By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Dr. Hank Radda is retiring after 12 years as Provost of Grand Canyon University, effective July 15. That’s the headline. But there is so much more to the story.
To fully understand what Radda has witnessed, you would have had to been there with him as he walked around the campus for the first time on the day before Thanksgiving in 2010.
It led to one of the coolest experiences of his life, but what he saw didn’t look so hot.
Radda, who had come to interview for dean of the newly created College of Doctoral Studies, was taken aback by the sight of so many small, dated buildings. There was only one new structure – the two-story Education Building. GCU Arena was identifiable only by the steel framework that had been erected.
“Everything else was still flat and asphalt and broken down,” he said.
Then it happened. He saw the University’s energetic new president, Brian Mueller, whom he had worked for at the University of Phoenix. Mueller cheerfully volunteered to show him around and started talking about his plan to turn a decrepit campus into a beacon for higher education.
“We want to grow private Christian education and make it affordable to all socioeconomic classes,” he told Radda. “I want you to think of schools like Marquette, Baylor and Pepperdine.”
It seemed implausible, considering what Radda saw. But Mueller saw so much more.
“He had a picture in his mind of what he wanted to do,” Radda said. “I knew the man enough that if he can paint a picture, he knows how to bring a team together and bring an operation together.”
Today, Radda tells that story to GCU newcomers and asks how many of them wouldn’t have laughed out loud.
“I would say 99% of the population would have said, ‘OK, he’s just talking.’ Having worked for him previously, I knew it was a jump, but I said, ‘It’s possible.’ It was not unbelievable.”
So 20 minutes into a 40-minute walk, as Radda stood in front of what is now the Lope Shop, he said to himself, “I’m in. If he offers, I’m coming here.” He didn’t tell Mueller, but soon after he was offered the Provost role.
And look at what has happened. As Radda thinks back on these 12 amazing years, he keeps coming back to that walk.
“My reflection is that here’s a picture the man painted, and as he says, it has become so much more than that. It has become at least what he originally envisioned. The Honors College is bigger than the whole campus was and twice the GPA.
“The vision to do that, the ability to lead that, to manage that, to keep pushing and developing – it’s been an unbelievable journey. I don’t know what else to say. It’s a great way to end a professional career, to be part of something like that for the last 12 years.”
For his part on the fateful walk in 2010, Mueller saw in Radda the same type of foresight, forward thinking and, most importantly, an ability to get things done.
“Dr. Radda is a rare type of person in that he not only has a strong foundation academically but he also has the ability to operationalize that on a large scale,” Mueller said. “He has really accelerated everything we have been able to accomplish. To grow from 100 academic programs to 300 in such a short time, to achieve all of the accreditations we have received at a very high level, to assemble the high-quality faculty both on ground and online, to have the ability to continually assess learning outcomes of our programs while always putting students first … Dr. Radda has built academic excellence into everything that we do.”
Today, Radda gets to walk around the campus with accreditors and other visitors. What they see is vastly different from 2010.
“How did you guys do this?” they inevitably ask him when they see the sense of community and meet the students, faculty and staff.
“You send them literally books of data, hundreds of pages, tens of thousands of lines of data. They look at it, but it’s within 4-5 hours of being on the campus that that actually comes to fruition of, ‘What you guys are doing here is really different and special,’” he said.
Radda has led the academic team that made it special by fulfilling Mueller’s vision. And to fully understand the difference between the provost’s role at GCU and what provosts at other universities do, you first need to examine the role of a GCU dean.
“A dean in traditional higher education is a fundraiser,” Radda said. “Our deans are all working deans. They’re very much involved in the leadership and operation of their college. They’re very much involved in the leadership and operation and coordination with all the major services to build quality experiences for students. My job as provost is really just getting together with the deans and the vice presidents of academic affairs every week and planning. What are we working on? What are we doing for the fall? What are we doing for the next quarter? For online? What programs are we developing? What initiatives do we have?
“It’s regularly scheduled meetings with a lot of people looking at data, and then we have a number of other meetings weekly on how students are doing. We’re looking at real data on how to support students on a regular basis.
“My job is to be a coordinator of great talent and make sure I’m translating the vision of our president to my whole team and the folks within their areas.”
One of Radda’s current deans, Dr. Randy Gibb of the Colangelo College of Business, will replace him. He’s walking into an entirely different situation from what Radda inherited.
“We’ve got a great team here,” Radda said. “We’ve grown it from three colleges to nine, 100 programs to almost 300, all that innovation, and we’ve done it by thinking about education not only as the development of the person intellectually but also their character and who they are as people, supporting their growth and development from a Christian perspective.
“That’s not being done in a lot of places.”
Radda said he’ll miss many things about GCU, especially the colloquiums and symposiums where students show their research and work. He’ll miss Commencement – he loves seeing the looks on the faces of graduates as they stride across the stage.
He added another experience to the memory bank recently as GCU administrators worked on the University’s new mission statement, which he calls “the icing on the cake.”
“It really put together everything that has been built here by so many people,” he added.
So now it’s time to retire to his five-acre ranch in Rio Verde and take care of wife Tania’s horses while she continues in her role as a member of GCU’s Online Full-Time Faculty. He also plans to spend more time with his large family, which mainly resides on the East Coast. He’d like to do some traveling with Tania and dreams of a trip to Spain and Portugal.
But wherever he goes, he will continue to revel in these 12 years.
“It’s been incredible,” he said. “It’s been hard work. I’ve got a little more gray. It’s like when you do a really good workout or you run a marathon, and someone asks, ‘Was it worth it?’ Of course! You don’t look back at those training days when you didn’t want to train, because you were part of that. You can lay your head down and feel like, ‘Hey, that was good.’
“I hope to stay involved in some positive ways. Not fulltime, that’s all.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
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