Merrill Ewert sets 2012 as retirement from FPU
After leading Fresno Pacific University during nine years resulting in academic growth and financial security, D. Merrill Ewert announced today he will retire as president, effective July 31, 2012.
The Board of Trustees has selected the Dingman Company, a worldwide search firm based in California, to lead the search process, and appointed a search committee including board members, alumni, faculty and staff.
Ewert took office June 1, 2002, making his tenure longer than the average university presidency of six-seven years. “I literally began my 10th year as president of Fresno Pacific University this morning,” Ewert said. “It’s been a very unique and special privilege to serve in this capacity. It’s not anything I would have sought or imagined.”
A native of Mountain Lake, Minnesota, Ewert came to FPU from Cornell University, where he was director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, a network of 57 county extension offices throughout the state of New York. He had also been an assistant and associate professor of education at the Ivy League school. Ewert also taught at Wheaton College and the University of Maryland. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Tabor College, FPU’s sister school in Kansas and also affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren Church, and an M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Outside the classroom, Ewert was involved in service in Africa. He spent more than a decade with Christian relief organizations MAP International, Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Brethren Board of Missions and Services International.
This combination of MB upbringing and education, church service and administrative experience is what led Ewert, who had planned to teach and research rather than administrate, to the FPU presidency. “The board asked me to come ‘home’,” he said. “We felt God brought us here.”
The homecoming has been beneficial to FPU in many ways, according to Board Chair John Thiesen. “The influence of Dr. Ewert has been, and will continue to be, profound. He and his wife, Priscilla, have been great ambassadors for the university, in the city of Fresno, the San Joaquin Valley and the Christian community,” he said. Ewert has served on the boards of community development and education organizations including One-by-One Fresno, the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, Fresno Compact and the Business Council.
Passion and vision for Christian higher education are Ewert’s strengths. “His passion is excellence in every endeavor of the university,” Thiesen said.
The financial pressures faced by colleges and universities over the last five years have made those strengths more necessary than ever. “His vision has strategically positioned FPU for the upheaval that is taking place in higher education,” Thiesen said. “The university is its best financial position ever. The academic programs have grown significantly. The university has greatly strengthened its presence in the Valley.”
“Visible” has become a word to describe FPU. “Visibility has been raised substantially in the community and beyond. People see the university differently than before,” Ewert said. “We turned what was a college into a university organization, structure and culture.”
Several achievements have contributed to that visibility:
* Enrollment—growing from 2,049 students in fall 2002 to 3,400 in fall 2010.
* Adult education—opening new regional centers in North Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield for graduate and bachelor’s degree completion students. A Merced Center is scheduled for June and all centers have undergone expansion.
* Academics—new programs including the global MBA, master’s in kinesiology and bachelor’s in Christian ministries and leadership, nursing, criminology and restorative justice and early childhood development. More faculty members also have doctorates and are increasingly engaged in scholarship.
* Administrative structure—organizing into a school of business, school of education, school of natural sciences, school of humanities, religion and social sciences, and a seminary.
* Athletics—national championships in volleyball, swimming and tennis as well as individual honors in track and field. The number of sports has also grown from nine to 16, and the university is in the midst of becoming part of the NCAA Division II.
* Facilities—in addition to the regional centers, the purchase of most of the homes between the main campus and Butler MB Church to provide space for future expansion, including a performing arts center. A new baseball field and a tennis complex have also opened.
What means most to Ewert, however, can not be counted in buildings, athletic records or enrollment figures. “What I’m most grateful for is the fact that Fresno Pacific has remained thoroughly and foundationally Christian,” he said.
The addition to the Fresno campus of MB Biblical Seminary, now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, in 2010 added a new dimension to that spiritual witness. “Changes of this magnitude are always difficult, but people from both institutions came together to smooth the transition,” Ewert said.
Many deserve credit for all FPU has done. “There are so many people to thank,” Ewert said. “The commitment of the faculty, the hard work of the staff, the generosity of the donors, the enthusiasm of the students and the trust of the parents, who have lent us what is most precious to them—and the prayers of all our friends.”
For himself, Ewert is looking forward to researching, writing, teaching and traveling. And relaxing. “I almost never get to read a novel, and haven't gone scuba diving in two years,” he said.
For FPU, though changes in leadership bring challenges, Ewert is confident the university will find the new president that best fits its future. “This is the kind of university people will want to be a part of,” he said.