Scholars say basta to Chicano/Latino president shortage – enoughJuly 13, 2007 |
by Roberto Rodriguez
Efforts are underway to create a new pipeline to reverse shrinking representation
The current shortage of presidents of color at colleges and
universities in the United States is here to stay, say some higher
education experts. That is, unless some kind of intervention is
applied. Several scholars around the country are now mobilizing to
create just such a remedy for the shortage of Chicano/Latino presidents.
At the more than 3,500 colleges and universities located in the
continental United States, there are only 102 Chicano/Latino college
presidents, which includes those heading two-year and four-year
institutions. And according to Dr. Antonio Flores, president of the
Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), only one —
Dr. Manuel Pacheco of the University of Missouri — heads a major
“It’s a fraction of 1 percent,” says Flores of the number of Latino
presidents at research institutions. “Currently, the only place we’re
overrepresented is at the lower ranks of the workforce.”
Puerto Rico, Flores adds, is the only place where there are a substantial number of Hispanic presidents.
Not only is HACU concerned with the lack of Latino college
presidents around the country, the association feels mandated to do
something about it. HACU hopes to make a formal announcement this fall
about a major initiative it is developing to ameliorate the problem.
“We intend to implement a national leadership initiative that will
create [a] cadre of leaders, a critical mass of leaders who will be
able lead academic institutions — from deanships up to CEOs, and not
just at HACU schools, but at all colleges and universities,” Flores
says. “It is a priority for us.”
Fewer Now than Then
Dr. Arturo Madrid, distinguished professor at Trinity University in
San Antonio, says that there were more Latino college presidents ten or
fifteen years ago than there are now. He maintains that the aperture of
affirmative action that moved people of color into positions of
presidents or chancellors at major colleges and universities died in
the 1980s. And what’s worse, he says, is that for Latinos, there isn’t
even a pipeline.
“In the 1980s, it looked like some administrators would move up,
but it didn’t happen. People [were] capped out,” says Madrid, the
former head of the Tomas Rivera Center, the nation’s leading Latino
Not since the late Dr. Tomas Rivera was selected as president of
the University of California-Riverside in the 1980s has there been a
Latino at the helm of a major research university in California. There
are several Latino presidents at the California State system —
including Dr. Tomas Arcienega at Bakersfield, Dr. Manuel Esteban at
Chico, and Dr. Ruben Armina at Sonoma.
Many observers view the recent search for a president at the
University of New Mexico as evidence that the old-boy network is still
functioning. The university recently selected three finalists, but then
scuttled its search after many complaints surfaced about the secretive
nature of the headhunting process. Complaints from various sources
alleged not only that the process was secretive, but that the search
had been rigged.
The Hispanic Roundtable was concerned that Dr. Rat-non Gutierrez,
associate chancellor at the University of California-San Diego, was not
selected as a finalist, even though the New Mexico native son’s
credentials appear to make him an ideal candidate.
Gutierrez believes that it’s still very difficult for people of
color to advance to the top of the academic leadership career ladder.
“The darker you are, the more difficult it is to be selected,”
Gutierrez says. “The [White] elite are only comfortable with those like
them. It’s what they call a `comfort zone.”‘
Gutierrez intends to be in the running again when the regents resume their search.
No formal time line for the new search been announced by press
time. However, at a meeting earlier this month Board of Regents
president Larry Willard recommended that the new search he resumed in
The Need for Intervention
The absence of a network designed to cultivate prospective Latino college presidents is part of the problem.
“There is no direct line or formula,” says Dr. Richard Romo, vice
provost at the University of Texas. “Most college professors and chairs
of departments will never be high-level administrators because
management need is small — five or six at most. The majority of
professors will not make it to high-level posts and would not know how
to get into the inner circle. People of color have to be
extraordinarily prepared and qualified.”
For Whites, Romo adds, the rules are different. He cites the
example of Dr. Charles Young, the former University of California at
Los Angeles chancellor who was given the nod at age thirty-six in the
“He had no more than five years of higher education experience.
Some is luck and some of it is being mentored. This particular example
destroys all the particular notions that experience is the most
important factor. There’s very thin air at the top.
“To become president, you need both a mentor and someone pushing
for you. This is how Dr. Tomas Rivera (UC-Riverside) got the nod in the
1980s. Dr. Vera Martinez, a UC Regent, pushed for him,” adds Romo.
“It’s hard to get that kind of support because in many universities
around the country, administrators still treat scholars of color as
though they should be grateful just for being on campus.”
The current trend toward selecting presidents on the basis of their
perceived potential to raise money can present yet another impediment
for scholars of color, says Dr. Carlos Velez Ibanez, dean of
humanities, arts, and social sciences at UC-Riverside. He believes that
it is a misguided trend.
“There’s nothing like a president who can talk to professors on
equal intellectual grounds. If you don’t have your own independent
intellectual vision [of where your university is going], then you
become simply an accountant,” says Ibanez. “There’s nothing wrong with
accountants, but if that’s what presidents are [becoming], then they
should instead work for Smith/Barney.”
Trinity University’s Madrid says that a program similar to the one
that his association is attempting to create has already been
established for women and African Americans — the American Council on
Education’s ACE Fellows Program. The purpose of that program — and the
one HACU would like to establish — is to form a pool of candidates
that will be extra ordinarily successful, he says. (see Black Issues,
May 14, 1998)
However, Madrid doesn’t feel that the ACE Fellows Program has been particularly advantageous for Latinos.
“It was successful in tapping women…. Latinos were not a target
of that program and didn’t benefit from it,” says Madrid, adding, “The
fact is, the United States is not prepared to let Latinos assume
positions of power.”
Not everyone agrees with Madrid’s assessment.
“When I first became a president, all the Latina college presidents
could have met in a telephone booth,” says Dr. Piedad F. Robertson,
president of Santa Monica College in California. “There was only one
The former ACE fellow says part of the problem with creating more
Latino or Latina college presidents is identifying those individuals
who are qualified.
While this can be an arduous task, Robertson is “encouraged” by the
more than 100 Latino higher education leaders who exist in today’s
postesconclary market. She feels a personal obligation to steer other
Latinas in the right direction. It is a mission she takes seriously and
points to her recent referral of Dr. Lupita Tannatt to the ACE Fellows
program as an example.
“A lot of us have the responsibility to `grow your own.’ Just
because it was hard for us, doesn’t mean it has to be hard for everyone
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