New Ball State president leads with experience, community building, character

Paul W. Ferguson is 15th president of Ball State University

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS) - It was not a surprise that the Ball State Board of Trustees invested in a university president to lead the campus to the next level.

Paul W. Ferguson, who is president of the University of Maine, was named Thursday as the 15th president of the university, succeeding Jo Ann Gora who retired.

Trustee President Rick Hall said the board looked for a evolutionary, not a revolutionary, who had the depth and breath of experience to hit the ground running.

"We are not broke," said Hall. "We want to take this to the next level."

Ferguson seemingly can do just that after launching the Blue Sky project at Maine which was an student-cenetered and community engaged planning effort.

A southern California native, Ferguson, is a Whitter College graduate who earned a Ph.D in pharmacology and toxicology at the University of California in 1981. He gained work experience as a research specialist at the Los Angeles County USC Medical Center and as a research biologist for Pennwalt Corp..Ferguson also worked for Unocal Corp. in Los Angeles.

An accomplished scholar, Ferguson taught pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Louisiana-Monroe and later served as vice provost and dean of graduate studies and research,

Ferguson later worked at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as dean of the graduate school and vice provost. During his tenure, annual extramural funding increased from $59 million to $95 million while the number of graduate programs rose from 74 to 108.

By 2006, Ferguson was appointed provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Edwardsville campus of Southern Illinois University and professor of pharmacology and toxicolgy.and he took the job as president of the University of Maine in 2011.

Ferguson, 61, said Ball State was always on his radar as a premiere academic school and one engaged in student immersive learning.

He lauded efforts by Gora's immersive learning program putting students in real life opportunities. and promised to continue a student centered and community engaged university.

"I am excited to build on that success," he said.

Recognizing that athletics is a front porch to a university, Ferguson talked about giving priority to improving a basketball team that just saw the worst season in history. Efforts to get those fans back in the stands will be among the new president's priorities.

And Ferguson  talked about keeping the "best and brightest" students in Indiana and offer them a quality education and opportunity to succeed in a career.

Other trustees looked at Ferguson's experience and commitment to higher education that also includes having three children graduate from college.

Trustee Tom Bracken said Ferguson was right for the job with extensive experience in administration besides backing a strong research background.

And the newest trustee Renae Proctor Conley said it was a exciting time in Ball State history to have an experience administrator take over where Gora left off. During Gora's tenure, Ball State raised more than a half a billion dollars, increased academic standards and grades and also gained world recognition with a geo-thermal power initiative and other academic programs.

The trustees spent five months looking for a new president and held the selection a secret until Thursday's announcement. Hall said public input was sought and the opening attracted a great deal of interest.

"in the end, we could not be happier with the result," said Hall.

The trustees stood on the stage of Sursa Hall Thursday  when they voted to name Ferguson president before a crowd of more than 200 people.

Ferguson noted the number of students, posting and tweeting words and photographs of the event, pointing to the engagement he hoped to continue at the university.

The new president takes over in August and will be paid $450,000 similar to Gora's last salary.



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