President Gordon Announces His Retirement After 21 Years of Service to Cal State Fullerton

He has overseen $636-million in university expansion projects, rubbed shoulders with celebrities, traveled the world as an ambassador for the university, and met the Dalai Lama.

But President Milton A. Gordon – who recently announced his retirement from Cal State Fullerton – is most pleased with a singular accomplishment embodied in a scene he witnesses on the Quad every day: Everywhere on campus, students work, study and socialize together, regardless of their diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

“It’s so great to see the students mingling together,” Gordon said.

“It used to be that they all remained separate from each other, even as their numbers were growing. It’s the greatest change I’ve seen – and I think it’s wonderful.”

Calling his many years in higher education his life’s work, Gordon announced his decision to step down at his 22nd annual convocation address September 13 before faculty, students and donors. He will remain in office until a successor is named.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as your president, and I wish to thank all of you – faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and friends in the larger community – for your ongoing support, help and advice, which has helped build Cal State Fullerton into the extraordinary university it is today,” Gordon said. A long, heart-felt standing ovation followed his address.

“Dr. Gordon’s presidency has transformed the campus, moving it in every way from one century to another,” said Thomas P. Klammer, dean emeritus of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “Through all the changes that he led and encouraged, one theme rang loud and clear: The mission of Cal State Fullerton was access with quality… I am proud and grateful to have been able to work for so many years in support of the goals that he articulated and embodied.”

During Gordon’s more than two decades as the university’s president, Cal State Fullerton has celebrated its 40th and 50th anniversaries, and grown from an institution serving 25,600 students to the more than 36,000 enrolled this fall.

Throughout 21 years of commencement ceremonies, Gordon has shaken the hands of thousands of graduates and presided over the graduation of more than half of CSUF degree-earners. More than 128,000 degrees have been awarded during his tenure, propelling the overall number of CSUF graduates past 200,000.

The milestones of the past two decades are many and impressive. For the past 12 years, CSUF has been the No. 1 destination in California for community college students transferring to a public university. The number of academic degree programs offered since 1990 has risen from 91 to 104, including the establishment of a doctorate in education program, one of the first in the 23-campus Cal State University system.

The latest U.S. News & World Report rankings elevate Cal State Fullerton to No. 6 among master’s-level public universities in the West, the highest ranking for CSUF since first being named to the Top 10 list in 2001. And Gordon is particularly pleased that the ethnic makeup of the university’s student population has grown increasingly more diverse. In fall 1990, 59 percent of CSUF’s students were white and 31 percent were minorities. Today, those numbers have reversed, with underrepresented students making up 57 percent of total student enrollment this year.

Graduation rates have mirrored the diverse enrollment increases, with CSUF ranked ninth in the nation for baccalaureate degrees awarded to minority students, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education and based on data from the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, CSUF is No. 1 in California and fifth in the nation among colleges and universities awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanics.

“Our campus has a very good record of graduating students regardless of race, ethnicity or gender,” Gordon said last year, when he was honored by the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education. “This has been accomplished through the provision of student support services, tutoring and mentoring – peer and professional – and, above all, through the conscious effort and dedication of our caring and nurturing faculty, staff, student affairs professionals, student organizations and by students dedicating themselves to their studies and degree objectives.”

Gordon has transformed Cal State Fullerton, said Eric Niu ’12, president of Associated Students, CSUF, Inc. “I hope that the next president has as much passion for students and is someone who will really advocate on our behalf, especially during this economic crisis.”

Rep. Ed Royce ’77 (R-Orange), a graduate in business administration, applauded Gordon’s exceptional service to the Orange County community. “His staunch support of education and his commitment to the students at CSUF is admirable, and deserving of appreciation.

“Among his many accomplishments at the university, President Gordon led the campus into prominence as one of our nation’s largest and most inclusive institutions of higher education,” Royce said. “He has been committed to broadening access to a college education, particularly among underrepresented communities, as well as extending CSUF’s outreach across the globe.”

Gordon, who has traveled the world on behalf of the university and trumpets CSUF as having a global view, notes that international agreements have increased from seven in 1990 to 84 in 2011, and international students attending Cal State Fullerton have nearly doubled, from 884 in 1990 to 1,544 this year.

