Michael R. Ferrari -- who puts the pedal to the metal on July 1 -- knows
where he's been... and he knows where he's going, too.
David Van Meter
senior Cheah Chun-Wei saw it in the man's eyes.
At the March
26 press conference where Michael R. Ferrari was announced as TCU's ninth
chancellor, Cheah was one of about 100 students who braved a media swarm
to catch the first campus glimpse of Ferrari and his wife of 33 years,
had to see it, and it was there," Cheah said. "I know he'll be a good
chancellor." Of course, he had seen that look before, four years earlier.
Fresh from Malaysia, Cheah had missed freshman orientation and, on the
Saturday he went looking for answers, the campus was deserted. Almost.
two floors of Sadler Hall and had arrived on the third when he saw, as
he describes it, "an older, slightly balding man." The man offered to
help, escorting Cheah to the Student Center and eventually directing a
staff person to see that he received the tour and information he needed.
was looking at me and this guy, and I couldn't figure out why," Cheah
said. "He told me his name was Bill Tucker.... Only after he left did
someone tell me he was the chancellor."
Chancellor Michael R. Ferrari
May 12, 1940
Bachelor's in social sciences, master's in sociology and doctorate
in organizational theory and behavior, Michigan State University
President, Drake University, 1985-1998
Wright State University, 1983-1985
scholar, Center for the Study of Higher Education, University of
president, Bowling Green State University, 1981-1982
and executive vice president, Bowling Green, 1978-1981
president of resource planning, Bowling Green, 1973-1978
provost, Bowling Green, 1972-1973
of planning, budgeting and institutional studies, Bowling Green,
chair, department of administrative sciences, Kent State University,
1970-1971 Assistant to the director of residence life and resident
hall head adviser, Michigan State, 1966-1968
to the dean of men, University of Cincinnati, 1965-1966
positions, professor of management, Kent State University; professor
of management, Drake University; professor of management, Wright
State University; and professor of management and sociology, Bowling
Green State University
-- Increased the academic profile of the entering first-year class
from a 22.5 ACT and 3.1 GPA to 25.5 and 3.5, respectively
Increased the endowment from $14 million to $85 million
Raised $130 million in Drake's first major fund raising drive, Campaign
for Drake, ending in 1994
Initiated $50 million in new construction and facility improvements
in libraries, law and legal services, science and pharmacy, teacher
education, performing and visual arts, athletics and recreation,
landscaping and parking
Established a "computer in every residence hall room" program and
So what did
Cheah see in Ferrari?
same thing TCU Trustee Denny Alexander saw. Chair of the search committee
that went through eight months and 100 candidates to reach Ferrari, Alexander
said at the press conference that "TCU has been blessed, and now I believe
it has been blessed again."
it was closer to what Elena Hicks, director of freshman admissions and
also a search committee member, experienced.
background, Hicks hears her first name pronounced all sorts of ways, no
matter how many times she repeats it. Alayna. Ellena. Elenia.
seven other search members met with Ferrari for the first time at the
Worthington Hotel last fall. "We spent three hours with him," she said.
"When I saw him a couple of months later at his first formal visit to
campus, I went up to him and was about to introduce myself again, and
he said my name before I could--'Elena, how's it going? How is admissions?'
I expected him to remember my face, but to remember my name, the correct
pronunciation of it, where I worked, what I did, that impressed me." But
Cheah merely received a handshake, a hello and a 17-second conversation.
What could he have possibly seen in such a brief meeting?
