Ferris history was made on Monday, March 28 when Dr. Bill Pink was publicly named the presidential search finalist. For the first time since the university’s founding, a person of color has been selected for the position.
Pink is completing his fifth year as president of Grand Rapids Community College. He worked as their vice president and dean of workforce development for two years prior. GRCC released a statement calling Pink’s decision “bittersweet.”
As the sole finalist, Pink is confident that he will be officially named Ferris’ president elect following the Board of Trustee’s vote in May. Looking into the future, Pink believes institutions need to stand strong during what he calls an educational crossroads.
“We have those who are actually questioning and doubting the value of a higher education… Friends, that tells us that higher education is in a very pivotal place,” Pink said.
Because Ferris offers a variety of educational paths from technical certificates to doctoral degrees, Pink trusts the university’s “vision” during this crossroads. He hopes to use his position as president to foster supportive environments for all students, regardless of the path they take.
“If there’s anything I’m going to want to accomplish, it is to make sure we provide more opportunities for our students to do what they want in the smoothest way possible,” Pink said. “That means you have to support everybody. You have to help all these folks in doing their work so that they can do their work for you. My job is to make their jobs easy.”
Pink plans on having a president’s advisory council made up of students. He looks forward to forming a relationship with students on campus and wants to offer this council as an opportunity for them to directly interact with the president’s office.
While addressing the audience of faculty, staff, the Board of Trustees and the Search Advisory Committee, Pink expressed how honored he was to be chosen as the finalist.
“You will find that I’m a person that believes in just kind of soaking in moments. Because sometimes, the moments that we are able to truly enjoy, the moments we are able to truly drink don’t come so often,” Pink said.
Pink’s speech prompted waves of applause and laughter from the audience. His friendly attitude and presence extended directly to the SAC.
“I do not envy your process in terms of having to select another president, but I applaud your choice,” Pink said.
Chair Amna Seibold spoke on behalf of the BOT. Seibold addressed the tensions that formed between faculty and administration due to the confidential nature of the presidential search.
“I want to apologize because I may not have communicated enough to ensure that this campus community understood our process, steps and our reasoning for taking those steps,” Seibold said.
The SAC, according to Seibold, was able to form a diverse pool of highly qualified candidates because of the confidentiality. Over 70 people applied for the position. Out of the four candidates presented to the BOT, three were current college presidents, two were Black, one was Latino and one was female.
Penny Nichols-Whitehead, the lone Ferris Faculty Association member on the SAC, spoke at length about her reservations about the lack of transparency. She wondered if the entire search was “performative,” and even second guessed her decision to join the committee.
“I’m a skeptic and also a pragmatic pessimist. I’m always working for the best and hoping for the best but preparing for and really expecting the worst,” Nichols-Whitehead said.
Despite this, Nichols-Whitehead did not see one name on the committee’s short list of candidates that she would not have “wholeheartedly supported.” After Pink’s selection, Nichols-Whitehead is now “cautiously optimistic.”
“I look forward to seeing [Pink] help Ferris live up to its history and the ideals of our founder and make Ferris a true leader in providing education regardless of race, station or, I would add, aspiration,” Nichols-Whitehead said.
Sitting president David Eisler sat front row when his successor was announced. Eisler thinks of his nearly 20 years as president as an honor to him and his family.
“I’m ecstatic that Dr. Pink is going to be the next president of Ferris State University,” Eisler said. “I think he’s an excellent choice. He’s got a really great background. He understands two-year education, four your education workforce development and he has great contacts in West Michigan in Grand Rapids. And I think his transition to being president and Ferris will be very smooth and successful.”
Eisler’s retirement will begin after the BOT votes to officiate Pink’s presidency in May. Eisler still plans to be a present figure in the Ferris community after his presidential tenure ends.