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An Alma Mater 50 Years in the Making

In addition to the honorary Doctor of Laws degree he received from the MSU College of Law in 1993, Clif Haley became an MSU undergraduate student in 2003.

Clif Haley

Five decades ago, Clif Haley juggled four years of evening classes at Detroit College of Law with his day job as a labor relations manager at Chrysler Corporation.

It was the start of a long and rewarding relationship with DCL and its later incarnation as MSU Law – and one that resulted in Clif becoming a true Spartan in every sense of the word. He holds a doctoral degree from MSU Law, led its Board of Trustees, taught as an adjunct faculty member, sent his three daughters to MSU, completed a second undergraduate degree on campus himself, and became a significant donor.

He put his juggling skills to the test at MSU. In addition to the honorary Doctor of Laws degree he received from the MSU College of Law in 1993, he became an MSU undergraduate student in 2003, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in interdisciplinary humanities from the MSU College of Arts and Letters. He attended classes in the morning and taught Mergers & Acquisitions at the Law College in the afternoon.

Clif and his wife Carolyn live on Drummond Island in northern Lake Huron, where he is co-owner of the Drummond Island Resort and Conference Center. An avid pilot since 1965, he would fly his plane – aka “the school bus” – two or three times a week to Lansing for board, teaching and undergraduate obligations.

Clif was an early advocate of the 1995 affiliation of DCL and Michigan State. “I thought it was a chance of a lifetime to combine the law school with a Big Ten university, a win-win for both institutions,” he says. “Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I already had a strong emotional connection to MSU through my daughters.”

Clif’s professional life included 17 years in domestic and international management at Ford Motor Company followed by an opportunity to create a new leasing and rental venture – which several years later launched a long and rewarding career at Budget Rent a Car where he became chairman and CEO.

When DCL started its new life in East Lansing in 1997, so did Clif – becoming a member of the MSU-DCL Board of Trustees. He was elected President in 2001, serving in this role until becoming Founding Board Chairman, a position he stepped down from last year. He also continued his adjunct teaching responsibilities for 13 years.

As president of the board, Clif worked closely with former MSU President Peter McPherson and then-Provost Lou Anna K. Simon to make DCL a constituent college of the university and to change the college’s name to MSU College of Law. His dream was realized when he led the initiative that aligned the leadership structure of the Law College with MSU in 2011, the final steps of the model of a private Law College within a public university.

Clif understood the opportunities the affiliation would offer. Chairman of the first MSU-DCL fundraising campaign, he flew himself around the country to speak to DCL grads. “My message reflected past, present and future – the affiliation would give this historic, practice-ready, in-city law school a unique opportunity to raise its reputation and its regional, national and international image; and we could build a strong capital foundation, which as a businessman I knew was essential to having the resources to achieve Big Ten law school status.”

During the campaign, Clif and Carolyn donated $1 million to the college. “Carolyn is a former assistant principal in Chicago, and passionate about education,” he says. The couple modified their trusts in 2005 to provide chritable bequests for the first endowed chair at the law college. He and Carolyn recently added $1 million to their original charitable bequest commitment for the chair, scholarships and the proposed DCL Commemorative Plaza.

“The opportunity to give back has been emotionally rewarding for us, and honors the proud DCL heritage that prepared me to make a change in my life and with my life,” he says. “We know our endowment will help MSU Law to continue to provide outstanding education to many students for many years to come.”

Haley’s three daughters graduated from MSU before him, as did his younger brother; two grandchildren after him; and one grandson graduated last year from MSU Law. “We have a lot of Spartan fans in the family, we wear green whenever MSU has a football or basketball game – and text messages hum,” he says.

Regarding his deep connections with MSU, Clif sums it up this way: “I embraced MSU Law as the alma mater I never knew I had.”