THE MONONGAHELA River gave life to the once-red-hot Pittsburgh steel industry,
swift waters floating more freight and coal to the Iron City than any
river its size. Sitting here in The Grind, the campus coffee shop in the
basement of Reed Hall, Michael Ferrari--he prefers Mick--sips his joe
and remembers his childhood memories of the rusty-brown water he loved
as a kid and the blue-collar community anchored at its banks, his Monongahela
drinking decaf, mind you; the 58-year-old spends 45 minutes on his treadmill
each morning and keeps a schedule that outperforms the effects of a double
espresso. That pace has only quickened. Try being an outgoing president
at one institution ("If Drake is so great that I should support its $190
million campaign, then why are you leaving?") and an incoming chancellor
at another ("So tell us your plans for TCU, in detail, for the next 10
years, and how are we going to achieve them?"). Ferrari talks about the
dual role, but doesn't seem affected by the added stress. Wife Jan said
it usually takes something "monumental" for her husband to even raise
his voice. "Flare-ups" in the Ferrari household, she says with a smile,
are reserved for her.
I go back to that part of the a couple of times a year," said Ferrari;
his mother and older brother, a retired engineering executive from Penn
State, are still there, and Jan's mother and sister are there, too. "It
has changed dramatically, the coal mines and steel mines have mostly closed
down, but there's a goodness of the people that never goes away. I've
always been mindful of my roots; people who taught me, motivated me, have
always been terribly important to me."
grandparents emigrated from northern Italy to Monongahela.
are new to this country, his coal mining grandfather told him. We've got
to do our very best, to excel.
not going to be in a coal mine," Ferrari finished. "That was his story
to me as a little boy."
father and mother--he worked at a steel mill, she at a business forms
company--continued the tradition. "Whatever one's socioeconomic status,
there was this environment of love and healthy motivation to be the best
you could be," Ferrari said. "It was a preoccupation instilled by my grandfather
and parents and then by me. "My parents told me I was going to go to college.
Very few in the community had gone, but I had the opportunity to rise
and do whatever I wanted to do with my life.' "
did. At age 9, he landed his first job, a newspaper route. He sang soprano
in his church choir. He never missed a day of Sunday School in 12 years
and has the perfect-attendance pins to prove it. He became a superb tennis
player. He played the trumpet, forming his own band (the Downbeats) and
was regularly called on to play Taps for military funerals. And he was
valedictorian and student body president of Monongahela High School.
parents often worked late, which at times left the preparation of the
evening meal to young Michael. That kitchen introduction has translated
into "chef" on Ferrari's list of hobbies. An Italian food aficionado,
he makes his own pasta, sauces and pizza (the guy even has his own manicotti
maker). Drake converted its hamburger shop into "Ferrari's Corner," highlighted
by the president's own sauces. One night a week, the Ferraris must have
pizza or some other Italian dish.
of pizza is in the dough, the herbs you put in it," Ferrari said. "That
makes the difference. From the time I come home, prepare the dough, allow
time for it to rise, to the time we sit down at the table, I can make
a pizza in one hour, tops."
went to Michigan State on an academic scholarship and to play in the school's
marching band. It was about that time, too, that he began writing letters
to Jan, whom he had been "just friends" with in high school. The two were
married after Jan's nursing school graduation in 1964.
was a Methodist for the first 19 years of his life. He converted to Catholicism
at Michigan State. Today, he and Jan, a Presbyterian, have settled as
strong Episcopalians. "Having that faith perspective in my life, I believe,
has given me a much greater degree of stability, confidence, optimism,"
Ferrari said, "and a much more ecumenical view.
feel that we're all imperfect, we all have frailties. . . but that we're
all trying to do our best, too."
her husband also believes that everything happens for a reason. And perhaps
earned three degrees from Michigan State. His 1968 doctorate focused on
organizational theory and behavior. His thesis was a comparative analysis
of university presidents and corporate CEOs. And his grad professor was
renowned American sociologist W. Lloyd Warner.
life you can have is to be a professor of a university, he told his student.
That's the top.
And he added:
Never become a college administrator.
smiles and sips his coffee.
know if things always happen for a reason," he said, "but some jobs were
meant to be."
