Ferris State taps Grand Rapids Community College leader as likely new president
Current Grand Rapids Community College president Bill Pink will likely be the next Ferris State University president, FSU announced Monday.
Pink has held his current role since May 2017. If approved by an FSU Board of Trustees vote in May, he will replace current president David Eisler, who plans to retire June 30.
In his speech Monday, Pink referenced the popular musical “Hamilton” where Aaron Burr talks about wanting to be in the “room where it happens.”
Pink said in order to counteract the narrative that a college degree is not worth the effort, university leaders must be in the room where it happens whether that’s in Washington D.C., Lansing or on campus.
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“It makes no sense to me that higher education would not be in that room because we have to be in the room, so that we can have the voice that says ‘here is how we advance our citizens, here is how we help create and build and thrive community’,” he said. “It is the work that we do every day.”
Pink would step into a role at a public university that is hemorrhaging students. The school, located in Big Rapids in rural west Michigan’s Mecosta County, has seen enrollment drop 27 percent in five years, from 14,187 in fall 2016, to 10,361 students in fall 2021, according to university enrollment data.
Grand Rapids Community College had 12,685 full and part-time students in fall 2021.
Pink praised Ferris’ relationship with community colleges and high schools.
“It’s not just about how we build that stack of students…it's also about how we continue just to enhance people,” Pink said. “That is what higher education is all about.”
Pink would be the first African-American to serve as president of Ferris.
Before becoming president of GRCC, Pink was the college’s vice president and dean for Workforce Development. He also previously was vice president for academic affairs at Oklahoma State University, according to his bio on GRCC’s website.
GRCC Board of Trustees Chair David Koetje called the announcement “bittersweet” in a statement. He said Pink’s “students-first approach during the pandemic ensured West Michigan residents were able to continue their education and emerge stronger.”
Pink has an associate degree from York College in Nebraska, a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Christian University, a master’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma, and a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma, according to his bio.
Pink is on the executive committee of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the board of trustees of the Higher Learning Commission, according to a Ferris State news release. He is also on the boards of the American Council on Education, Spectrum Health West Michigan, Heart of West Michigan United Way, the Economic Club of Grand Rapids and the American Association of Community Colleges. He is the vice chair of The Right Place economic development organization and will become chair in 2024.
Eisler is the second-longest serving president in university history, according to a news release announcing his retirement.
Board of Trustees chair Amna Seibold announced Pink as the candidate finalist Monday. She defended the university’s choice to have a confidential process where applicants’ names are not announced, which has faced scrutiny.
She said this helped applicants have confidence they could apply without encountering suspicion from their current employers. Seibold said this decision also allowed women and people from underrepresented backgrounds to apply with confidence without facing barriers at their current jobs.
The Board of Trustees selected a search firm in June 2021 and there were over a dozen listening sessions about what people wanted in the next president, Seibold said.
The school received over 70 applicants, Seibold said. There were 12 candidates who received interviews. From there, there were four finalists who presented to the Board of Trustees.
Associate professor and Ferris Faculty Association member Penney Nichols-Whitehead said she had “serious reservations about the lack of transparency” in the search but ultimately decided it was important to take part in the search advisory committee. She said despite her reservations, she has been “pleasantly surprised.”
She praised Pink’s work with unions, recruiting and retaining students and balancing the nuances within the overall mission of higher education.
“He knows we need to work hard to counteract the anti-education rhetoric that is currently circulating while still supporting technical training; which is very important,” Nichols-Whitehead said. “I think Dr. Pink really is ideally suited to (be) the next president of Ferris.”
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