Remembering a legacy

President David Eisler reflects on his near two decades of service

President Eisler stands in front of a book case in his office
President Eisler has overseen a multitude of changes in his 19 years as President of this university. Photo by: Rebecca VanderKooi | Opinions Editor

After a 19-year tenure, President David Eisler is retiring at the end of this school year, leaving him to reflect on his legacy at the university.

Although he is departing from the university as president, he plans to return in a part-time capacity as a professor after spending a year off.

Introduction and early time at Ferris

Eisler has a trifecta of music degrees, earning a Bachelor of Music in clarinet performance from the University of Michigan, a Master of Music from Yale University and a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Michigan.

Eisler has worked in higher education for the past 47 years. Before his time at Ferris, he worked as the Academic Affairs Provost at Weber State University. In 2003 he took over the presidency from interim President Scott P. Hill-Kennedy.

Eisler explained that his background as a Provost at Weber State uniquely prepared him for his position as the President of Ferris. Additionally, there are similarities between Weber State and Ferris, since they both have associate degrees and technical programs, so Eisler was already familiar with those types of programs.

In 2005, Eisler started Founders Day, which is now the first Thursday of the fall semester. It celebrates the history and legacy of Ferris State University and provides a place for students, faculty and staff to come together.

Provost Bobby Fleischman explained that a reason Eisler has been an excellent match to Ferris has been his respect for the Founders.

David Pilgrim, the Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion and Strategic Initiatives at Ferris explained that in 2003 when Eisler became president, he was the ideal candidate for what the university needed.

“Ferris needed a president who wanted to be here, one who embraced our traditions—and one who saw our potential. This is what President Eisler brought to Ferris. Also, Ferris needed a president who was an untiring, determined advocate for our students,” Pilgrim said.

Pilgrim’s role was created in 2007 by Eisler to help promote diversity and inclusion on campus. Since 2007, various offices have been created that are devoted to serving underrepresented populations, including the Office of International Education, the Center for Latinx Studies, the Veterans Resource Center and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center.

“I think that was very important for our campus because then we had a person [who was] a great expert on diversity, equity and inclusion… You could see the change in our leadership too, because all of a sudden, that was involved in all of our conversations,” Eisler said.

Greatest achievements

Over Eisler’s 19-year tenure at Ferris, many changes have taken place throughout the university, and it would be impossible to recount them all.

One focus has been reducing student debt. Eisler explained that net costs for students have been reduced by 7% over the past decade. Michigan universities have seen an average of a 12% increase in tuition costs, so Ferris has a 20% decrease compared to the average.

“I believe that President Eisler should be commended for addressing debt among our students. Several years ago, we were on a frightening trajectory for student debt, but he led the campus to take significant actions to decrease that debt,” Pilgrim said.

Besides lowering tuition costs, another focus for Eisler has been fundraising, since it wasn’t a priority when he started in 2003.

“[In 2003], our Ferris Foundation endowment was $18 million. Today, our Ferris Foundation endowment is $122 million,” Eisler said.

Eisler explained that due to something that happened with a state retirement requirement in the fall of 2016, Ferris was one of seven institutions to receive $18 million.

“I encouraged our board of trustees to give that $18 million to our foundation. And then I encouraged the foundation to free up $3 million a year and use that as matching gifts for new scholarship endowments,” Eisler said. 

There have since been over 250 new Ferris Foundation endowments.

Another significant change has been the $400 million spent in construction and renovation since Eisler took office. Current examples of this are the new Virtual Learning Center and Alumni Renovation. Other examples include the building of the Ferris Building in Grand Rapids, the creation of the University Center and athletic expansions, to name a few of the many projects.

Another positive change has been that the graduation rate increased substantially during Eisler’s tenure.

“Back in 2003, when I started at Ferris, I think our six-year graduation rate was like 37%, now it’s 62%,” Eisler said.

Eisler has been able to connect with the student population by playing his clarinet during the pep band. Eisler explained that he enjoyed the opportunity to travel to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the national basketball championship, where he played with the pep band. Similarly, he traveled to Tampa in 2012 for the hockey championship.

“It’s a way that I can relate to students because music is kind of a universal language and get to know people, and you’re sitting there playing with them. And it’s just, it’s just a great way to know a group of great students,” Eisler said.

Student Government President Paige Abromitis explained that this past year she’s had the opportunity to work with Eisler on various projects, specifically centered around the needs and opinions of the student body.

“He has so much school pride that you’ll see him at every sporting event on campus and even see him play in the pep band as well,” Abromitis said.

What’s next

Eisler explained that the decision to move from this position wasn’t an easy one, but he is ready to move on to new things. However, he does plan to still be involved in the Ferris community.

“I think it’s time for the next generation of leadership to step forward. When you’re in this role, no matter how hard you do it, you have to understand that you take this responsibility of working with an institution, you’re going to do the best you can. Then you’re going to turn it over to the next person, and you’re going to hope that they do even better than you,” Eisler said.

While Eisler is anticipating a year entirely off in which he will travel with his wife and relax, he is also planning to come back as a part-time professor the following year.

Eisler explained that he believes incoming president Dr. Bill Pink will be an excellent fit for Ferris. There is already a significant relationship between GRCC, where Pink is coming from, and Ferris, which Eisler thinks will help Pink be a natural fit.

“I only encouraged one person to apply for the presidency at Ferris, and it was Bill Pink, I had nothing to do with the selection, but I was very excited [about it],” Eisler said.