A virtual audience of around 100 Ferris State University faculty, students and staff members joined President David Eisler on Thursday, Sept. 3 for his annual Founders Day address, "Adversity, Challenge and Opportunity."
The institution's West Michigan presence began Monday, Sept. 1, 1884 when Woodbridge N. Ferris founded the Big Rapids Industrial School. Eisler meshed elements of Ferris' history with topics of today in his address, using a photo of the 1919-20 Ferris Institute preparatory class to seek a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion from event participants.
"There are 50 students in this picture, which includes women and African-Americans who were at Ferris to complete their high school education and to improve their skills, so they could pursue degrees and change their lives," Eisler said. "As early as 1906, Woodbridge Ferris had written that his institute would be 'thoroughly democratic, that is to say, it is a school for all people, regardless of their race or station.'"
Eisler said a current challenge for the university is to serve as a touchpoint for change, as the appropriate response to the level of racial unrest and societal disharmony that exists. He presented images of the peaceful march and presentation held on the Ferris campus on Wednesday, June 3, while encouraging a broader discussion and call to action for the Fall 2020 semester and academic year.
"This is a time where we can make our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, both at Ferris and the Kendall College of Art and Design," Eisler said. "We will have professional development opportunities for all our employees, there will be a Campus Climate Team established to proactively respond to incidence of bias, and I invite each of you to sign our commitment to support these initiatives at Ferris."
Eisler also encouraged participation in a university-wide initiative, "One Community: One Book" that will use the recently published work, "Haste To Rise: A Remarkable of Black Education During Jim Crow," which was written by Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion David Pilgrim and Franklin Hughes, multimedia specialist. The book details Ferris' collaborative efforts with Hampton Institute in Virginia in the early 20th century.
"I found this to be an astonishing, captivating book that included great detail on Woodbridge Ferris' commitment to support and develop each student," Eisler said.
The president further noted the efforts of the university Re-entry Committee, in its response to produce a successful conclusion to the Spring 2020 semester, along with readying the campus and university community for the Fall 2020 class schedule, now underway.
"There were hundreds, to thousands of actions taken to establish and seek to assure a safe and healthy campus environment," Eisler said. "We have begun COVID-19 testing and will look to increase this activity so that we can encourage the practices of good health for ourselves and others."
Official enrollment figures were released the day following, but Eisler indicated that the university had produced its best result in five years in one category. Only 2.6 percent of those students categorized as continuing or recently enrolled and pursuing their education had not returned for Fall 2020 studies."
Eisler further talked about net price, the Tuition Incentive Program and more.
"Our average net price dropped nearly nine percent from 2009 to 2019 and we were the only state-funded university in Michigan to accomplish this," he said. "In the last several years, our growth in Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) students and our increase in students of Latinx heritage illustrate our focus on embracing opportunity and diversity in our campus community."
Eisler indicated that the Now and Always Campaign, Ferris' first comprehensive appeal for student investment, program expansion and innovation, and the building of partnerships had passed $100 million in donations and commitments.
"I want to thank and congratulate everyone who has been engaged in this campaign," Eisler said. "We look forward to the excellence this can present from our students and programs as we continue toward a $115 million goal."
The president's remarks concluded with an update on the Higher Learning Commission's process of continuing the university's accreditation, with a virtual campus visit scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 5-6.
"One representative of the HLC team will be on campus, the rest of the effort will be done virtually," Eisler said. "We have been gathered today and continued this annual event, thanks to technology. I often wonder what Woodbridge and Helen Ferris might think, if they were to see how we work now, to accomplish and advance their mission."