How Michael Ferrari’s Vision for Diversity Became TCU’s Community Scholars

The former chancellor’s plans to shift demographics inspired an academic scholarship

This article by Caroline Collier was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of TCU Magazine.

When Michael Ferrari became TCU’s chancellor in 1998, the university had been more than 90 percent white since its inception.

Ferrari, who came from Iowa, brought plans to shift the demographics and make the student body more inclusive, more reflective of the surrounding community and larger world.

“In his first major speeches, he talked about the importance of diversity,” said Cornell Thomas, professor of education. After hearing the new chancellor discuss the impending change, Thomas requested an audience.

Photo of Community Scholars from O.D. Wyatt High School

Five students at O.D. Wyatt High School are awarded TCU’s Community Scholars scholarship. Timeka Gordon (L), director of Community Scholars Program, and Victoria Herrera (R), associate director of Admission and director of minority recruitment, flank the students. (Amy Peterson, April 2018)

“The first question [Ferrari] asked … was why do minority leaders in this city call TCU a white, racist, elitist institution?” said Thomas, who held leadership roles in several organizations in Fort Worth. “I told him that I would not answer that question, but I could set up a series of luncheons and dinners, small groups of those minority leaders, and they will tell you.”

Thomas organized several meetings between Ferrari and community leaders, including with Rosa Navejar, who met with the new chancellor when she was president of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

A racially diverse student body is “so important because people need to see themselves in higher education,” she said. “They need to be able to see that they, too, can achieve.”

Navejar remembered telling Ferrari that many smart local Hispanic students were leaving Texas because out-of-state universities were offering better financial-aid packages.

Thomas, however, heard less diplomatic stories from people who felt that not only was TCU prohibitively expensive to working-class families, but that it was also outright unwelcoming to the city’s ethnic- and racial-minority students.

An administrator at Fort Worth’s North Side High School showed Thomas a list of where the school’s strongest students were attending college. It contained Ivy League schools and Stanford University. No North Side graduates were at TCU.

After months of listening to people in the local community, Ferrari told Thomas he was ready to implement practical change to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the university’s student body.

“ ‘What can we do? I want to do something now,’  ” Thomas recalled the chancellor saying.

Read more in TCU Magazine.