A man on a mission
Former chancellor Michael R. Ferrari oversaw Commission on The Future of TCU, helped author the university mission statement and got school ready for the 21st century.
Michael R. “Mick” Ferrari was chancellor at TCU as the university entered a new century. He oversaw the beginning of the physical transformation of the campus and advocated for a new mission statement that better reflected the university’s purpose. He died May 15 at his winter home in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 75.
Calling TCU “an uncommon place,” Ferrari charted a bold strategic blueprint for the university, which included reorganizing colleges and schools and remodeling classrooms and laboratories. With new facilities for science, business, recreation and athletics, hardly a block of campus escaped signs of growth. All the while, student applications increased. The university expanded its graduate offerings, launched programs for children with disabilities and established annual scholarships for students from urban, public schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“Chancellor Ferrari’s leadership came at a crucial time in our history,” said Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr., who succeeded him in 2003. “TCU has grown and become a great national university on the foundation that developed during his tenure, just as the university grew from the ground prepared during Dr. Tucker’s time.”
Ferrari never intended to become a long-tenured chancellor and said as much before his arrival in 1998, succeeding William E. Tucker ’56 MDiv. Ferrari brought a sense of urgency when he decided to make TCU the final stop in his career. His passion 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 in 1999, Ferrari unveiled 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.”
Ferrari, who studied organizational theory and behavior, began his academic career in 1968 at Kent State University in Ohio. He spent several years at Bowling Green State University, also in Ohio, becoming vice president of resource planning in 1973 and provost and executive vice president in 1978. He served as interim university president in 1981 and 1982. Later, he served as provost at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and then president of Drake University in Des Moines.
Ferrari spent the early months of his tenure at TCU listening and asking questions in a friendly, open manner that became his trademark.
“From my little corner of TCU, I appreciated the fact that Mick took to time to learn about and actively support the pre-health professions program as well as the academic units that underpin it,” said Phil Hartman, dean of the College of Science & Engineering. “I remember vividly when department chair Ray Drenner and I once wrote him to indicate that our budgets for introductory biology lab courses were woefully inadequate. The next thing we knew, TCU was charging lab fees for such courses, which was a total game changer.”
Ferrari started the university’s transformation with its mission statement, which he concluded was not distinctive enough. He wanted a solitary sentence that would hold the university accountable and be equally appropriate on office stationery or on an interstate highway billboard.
He saw to the crafting of it personally, assembling a cadre of campus leaders and meeting with them weekly. After several brainstorming sessions, he read aloud from Colby Hall’s History of Texas Christian University for inspiration.
The committee eventually pared the statement to a paragraph, but Ferrari wanted a mission statement that would “fit on a coffee cup.”
“He challenged us to develop something that was not a jingle or a cliché, but a sentence that people could easily remember and rally around,” recalled Dr. Barbara Brown Herman, associate vice chancellor for student affairs.
The committee’s final result was one sentence: To educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community. The mission statement found a home everywhere: formal napkins, classroom bulletin boards and, even, student election campaign posters. Students giving campus tours still quote it to prospective undergraduates and their families.
Ferrari’s legacy also was linked to The Commission on the Future of TCU. Contrary to trustee-only models used elsewhere, the initiative included constituents from across campus and Tarrant County.
“Dr. Ferrari was a great educator, and one of his great strengths was connecting with people internally,” said John V. Roach, who was chairman of the Board of Trustees during Ferrari’s tenure. “He communicated so well with faculty and staff, and that spilled out into the community.”
For nearly a year, 17 task forces — 500 campus and community leaders — examined everything about TCU, from its undergraduate experience to its strategic alliances.
“The effort was Herculean, to say the least,” said Bill Thornton, president and CEO 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 into seven. [The John V. Roach Honors College was added in 2009 as TCU’s eighth under Chancellor Boschini.] The core curriculum was revitalized and student diversity enhanced. He encouraged the resurgence of a nationally respected NCAA Division I athletics program.
Observing the camaraderie of the Faculty Senate, Ferrari supported the formation of the Staff Assembly and urged the two groups to work together. “He knows what all the issues are because he attends every meeting when he’s not out of town,” former university librarian Robert Seal said in 2003. Staff members were invited to attend the previous faculty-only luncheon that opens the academic year.
When the president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce asked Ferrari to organize an effort to reduce the city’s dropout rate, he agreed. He turned the Stay in School initiative into a mini-commission. Ferrari was the first non-Hispanic person to receive the annual leadership award from the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
During Ferrari’s tenure, more than 100 classrooms and laboratories were remodeled and equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The university refurbished residence halls and built three apartment-style residential communities. He oversaw 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.
“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,” said Larry Lauer, emeritus vice chancellor for marketing and communication.
While there are many visible hallmarks of Ferrari’s legacy, he was also a leader of other not-so-obvious yet important changes. 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, he had both removed and a single ramp built for everyone. He reasoned that all graduates deserve to ascend the stage and receive their diplomas equally.
In 1998, Ferrari made another change that continues. He started signing every diploma by hand. The concept stupefied Registrar Patrick Miller when Ferrari suggested it.
“You can’t sign all of them,” Miller recalled the conversation with Ferrari. “Do you know how long that would take?” [Until that time university diplomas had machine-stamped signatures of the chancellor, deans and registrar.]
Ferrari stood firm about the signatures, Miller recalled. “Students give us four or five years for an undergraduate degree. They’ve earned it. That’s the least I can do.” Thus originated the TCU diploma pen that resides at the chancellor’s desk.