“He has been so instrumental in the growth of progress of Cal State Fullerton, in particular in the diversity that he brought to the staff and student population,” said Miguel Pulido ’80, mayor of Santa Ana and a graduate in mechanical engineering. “As an alumnus, I so much appreciate his steadfast leadership. He has just been a giant and has done an absolutely amazing job.”

In addition to academic and demographic changes during Gordon’s tenure, the university opened satellites in Santa Ana and Garden Grove and moved its south county branch campus from Mission Viejo to the shuttered El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, and finally to its current site at 3 Banting in Irvine, where nearly 2,700 students are enrolled this fall.

Gordon presided over the largest construction period in the university’s history. More than $636 million in 22 new and revitalized facilities were completed, totaling 4 million square feet of interior space, including buildings devoted to instruction, student support and residential structures, among many others.

It’s also been a period marked by sustainability, with all new buildings erected since 2006 meeting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification standards. These include the Student Recreation Center, Children’s Center, Fullerton Arboretum Visitor Center and Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei Museum, as well as the newly opened student residence halls and dining complex.

The university also posted noteworthy gains in fundraising and public awareness under Gordon’s leadership. Front & Center, Cal State Fullerton’s signature community outreach and fundraising event for scholarships, was established in 1996, and has featured a wide variety of legendary personalities and entertainers, including Gen. Colin Powell, Michael Eisner, Walter Cronkite, Bill Cosby, Tony Bennett, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Reeve, Bob Newhart, Natalie Cole, Kenny Loggins, The Doobie Brothers, Gladys Knight, Chicago, Stevie Nicks, Reba McEntire, the Steve Miller Band, and Earth, Wind & Fire.

In 2008, Gordon celebrated a record-breaking $30-million gift from alumnus Steven G. Mihaylo, with the College of Business and Economics named in Mihaylo’s honor. Also that year, a $5-million gift named the Performing Arts Center after alumnus Joseph A.W. Clayes III.

“With President Gordon’s leadership, Cal State Fullerton has generated more than $179 million in private philanthropic support, a legacy that promises to yield benefits far into the future,” said Doug Simao, chair of the CSUF Philanthropic Foundation. “And the university’s endowment is $32.3 million, up from $1.67 million in 1990 – an impressive 95-percent increase.”

After more than 8,000 days as CSUF president, “Milt has definitely earned the right to determine his own agenda and how he spends his time,” said Jack Bedell, Academic Senate chair and professor emeritus of sociology. “He has presided over the incredible changes this campus has undergone and often under very difficult budgetary considerations. No one can deny his accomplishments.”

Gordon once called his position “the greatest job in America,” but he admits that it’s been downright difficult at times. One challenge occurred this year, when the university received more than 60,000 applicants and, because of impaction, turned away more than 8,000 students who were qualified to attend the CSU. “That hurts me to my heart,” he said.

But through it all, Gordon said, he has enjoyed what has been called “the Fullerton Way,” a collegiality among faculty and staff members, students and the public that he feels is unique to Cal State Fullerton. It was memorialized in a 360-page book of that name published in 2008, authored by History Professor Emeritus Lawrence B. de Graaf. “It would be wonderful to see that collegiality continue following my departure,” Gordon said. end of story


The Grand Total: The Gordon Legacy

$179 million: In the last 21 years, Cal State Fullerton has generated more than $179 million in private philanthropic support.

1st: In 1994-95, Cal State Fullerton became the first university in the CSU system to install a fiber optic infrastructure that changed and improved the use of technology throughout the university.

No. 1: CSUF has been No. 1 destination in California for community college students transferring to a public university.

One of Five: Cal State Fullerton is one of just five of the nation’s 1,200 four-year colleges and universities designated by the Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust as a national leader in price, quality and accessibility and in serving low-income students.

22: President Gordon has presided over 22 building projects, leading a dramatic expansion of university facilities, including more than 4 million square feet of interior space representing an investment of $636 million.

Forbes: In 2010, Forbes Magazine ranked CSUF among the top 100 public colleges nationally.

Throughout 21 years of commencement ceremonies, President Gordon has shaken the hands of thousands of graduates and presided over the graduation of more than half of all CSUF degree-earners.

No. 9: CSUF ranks No. 9 in the nation in 2011 in baccalaureate degrees awarded to minority students, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, based on data from the U.S. Department of Education.

$32 million: The university’s total endowment is $32.3 million in 2011, up from $1.67 million in 1990.

Enrollment in fall 2011 is 36,156, compared to 25,736 in 1990.