Training a New Class of Future College Presidents

By Simmons, Jeff | The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, February 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

Training a New Class of Future College Presidents


Simmons, Jeff, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education


"I am in my third presidency now. And I can always go back to the presidents who were there (in the MLI program) when I was a student. We've all become this amazing network of support."

Mildred Garcia, president of California State University, Fullerton.

Mildred Garda desired to scale the ranks of academia and step into the president's of- fice.

She had taught at community colleges, comprehensive institutions and research universities, includ- ing LaGuardia Community College and City College (both within the City University of New York system), Montclair State University in New Jersey, Pennsylvania State University, and Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City.

Her ascendancy continued as she assumed higher managerial posts at Montclair State University, Hostos Community College, also within the CUNY system, and LaGuardia.

It was while serving as vice provost for academic affairs at Arizona State University that her career tra- jectory was cemented. Her supervisor, the university's provost, nominated Garcia to take part in the first class of a novel program fashioned for aspiring leaders of academic institutions.

"I was in the very first class in 1999. This was something new. There wasn't a lot of hype about it," she says, brimming with enthusiasm about the experience. "It was a class of diverse individuals, people of color, women, all dealing with major demographic issues happening in this country."

The endeavor, the Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI), was conceived by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities' (AASCU) AfricanAmerican presidents to ensure that a new generation of higher education leaders reflected the evolving, di- verse landscape of the country, particularly as the pop- ulation of minority students escalated on campuses.

The program identified Hispanic, African-American, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders who already were in high-level positions and exploring career advance- ment to presidential or chancellor positions. Individuals can only be considered once nominated by presidents, chancellors and other chief executive officers.

Garcia soon after became the initiative's first grad- uate to be appointed as a college president, stepping into the post at Berkeley College in New York and New Jersey in 2001. Six years later, she became presi- dent of California State University, Dominguez Hills, where she was the 11th female - and first Hispanic - president. Three years ago, in June 2012, she was appointed as the fifth president of California State Uni- versity, Fullerton.

"I am in my third presidency now," she says. "And I can always go back to the presidents who were there (in the MLI program) when I was a student. We've all become this amazing network of support."

Garcia's experience is emblematic of the influence of a program that draws raves from graduates - called "protégés" - for carefully identifying talented indi- viduals not equally represented in the highest ranks of many academic institutions.

Since 1999, 484 protégés have graduated from the initiative. More than a third have advanced significantly in their careers, and more than 80 graduates have become presidents or chancellors. Like Garcia, several already have embarked on second or third presidencies, bringing MLI's influence to 100 presi- dencies, gaining ground in a domain traditionally underrepresented by individuals of color and in particular, Hispanics.

Gladys Styles Johnston, one of the founders of the initiative, recalls how it was conceived amid widening concerns about the lack of diversity in academia's upper echelons.

"The main issue for us was as we were going to grow older, who was going to replace us, and we were afraid that not one of us would be replaced by people who looked like us unless we did something our- selves," she says. "That was the genesis of the discus- sion. We wanted to ensure that women and minorities would be in the leading positions rather than have headhunters tell us 'we can't find them'. …

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