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GRCC President Bill Pink spills the tea about his next gig leading FSU

Dr. Bill Pink at Custer Alumni House on the DeVos Campus on 8/10/2021. © Photography by Steve Jessmore, Steve Jessmore Photography

A day after Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink announced that he would be leaving GRCC to become the president at Ferris State University he sat down with The Collegiate to discuss the next steps in his career and the bittersweet feeling he has about moving on.

Pink, who has been with GRCC for seven years -five as president- described his mix of emotions as he is excited for the journey ahead, but also is sad to leave behind what he has been able to grow at GRCC. 

“(It’s) bittersweet because while I think it’s an awesome opportunity to get to a university that is so focused on students… it’s still the bitter side of it is what we’ve been doing here at GRCC for the last…seven years that we’ve been here, but the last five years as president, to have so many relationships on campus that have meant a lot, to have so many relationships in this community that have meant a lot,” Pink said. “And then also just the work that we’ve been able to do since being here, some things that this college has never done before, and that’s really cool to be a part of it. 

“You always, as a leader, want to leave a place better than you found it,” Pink continued. “That’s been my hope for five years, is that the day I walked out of here that this college is a better place than when I walked in the door.”

Pink will be the 19th president at Ferris State University, and will become the first Black president at FSU. Pink was also the first Black president at GRCC when he started back in 2017.

“The reason I pay attention to that is not as much for me but it is for any person of color… I want that to be a sign for them that they to can do this,” he said. “There is a pathway for them to do it, now there is actually a pathway for them to do this at GRCC, at Ferris State… If that’s what we have to do in the days we are allowed on this Earth to try to forge pathways… so other people can someday take that and feel like they can have an opportunity to take it, what better opportunity to live your life that way.”

Pink started gaining interest in the position when colleagues of his including the current FSU president, David Eisler, brought up the idea to him. Pink said with it being a closed process, it did make it easier for him to go for the position while avoiding the conflict of being scrutinized because he was at another institution. 

I think for many sitting presidents who are presidents elsewhere it makes it a bit less challenging when you have a closed process, challenging from a standpoint of you feel like you have a level of freedom to do that without your candidacy being scrutinized,” he said.

Pink also stressed the fact that him going for the position does not indicate that he isn’t happy where he is at, stating that he believes God will lead him to the path that he needs to take next and Ferris State is where he believed his next journey should begin. 

“The thing that you want people to understand… (is) when you are looking at another institution, it does not necessarily mean that you’re unhappy at the one you’re at, and quite frankly, it makes it, for me, it makes it even easier to look at another institution because you love where you’re at,” Pink continued. “…I’m a believer that God directs me, and so if this is something that I don’t believe he’s making clear for me to have… that tells me something for the way I live my life… The days that I’m on this earth are so limited, if this is where he needs me now, this is where I need to be, and this is where I need to be focused on… For me, that was a big part of my own personal process and going down that journey.”

One aspect of FSU’s search for a president that received backlash from the Ferris State community was the closed search because they felt their voices were not going to be heard throughout the process. 

Pink was impressed by how the search committee was made up of many community members including faculty and students. He felt through the search committee that the voices of FSU were heard. Ferris State University announced that there were around 70 applicants with 12 of them receiving interviews. 

“The balance that you have to strike… is trying to get enough participation versus trying to get a really good candidate pool,” he said. “And so trying to hit that sweet spot is not very easy. Honestly, either way someone’s needs aren’t gonna be met. 

“At the end of the day that board decided that they wanted to go with this process to try to ensure that they had a great candidate pool to choose from, and so it sounded like the search committee felt really good about that, and it sounded like the board felt really good about it,” Pink continued. “I was just a pawn in the game. I had no control over it, and don’t know what it would’ve been like if it wasn’t that way, as far as their searches concerned, but I was very pleased with how the whole thing played out.”

As Pink starts the process of moving on to FSU, he wants to remind the GRCC community that he will “always be a Raider,” and that he is still going to be around to help his GRCC community as much as he can. 

“How much more time do you have?” Pink said jokingly when asked what he is going to miss about GRCC. “The thing you miss at GRCC is the thing that makes GRCC, (it’s) the people. I mean it’s a label and a name of an institution that we use at Grand Rapids Community College, but the label is truly describing the people and the people are the faculty, staff, students, board, administration, and everyone who has come through these doors. And so that to me is what I’ll miss.

“…I like to think I’ll always be a Raider,” Pink continued. “This to me is just another step in a journey, but just because you are taking another step in the journey doesn’t mean that you are no longer a part of the past of the journey and all the places that I’ve been blessed to be …I carry that with me and that’s what I’ll do with GRCC.

Pink will continue to be the GRCC president until mid-July which is when he will start his new position. During his time left at GRCC, Pink hopes to help the board start a smooth transition for the next president as well as finishing up some important issues including the budget. 

“I’m a believer that if you’re going to finish, you gotta finish strong,” he said. “I don’t really believe in the term ‘lame duck’… I know this college and so as long as I know the college at the level that I do, I want to make sure I am helping out and leading as much as I can until the last day. At the same time, the hard balance there is… the thing that I don’t want to do is make too many major decisions that truly the next person needs to decide.” 

The first goal that Pink has when he goes to Ferris State is to spend time listening. He wants to make sure he listens and gets to know the FSU community, including board members, faculty, and students.

Another goal Pink laid out was making the transfer process easier for students. His experience at a community college has given him a lot of knowledge of what the transfer process entails and has also highlighted the aspects of that process that can be continued to be worked as well as what are the positives with it. GRCC has a great transfer relationship with FSU and Pink looks to work with that to help transfer students. 

“I think there are opportunities to work closer with community colleges to see if there’s something more we can do to make that pathway even smoother,” Pink said. “One of the things with Ferris State is that what I had found being here at GRCC is that (the) pathway from GRCC to Ferris State is pretty good. It’s pretty smooth. I mean, you can be right here on campus, and there are programs that we have that lead to Ferris State, and you never have to leave Grand Rapids to finish that Ferris State bachelor’s degree. 

“And so the question becomes, ‘is there a way that we need to make that path smoother?,’” Pink continued. “Are there some other programs that we need to look at that would allow students here to be able to stay here and have minimal if any trips to Big Rapids. So having some of those conversations are exciting and then also from a standpoint of this community in general, the community of Grand Rapids, how does the footprint of Ferris State University become a stronger, more embedded footprint?”

To read more about the announcement of President Pink leaving GRCC, visit The Collegiate.

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