Cal State’s new chancellor is inheriting a system in turmoil

Mildred Garcia, new chancellor-select of the California State University System. CREDIT: CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY

Mildred García is taking over the California State University system at a unique time.

The nation’s largest public university system faces a $1.5 billion budget deficit, a potential 6% annual increase in student tuition, the threat of strikes by employee labor unions, and declining enrollment. But García, named as the CSU system’s 11th chancellor on Wednesday, said she’s more than ready to address those challenges.

“This is a tough time, but look at the students that the CSU serves and how important it is that we continue to improve on all of this turmoil for the betterment of them,” García said, in an interview with EdSource.

The CSU’s approximately 460,000 students who mostly include first-generation, low-income and students of color are vital to the system, García said. “There are many of us who have done this work because of the passion and love we have for the students. This is the time to lean in and work collaboratively in order to lift,” she said.

García said her priorities for the nation’s largest public university system include promoting student success and learning about the work the CSU has taken on over the past year such as confronting problems in its Title IX enforcement, building sustainable revenue, and closing gaps in Black student graduation rates.

She also says she’s ready to make some difficult changes within the CSU. In the coming days, Cal State will release the full details of its Title IX assessment of how all 23 campuses address sexual assault and misconduct allegations. García said she’s already viewed drafts of the final report. The review came after former Chancellor Joseph Castro was forced to resign last year for mishandling sexual harassment allegations involving an administrator.

“California is not the only one going through Title IX, but that report is the most comprehensive, detailed report on how to hold people accountable and put things into place to hold them accountable,” García said. “There are no ifs, ands, or buts, and we say that to our communities, and we demonstrate what we’re doing. It is my understanding that campuses have already started the implementation teams. It is my role to make sure that work gets implemented and that we hold people accountable to get it done.”

García will officially start on Oct 1. Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester will remain in the role until then.

Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonpartisan student advocacy group, applauded García’s appointment.

“As the first Latina to hold the position of chancellor in the CSU system, Garcia’s selection is a historic milestone that reflects the increasing diversity of California and our commitment to inclusive leadership,” Siqueiros said. “On Day One, García will be contending with unprecedented enrollment declines, the real and persistent racial equity gaps in the CSU’s completion rates, and fiscal challenges. We know that García will make decisions with a student-first lens and an unapologetic commitment to racial equity.”

García said she wants to address the declining enrollment from high school age and community college students head-on and show the value of the CSU.

“We have to come together and demonstrate through our alum and role models the success you have when you get a degree and demonstrate that to families and students in their language and in their space,” she said.

A fan of data, García said she wants data to demonstrate the power of the CSU.

“I will argue it is much easier to educate someone that has all the qualifications and all the support services and went to great schools than to graduate a student who by no fault of their own went to an underserved school, doesn’t have the support network at home, doesn’t have the resources, and they graduate with a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “That’s the power of the CSU.”

García said she also wants to see better partnerships between the state’s community colleges and the CSU campuses.

“There are other campuses across the country that have four-year college advisers on the community college campus so the community college students could have someone to talk to on campus about transfer,” she said. “One thing I learned from Berkeley College (in New York and New Jersey) is we need to treat students with respect and dignity when they walk through the door, no matter where they come from.”

California Community Colleges Chancellor Sonya Christian said she looks forward to collaborating with García.

“Her experience and dedication to students is highly distinguished at the state and national level and will be critical to our systems’ work to prepare students with the skill and knowledge to create California’s future,” Christian said. “She is also breaking barriers in becoming the first Latina to oversee the nation’s largest and most diverse four-year university system.”

García said that, although she is the first Latina to lead the system and that she’s been the first in many other positions as well, “It is sad at some points that I’m the first Latina ever in so many situations, but if there has to be a first, I’m hoping that I am shattering the concrete ceiling for all women of color. I’m Latina. I’m Nuyorican. I’m Puerto Rican, and Puerto Ricans accept their Blackness. So I am representing women of color who can reach their highest heights.”

García previously worked in the CSU as president of the Fullerton campus from 2012 to 2018 and at CSU Dominguez Hills from 2007 to 2012. Prior to coming to the CSU, Garcia was the chief executive officer of Berkeley College, where she was the first systemwide president for all six campuses in New York and New Jersey. She has held academic and senior-level positions at Arizona State University, Montclair State University, Pennsylvania State University; Teachers Colleges, Columbia University; the Hostos, LaGuardia, and City Colleges of the City University of New York.

She is currently president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C., which represents the nation’s 350 state colleges and universities around goals of student access, success and opportunity. It’s a role she will leave once she starts the chancellor position in October.

García’s parents moved from Puerto Rico, and she was raised in New York City. She was the first in her family to earn a diploma with an associate degree from New York City Community College, a bachelor’s in business education from Bernard M. Baruch College, and a master’s in business education from New York University. She also earned a master’s and a doctorate in higher education administration from Teachers College at Columbia University.

As chancellor, García will receive annual compensation of $795,000, $80,000 in annual deferred compensation, an $8,000 monthly housing allowance since the chancellor doesn’t have an official residence, and $1,000 monthly auto allowance. She’ll also receive standard benefits given to CSU executives.

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