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TCU Magazine Feature

A man on a mission
Chancellor Michael R. Ferrari
1998-2003

By Rick Waters

"Thus in all these ways, transmit this city, not only not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to you." - The Athenian Oath

Every May and December, Chancellor Michael R. Ferrari speaks of the pledge taken by young men of ancient Greece. It is the quintessential commencement message: Leave society, community, even the very end of life more enriched than when it was given. But as thought-provoking as the words are for graduates, they also serve as a reminder to himself. Is TCU greater and more beautiful than when it was entrusted to him?

Five too-short years later, the answer is overwhelmingly affirmative. This "uncommon place," as Ferrari often calls it, has been transformed. Its mission has been sharpened, a strategic blueprint boldly charted. Its colleges have been reorganized, its classrooms remodeled. With new facilities for science, business, recreation and athletics, hardly a block of campus escapes signs of growth. All the while, applications have increased, along with student financial aid. Faculty and staff speak of having greater input. The university has expanded its graduate offerings, launched programs for children with disabilities and established annual scholarships for minority students.

As one trustee puts it, "In less than half a decade, Chancellor Ferrari took us from an institution that was tired in some respects, maybe aimless in others, and rejuvenated the whole community. And he did it simply by laying out the beginning of a vision, then allowing the community to shape it. He got TCU ready for the 21st century."

For this, Ferrari claims little credit. He says he's more communicator and collaborator than master planner. "Not me. We," he says simply.

While many measure his legacy in bricks and mortar, the true mark he leaves is of a spirit of inclusiveness. "We now have a university that can talk with itself because Mick is a champion of communication," says Provost William Koehler. "He opened up communication channels that never existed before and created a sense that we are all in this together."

Ferrari never intended to be a long-tenured chancellor. He said as much before he arrived. So he brought a sense of urgency to Fort Worth when he decided to make TCU the final stop in his distinguished career in American higher education. His passion quickly became so apparent that trustees and vice chancellors took to calling him "a man on a mission."

In his first State of the University address, Ferrari laid out his plan: "I genuinely believe that we have the opportunity -- and there aren't many institutions that have such an opportunity -- to be among the leading independent universities in the nation." Given TCU's extraordinary people and the foundation put in place by his predecessors, he imagined a grander stage. TCU already had programs highly respected in Texas, the Southwest and nationally, and all were poised for much more.

Ferrari had his own ideas, but he spent those early months listening and asking questions in the friendly, open manner that would become his trademark. With every conversation, more possibilities emerged.

"There began to be a change in the culture," says Dr. Sherrie Reynolds of the School of Education. "The university began to seem less top-down. People would look at Mick and say, ÔHere is someone who's really going around learning about things before taking action.' "

He started with the mission statement, which consumed several pages and was not distinctively TCU, in Ferrari's estimation. He imagined a solitary purpose sentence that would hold the university accountable and be equally appropriate on office stationery or on a billboard on Interstate 30.

He saw to the crafting of it personally, assembling a diverse cadre of campus leaders and meeting with them weekly. After several brainstorming sessions, he sensed a need for inspiration, so he read aloud from Colby Hall's History of TCU of the institution's rich heritage.

By the next session, the committee had pared its work to a page, then to a paragraph. But again Ferrari implored his team to refine the work. He wanted a mission that would "fit on a coffee cup."

"He challenged us to develop something that was not a jingle or a cliche," remembers Dr. Barbara Herman, associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs, "but a sentence that people could easily remember and rally around."

The result was just what Ferrari had hoped. To educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community. And it is everywhere: on formal napkins, classroom bulletin boards, even student election campaign posters. Students who give campus tours quote it perfectly to prospective undergraduates and their families. International leaders upon visiting TCU compliment its clarity and purpose.

Ferrari's legacy also will forever be linked to The Commission on the Future of TCU. Fresh from a similar venture at Drake, the commission became his goal from his first day in Fort Worth. Contrary to trustee-only models used elsewhere, the campaign he envisioned included constituents countywide.

"He believed that for TCU to accelerate its movement to distinction, it would be maximized with more people, those who knew the history of TCU, of who TCU is and what TCU aspires to be," said trustee Deedie Rose. "He wanted it to create an environment of trust and candor, so we could develop a vision not just of the board but of the whole community."

From November 1999 to October 2000, 17 task forces -- 500 campus and community leaders -- examined everything TCU, from the university's basic undergraduate experience to its strategic alliances.

