members, state legislators and students, among others.

“It’s just a really fascinating place. I’ve never been bored in this job,” Gilbertson said. “We’re an academic institution, a conference center, an art museum, an athletic enterprise, the biggest restaurant and landlord in the region and in some ways a small city. That’s what makes this job so interesting, and it’s why I’ve stayed at it so long.”

Carlos Ramet, executive assistant to the president and executive director of public affairs, said he first met Gilbertson when Ramet was hired in the English department 23 years ago. Gilbertson helped him navigate the campus and get settled in.

Ramet said Gilbertson consistently cared about the well-being of his staff, through personal connections and by offering chances for professional growth.

“Eric has provided tremendous opportunities for staff to develop,” he said. “He has looked for the talents and strengths in his staff, and he’s tried to focus on those strengths and have people develop them in an appropriate way.”

Gilbertson will be returning next fall as a faculty member. He will be teaching constitutional law and a few courses in the graduate programs.

He hopes to interact more with students through his classes and by possibly supervising honors theses. Gilbertson also plans on continuing to attend plays, competitions, musical performances and athletic events.

“I’m going to miss having the sense of being able to see the institution as a whole and watch all this interesting stuff happen. I’ll still be watching it, but it won’t be quite the same,” Gilbertson said. “I’ll probably miss graduations, standing there shaking hands with the graduates. That’s a very special moment.”

Many changes have taken place at SVSU over the years, including changes in the curriculum and academic programs, the construction of new buildings and the development of fellowship programs and endowments.

“I’m in a very different job than the one I took. I’m sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, in the same room, but it’s a very different job because the institution has changed,” Gilbertson said. “I hope it’s changed in positive ways, and I hope it hasn’t changed in some ways. But the job is a different one. It’s more interesting, it’s more complicated, but it’s been enormously rewarding, too.”

Gilbertson said that he is looking forward to the university’s future.

“I hope to watch the institution continue to be healthy and successful, and I have every confidence that the person that’s going to be sitting in this chair will give it very good leadership,” he said. “I want to be a loyal supporter of the new president. Don Bachand will be a fine one.”

Ramet said the university’s growth is one thing that Gilbertson will be remembered for.

“He has created the modern SVSU,” Ramet said. “He built on the foundation that his predecessors, Sam Marble and Jack Ryder, established, but he’s taken us into the next stage.”

Despite his departure from the role of president, Kowaleski said Gilbertson will remain an important presence at SVSU.

“I think his legacy will be how much he really, truly cared about the institution and the students. He’s finished as president, but he’ll still be a familiar face on campus,” she said. “So it’s really not goodbye. As President Gilbertson would say, ‘On we go.’”

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