Strength in Adversity: Seton Hall President A. Gabriel Esteban Works to Build Communities on and off Campus

Article excerpt

Dr. A. Gabriel Esteban's first few months as interim president of Seton Hall University put him to the test.

The university--where he serves as president--saw its first staff cutbacks in 25 years. And a sophomore from Virginia was shot to death at an off-campus party in East Orange, N.J.

"The first six months were very challenging," says Esteban, who was appointed president of New Jersey's largest Catholic university last January.

Still, he says, "Because of things that happened, the campus came together as a community. Because of adversity, you can grow stronger as an institution."

Esteban, 50, is used to coping with change and tackles challenges with gusto.

He grew up in Manila. His father was a doctor and professor at the University of the Philippines, and his mother taught world history.

Esteban enrolled at the university a few years after President Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law, and he became involved in protest marches and served as a poll watcher as part of the push for free elections. He earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics with a minor in computer science and later earned a master's in business administration from the university.

He taught marketing at the university for a couple of years before being selected for a scholarship to Chaminade University in Honolulu where he earned a master's in Japanese business studies. He also received a Ph.D. in business administration from the University of California in Irvine.

Esteban got his first teaching job at the University of Houston-Victoria, where, after two years, he was asked by Dr. Larry Robinson, the provost--who was to work at two other places with Esteban, including Seton Hall--to set up an office of institutional research. "Being young and brash, I said I'd do it," Esteban says with a chuckle.

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He later held leadership positions at Arkansas Tech University and the University of Central Arkansas, where Robinson served as chief academic officer and provost.

While in Texas and Arkansas, Esteban succeeded in increasing enrollment by at least 40 percent, in part by establishing offsite campuses.

By 2006, he began to keep an eye out for university president positions and was approached about becoming provost at Seton Hall. He was reluctant at first, concerned that his experience was with public universities, but applied and was offered the job in 2007.

Esteban became interim president in June 2010 after longtime president Monsignor Robert Sheeran retired. Esteban earned the top job the following January after the board of trustees exempted him from the requirement that Seton Hall presidents be priests. Esteban is a devout Catholic, however, attending morning Mass in the on-campus chapel near his office.

Esteban is the first Filipino-American to head a major university in the United States and one of the few Asians to reach his level in higher education in this country. Others include Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth College since 2009; Sung-Mo "Steve" Kang, former chancellor of the University of California at Merced; and the late Chang Lin-Tien, who served as chancellor at UC Berkeley. …