Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Rosser Revolution: President James Rosser's Leadership at California State University, Los Angeles Is a Testament That Diversity and Excellence Are Mutually Reinforcing Qualities in an Academic Setting

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

The Rosser Revolution: President James Rosser's Leadership at California State University, Los Angeles Is a Testament That Diversity and Excellence Are Mutually Reinforcing Qualities in an Academic Setting

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES

It's not surprising that urban colleges and universities with large commuter populations are among the most racially and ethnically diverse of all U.S. campuses. But many of those campuses have struggled over the years to fully appreciate and accommodate that student diversity by providing adequate academic and social support. That support includes a commitment to faculty diversity that is comparable to that of the student body.

For more than 26 years, Dr. James Rosser has headed what many experts consider one of the most diverse campuses in the nation, the California State University, Los Angeles. Diversity at CSULA encompasses both the student body and the faculty and administration ranks. The university boasts a student breakdown of 52 percent Hispanic, 22 percent Asian-American/Pacific Islander, 16 percent White and 9 percent African-American, while the full-time faculty is now just under 40 percent non-White. In comparison, people of color comprised roughly 53 percent of the Los Angeles city population, according to 2000 U.S. Census data.

"I think perhaps the most significant accomplishment is the general acceptance here now that diversity and excellence must go hand in hand," Rosser says of his tenure as CSULA's sixth chief executive.

His time at the helm of the university has in large part been focused on proving that diversity and excellence are mutually reinforcing qualities in an academic setting. Rosser has aimed at leading CSULA, one of 23 CSU schools, into the ranks of the nation's top-tier urban universities.

He gets high marks for his efforts from fellow college presidents with whom he has worked or has gotten to know over the years.

"I have worked closely with Dr. Rosser and it's been a good relationship. He's kind of a senior statesman in the sense that he has been here in the Cal. State system as president for 26 years," says Dr. James Lyons, the president of California State University, Dominguez Hills and former president of historically Black Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.

"[Rosser's] done a marvelous job of transforming a sleepy campus that really didn't have a lot of energy--no apparent specialized niche for itself and just serving whoever came--into a thriving campus with recognized programs in the engineering area, the sciences, in education and in the arts," says Dr. Sidney A. Ribeau, the president of Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

One of a handful of minority faculty members at CSULA when Rosser became president in 1979, Ribeau says Rosser's early presidential years were an inspiration as he moved into academic administration and held a series of administrative posts before becoming BGSU's president in 1995.

"Rosser showed that as a president you can make a real difference on a campus," he says. "So you see that and you say, 'I want to make a difference, too.' The other thing he does is that he challenges you to really be good, do your best work, and I think that's had a positive effect on a number of people who have gone on to presidencies" from CSULA.

A microbiologist, Rosser has also played a highly visible role in national efforts, commissions and councils supported by organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, which have sought to diversify the scientific and engineering workforce in the United States. Like counterparts at traditionally White institutions such as the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Rosser is among a recognized group of college presidents who have demonstrated how a commitment to diversity can help produce significant numbers of underrepresented minority bachelor degree recipients in the sciences and engineering.

"My attention on a national level--involvement with NSF, involvement with the National Academy of Engineering and involvement with NIH--has been trying to convey the notion that [diversity outreach] works if you provide the environment and the nurturing, and Cal. …

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