"The effort was Herculean, to say the least," says Bill Thornton, president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. "But Mick was determined to include individuals and groups that hadn't been affiliated with TCU previously. And what came out of it was a blueprint, pulled from everyone's ideas, that has changed TCU and, in the process, changed how Fort Worth sees TCU."

From the commission, the university's five colleges were reorganized and expanded to seven, giving each room to develop its own uniqueness. The core curriculum was revitalized and student diversity enhanced. Undergraduate and graduate financial aid and scholarships were increased.

Ferrari convinced the trustees to consolidate tuition and fees into a single charge to align TCU with other prominent private universities and better reflect the value of the "TCU Experience." The result? Higher graduation rates. More incentive for students to finish their undergraduate degrees in four or five years while exploring a variety of courses without the barrier of cost.

Ferrari welcomed five new deans and worked with them to enhance existing programs and provide new ones. His favorite program, says Jan Ferrari, his wife of 38 years, is Community Scholars, an effort to attract students of color from inner-city high schools.

Ferrari took risks in bringing talent to TCU. He pushed for the hiring of David Minor, a successful businessman but non-academician, to run a new entrepreneurs program. The trustees agreed, and less than three years later, the James A. Ryffel Center for Entrepreneurial Studies is ranked among the top 50 programs of its kind in the nation.

He encouraged the resurgence of a nationally respected Division I-A athletics program and pushed for increasing support for faculty and staff development, including raises for non-salaried employees.

Then there's the obvious physical growth the campus has witnessed under Ferrari's watch. "It speaks a lot to his belief in the vision that he convinced the trustees to spend $150 million, some from endowment monies, for campus growth and renovation," says Larry Lauer, vice chancellor for marketing and communication.

In the last five years, more than 100 classrooms and laboratories have been remodeled and equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The university refurbished Waits and Milton-Daniel residence halls and built three apartment-style residential communities. Ferrari oversaw the completion of four major construction projects -- the William E. and Jean Jones Tucker Technology Center, the Steve and Sarah Smith Entrepreneurs Hall, the University Recreation Center, and the Charlie and Marie Lupton Baseball Stadium and Williams-Reilly Field.

While strong programs and strategic planning are pillars of Ferrari's goal to raise TCU to a new distinction, little-noticed details have been just as meaningful. He signed every diploma by hand -- sometimes as many as a thousand signatures -- every semester.

The concept stupefied Registrar Patrick Miller in 1998 when Ferrari suggested it, along with enlarging the university diploma and adding the founding date to the seal.

Miller protested: "You can't sign all of them. Do you know how long that would take?" Every TCU diploma until then had the signatures of the chancellor, deans and registrar stamped by machine.

Ferrari stood firm. "Students give us four or five years for an undergraduate degree," he replied. "They've earned. That's the least I can do."

"The ink won't last," Miller cautioned.

"Find an ink. Find a pen with ink that's permanent, as good as a stamp." So Miller did, and thus originated the TCU diploma pen, which resides at the chancellor's desk for future signatures.

It is one of many symbolic gestures Ferrari made, not for political correctness but because he deemed it the right thing to do.

When he learned that commencement exercises at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum employed a ramp for graduates with disabilities on one end of the stage and steps on the other side for everyone else, he had both removed and a single ramp built for everyone. All graduates deserve to ascend the stage and receive their diploma equally, he reasoned.

Observing the camaraderie of the Faculty Senate, he supported the formation of the Staff Assembly, then urged the two to work together. "He knows what all the issues are," says university librarian Robert Seal, "because he attends every meeting when he's not out of town." And Ferrari's inclusive nature has rubbed off. The traditional faculty-only luncheon that opens the academic year now includes university staff.

When the president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce asked him to organize an effort to reduce the city's dropout rate, Ferrari agreed, despite his packed schedule. He quickly turned the Stay in School initiative into a minicommission and so impressed members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that they gave him their annual leadership award. Ferrari was the first non-Hispanic to receive it.

He has an open-door e-mail policy for students and makes a point to respond, if only briefly, to every comment. During his first year, a group of undergraduates came to him upset that student food portions in the cafeteria were smaller than those of visitors, faculty and staff. So he joined them for lunch at The Main, went through the line the same as everyone else, and when they all sat down, sure enough, his helping was larger. The next week, portions were bigger.

Everyone's helpings seem bigger after five years under Mick Ferrari, and best of all, everyone has had a hand in the recipe. Is TCU stronger than when Ferrari arrived? Look around. The buildings. The programs. The culture. All suggest that this uncommon place has indeed reached a higher level of distinction. Higher levels await, but TCU knows where it is going. A man on a mission showed us the way.

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