FOUNDED in 1881, Drake University was in 1985 a college in need of confidence,
said Drake Prof. Myron Marty, Anderson Professor of History chairholder.
a 20-building expansion period from 1946 to 1966, the school languished
under the 13-year leadership of Ferrari's predecessor; faculty wanted
a president who would let the university catch its breath, Marty said,
and that's what they got. The four years before Ferrari arrived, the school's
enrollment of 5,000 had dropped 1,000 students and picked up a $3 million
deficit. It operated on a meager $40 million budget and was backed up
by only a $14 million endowment. The neighborhood around the campus was
decaying and the university itself was dispirited.
in pretty bad shape," said Marty, who served as dean of arts and sciences
during most of Ferrari's 13 years. "Had Mick not arrived, I would have
cut my losses and gotten out of town while I still could."
arrived at Drake with impressive credentials. He had served as provost
at Wright State in Ohio from 1983 until he left for Drake. He had been
a professor of management and sociology at Bowling Green State University
in Ohio and later its provost and interim president. He also taught at
Kent State and was there the day four students were fatally shot by overzealous
National Guardsmen. "Indescribable," he told one Fort Worth reporter,
"to see students shot who had been in your class the week before..."
was seasoned when he arrived at Drake. Over the next 13 years, he would
become even wiser.
year, Ferrari determined Drake had too many colleges for a school of its
size. Within a year, he "restructured" the university into six colleges,
saving $500,000 annually in salaries and operating expenses and eliminating
no academic departments. "He is very good at decision-making processes,"
Marty said. "He makes what don't seem like great big decisions along the
way result in the lack of need for making the huge decision that everybody
knew needed to be made." Marty apologizes for the confusing answer. "I
call it consensus-building. By the time the university's colleges were
actually consolidated, it had become a non-issue." He laughs. "I'm not
even sure we had the Board's approval to do it."
Ferrari's first year, the Drake Bulldogs football team, competing in Division
I-AA, were 1-1 and about to play Iowa.
58-0; for a school that spent more than $1 million a year on its football
program and faced a looming deficit while putting fewer than 7,500 fans
in the stands per game, that was the last season it would huddle in college
football's scholarship division. Ferrari moved the team to Division III;
today, the Bulldogs are among the top non-scholarship programs in the
it was discovered that a Drake assistant basketball coach had written
a history paper for one player and sociology papers for two others in
the fall of 1989 and had paid a tutor to type them. Players were also
allowed to make unlimited long-distance calls. Ferrari quickly fired the
coach and launched a full investigation. The NCAA called Drake's situation
"unique"--no doubt, some Horned Frogs would disagree--and withheld penalties
in light of Drake's swift action to correct the situation.
the values of the place," said Ferrari of his toughest time at Drake.
"I will always play by the rules. You can't compromise that in a university
setting because when you do, it puts into question everything else that
university stands for."
the school's budget for the first time in five years. When Ferrari first
arrived, the American Association of University Professors gave Drake
faculty salaries its lowest marks. Today, those marks are among the highest
for comprehensive institutions.
also be mentioned that in Drake's current $190 million campaign, Drake
law graduate Dwight Opperman pledged a $50 million gift last year, the
largest by any individual to any university in 1997. "I've tried to express
my gratitude for the important role this institution has played in my
life," he said when his gift was announced. "As a result, it's not been
difficult for me to step forward and challenge the Drake family to achieve
the possibilities Dr. Ferrari has outlined for us." Opperman isn't the
only one vouching for Drake's 10th president.
really ready for some aggressive leadership, and that's what Mick brought,"
he said. "As we say around here, Mick may not stand very tall--he's only
5-8 I think--but his stature on the campus and in the community is very,
measurements haven't begun to be stretched here in Fort Worth, at least
not until he takes office on July 1. The student who served Ferrari coffee
didn't even know he was the incoming chancellor.
student said with a stunned grin, declining to be named. "At least now
I know what he drinks."
will know soon, too. Ferrari's plan is to meet students one by one, or
at least group by group. His open-door e-mail policy was a hallmark at
Drake. He hopes it will be at TCU, too.
