Ewert calls FPU to engagement and excellence

The Fresno Pacific University community came together November 8 to inaugurate D. Merrill Ewert as 10th president.

Ceremonies took place in the campus Special Events Center (SEC). Approximately 1,300 people were present, including faculty, staff, students, trustees, community and church leaders and delegates from other colleges and universities. Speakers included Peter Klassen, chair of the FPU Board of Trustees; Rod Swatasky, president of Messiah College, representing the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities; Pete Mehas, Fresno County superintendent of education; Henry Dick, past executive pastor of the Pacific District Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches; and Helene Dillard, professor and associate dean, Cornell University.

The title of Ewert’s address is the theme for his presidency: “Called to Excellence.” FPU, he said, should be an engaged university that reflects on its historical context, examines its core values and promotes vigorous debate on issues that matter. “The engaged university sees the unity of word and deed, theory and practice,” Ewert said. Such is the spirit of The Fresno Pacific Idea, FPU’s philosophical statement, “to be an engaged university that is thoroughly Christian in orientation, passionate about scholarship and committed to outreach and service,” he said.

Ewert focused the future on four areas. FPU, he said, must:

  • become more accessible, through increasing its information technology, expanding its off-campus programs and extending a warmer welcome to students and faculty from diverse backgrounds.
  • become more responsive to community issues, through sharing its expertise in fields from science to the arts and from theology to athletics.
  • become more accountable, both through measuring and documenting how well it does its work and through building a two-way relationship with the Pacific District Conference, which operates FPU.
  • be excellent, through cutting unnecessary processes, integrating teaching and scholarship with service, hosting more interdisciplinary seminars and debates and connecting with civic and business leaders.

Ewert came to FPU from Cornell University, where he served as professor, director and associate dean of Cornell Cooperative Extension. He has also been assistant and associate professor of education at Cornell, director of extension and continuing education at Wheaton College and assistant professor of adult/extension education at the University of Maryland. As a Fulbright Senior Scholar, Ewert worked with farmers in the Philippines. He also spent seven years in Africa with relief agencies.

Following the ceremony there was a reception in AIMS Hall of Mathematics and Science and a luncheon hosted by Merrill and Priscilla Ewert in a tent near the SEC. The day concluded with a concert by Philip Aaberg and Eugene Friesen in First Presbyterian Church. The performance, which included singer Milton Friesen (Eugene’s brother and minister of music at Visalia United Methodist Church) and organist Laurell Huber (an FPU faculty), was also a benefit for the university music department.

Inauguration ceremonies complete a week of related events, including:

  • A seminar November 4 seminar for the faculty and staff of FPU and Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (MBBS) featuring Reid Carpenter, president of the National Council of Leadership.
  • A community service luncheon November 4 with Carpenter as guest speaker.
  • A prayer breakfast November 7 for faculty and staff of FPU and MBBS hosted by Merrill Ewert and Henry Schmidt, seminary president.
  • A College Hour panel discussion November 7 on academic freedom in Butler Mennonite Brethren Church. The panel consisted of James Pankratz, academic dean of MBBS; Ned Doffoney, president of Fresno City College; and Gayle Trollinger, chair of the department of education at Bluffton College.
  • A student celebration November 7 including a fiesta dinner and salsa concert on the Green. The event was hosted by Associated Students of Fresno Pacific College.