[at Drake] know that when I come in each morning, that my e-mail is the
first thing I look at," he said, "and they know that before I leave each
day, I clear them out again."
Ferrari doesn't substitute virtual conversations for actual ones. He invites
students in to hear their concerns and sends them in the right direction
for answers he can't give. He held regular meetings with the student newspaper
editors at Drake and wants to do the same with those putting out the TCU
Daily Skiff. "I'm sure there will be times when I'll pull my hair out--how
could they say such a thing!--but I do like to have that relationship
also plans monthly dinners at his home, the guest list comprising different
students, faculty and staff for each gathering.
he said, "is to get people together and to get them talking and to get
them listening as well."
will be attentive, too.
to find out what is so special about TCU," he said. "What really sets
us apart? Why do students study here, why do faculty and staff invest
their entire professional lives, and why do alumni stay involved?
TCU is a major research and teaching university with the friendly atmosphere
of a smaller college, but that also describes Drake University. That is
also SMU and other universities of our type.
TCU going to be known for in 2010? What is our strategic mission and vision?
To what extent is that vision shared by all constituents of the university?
And how does TCU increasingly contribute to the economic and cultural
vitality of the greater Fort Worth community?
a lot of energy and initiative exists in these areas already, but how
can we build on what has been started?"
for one, is ready to figure that out.
most of my life trying to understand how to structure leadership, communication
and motivation--all of which lead to high productivity, heavy involvement,
and a greater degree of satisfaction," he said.
chancellor is a good leader, sharing with others and helping them build
a strong organization. . . and providing the resources, atmosphere, environment
and spirit necessary to achieve our dreams."
eyes shimmer with, what? Perhaps the same sincerity Cheah saw. "Much of
what happened at Drake was people simply rallying together and believing
in themselves and the institution," said Ferrari, deflecting credit.
the best part of this work, helping others build something special for
which they can be proud. At Drake, it was a lot of hard work marked by
a few failures--the difference being that we stood up and moved forward
to work with the entire TCU community to make sure we continue to move
forward as well."
knows who she is, and always has.
demurs from making such statements. Good thing Mr. Ferrari doesn't when
talking about his wife of 33 years.
makes a commitment," he said, "it runs very deep, especially in regard
two grown children. Daughter Elizabeth is 30 and a former New York ad
professional. She and her husband Jim, a bond trader, live in Chicago
where she devotes her day caring for the family's first grandchild, 2-year-old
Vera. Son Michael is 27, works for an ad firm in Des Moines and is single.
Mick both attended the same high school in Monongahela, Penn. Mick, three
years older, left for Michigan State in 1958, and it was about that time
when letters from him began arriving in Jan's mailbox. The two were married
in 1964 after Jan received her R.N. degree from Presbyterian University
Hospital in Pittsburgh. They have rarely parted from each other's side
I are a team," Jan said. "We attend musical events, athletic events, alumni
activities because it's important in the life of the university, and we
share in them equally."
as a nurse for 20 years until Michael became president at Drake in 1985.
She doesn't expect her TCU role to differ much from her involvement at
Drake. "I always knew our life together would be in academia, so being
the wife of a chancellor is something I'm very comfortable with.
in Mick. . . after 33 years of marriage, you begin to think what the other
person thinks. We've become so much alike, it's scary at times."
to volunteer her nursing skills in the community; her first day in Fort
Worth, she toured Cook Children's Hospital and hopes to help there. She
also plans to "start a new book group with friends I've yet to meet."
primary passion, she promises, will be TCU.
been here four days, but the community feels like Des Moines, and the
people are similar, very gracious and welcoming," she said. "And what
I have found so overwhelming is the affection for the University that
people have. There's a definite warmth that is absolutely pervasive. I
look forward to becoming a part of that." Give her time, though. She's
not quite there yet.
time I saw Mick doing (the Horned Frog hand signal), I didn't know what
he had lost it."