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Interview with Dr. Milton A. Gordon

Dr. Milton A. Gordon, President Emeritus: He retired from the Presidency of the California State University Fullerton, CSUF, at the end of 2011, after positioning it first by the number of Hispanic graduates with baccalaureate degrees.


Dr. Milton A. Gordon has masterfully directed the heritage he was able to raise in ambitious expansion projects and important programs for the University he loves so much; he has spent time with local and international personalities; celebrities; he has travelled around the world but his most precious achievement is when students of different racial backgrounds share a lunch, studies, laughter, with the most genuine camaraderie and courtesy despite their undeniable differences. His calm and wise look testifies that he retires from his position with the satisfaction of having fulfilled with the most complex mission of his life.


Dr. Milton a. Gordon becomes the fourth President of CSUF in 1990 and places it as one of the largest and most inclusive institutions of higher education in the nation. Since his appointment, Gordon strengthened the recruitment and programs for student retention, and established new partnerships with public and private community entities.


Milton Andrew Gordon was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1935. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and secondary education from Xavier University in Louisiana; a Master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Detroit and a Ph.D. in mathematics from the Illinois Institute of Technology. In March 2012, the Board of Trustees of CSUF conferred the title of President Emeritus Dr. Gordon with all rights and privileges thereof, for his distinguished service.



His father grew up in the southeast of the country, very segregated place, while traveling by train he should do so in the vans. In search of a better life he resolves walking 1,000 miles from Louisiana to Chicago. There he marries and starts a very strong family with five children, Dr. Milton Gordon is the youngest. By a scholarship received from basketball, the doctor reverses the journey and moved to Louisiana to study at Xavier University. During this time in New Orleans, 1950, he had an experience that marked his life. “I took the train from Chicago to New Orleans, but when any public transport crossed the Mason-Dixon line, I could not eat in the white dining room of the train. I was 18 years old. I repudiated this all my life, and I promised to create my own world in my mind, I had to do it”, he says with sadness. Some face adversity with their fists, he preferred to do it with his mind. He studied hard to achieve a Ph.D. and become the fourth African American President of the California State University System.

The graduation of Hispanic, Asian and African Americans ascended dramatically under his leadership. Programs for academic titles grew from 91 in 1990 to 105 in 2011, including Ph.D. programs in education. In 2011 U.S. News World Report ranked CSUF “among the six major public universities with Master’s programs in the West.” This is the highest rank that the University has achieved throughout its history.


Tell me about your parents.

My parents were very caring people and gave us an exemplary life. My mother taught me to read when I was very little. She graduated from a Latino high school in the neighborhood, and taught my father and my brothers also. My mom died 13 months after dad died, they were married for more than 50 years. They were classmates. We grew up very close. My older brother died already elder, he was 84 years old, and my older sister of 91 has still greater vitality and continues traveling around the world. If we added up her years of study, my other sister’s and mine, we would collect more than 100 years of study.


Dr. Gordon was devoted to study since childhood, worked as a young man and continued to study until obtaining his doctorate at the Illinois Institute of Technology, place located five blocks from his home.


“I had my first job at Loyola University in Chicago”, says Dr. Gordon. The only thing I wanted to do was to teach mathematics but noted that the University was not serving a large part of the city of Chicago, the poorest neighborhoods in the South. He wrote to the President of the University, Father Bamhard, suggesting what could be done to remedy that problem. Some days later he calls him and tells him: you know Milt, I think you’re right, and I want you to lead this program. Dr. Gordon founded and led the African-American Studies program at the University in 1971. He was Associate Professor of mathematics at the time, so he had to cut his hours of teaching for one year to structuring and teach the new program, what he did for six years until he takes the post of Dean of the College of Arts and Science at the State University of Chicago; eight years later he is Vice President of Academic Affairs of the Sonoma State University in Northern California. David Benson was the President and with his wife Betty Benson, became his good friends, gave him valuable guidance. He then continued postgraduate studies at Harvard University, in the School of Education for Directors. Four years later, in 1990, he was appointed President of the California State University, Fullerton, and “for the past 22 years I have been its President”, he says proud.


The term rectors of universities regularly are maintained in their functions is five years. Dr. Gordon has remained more than four times the time, always feeling he still had much more to do. And, he has generated an explosion of growth in the number of students, programs and expansion in those 22 years.

When he took office, this campus had 25,600 students, now it has more than 36,000 enrollees and offers 105 programs in eight colleges. CSUF is accredited by the Association of Schools and Colleges in the West, and it is one of the largest campuses in the system of 23 universities in the state of California. It is ranked ninth in the nation by the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded to students from different ethnic backgrounds, and the first in California by the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded to Hispanics. When asked what formula he used to achieve success on so many fronts, meekly responds that he invested all the first year to observe the culture of the campus, then he spent several years putting the campus and the community together to establish its mission and objectives. The result was to draw up a mission with clear objectives.

“CSUF is a regional University with a global perspective, area rich in technology and with vibrant culture for the metropolitan area of Los Angeles. Our affordable undergraduate and graduate programs provide students the best of current practice, theory and research, and once we had our mission with clear objectives we were able to move forward steadily”, says with certainty.

Under his presidency the campus changed radically with the renovation and construction of new buildings, over 4 million square meters of surface area covered, using an investment of $636 million. Some of them are new sports complex; the Foundation Centre of Molecular Structure, W. M. Keck, first in the country to install a fiber optic structure that changed and improved the use of technology in the University; Botanical Garden; Performing Arts Center; Center of Recreation for students; Pollak Library; Faculty of Economics and Business Mihaylo; Students Hall and some more. Campuses in Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Irvine were opened with more than 2,700 students attending classes. Another of his creations is Front & Center, a program sponsoring events to raise funds for scholarships and that has proven its effectiveness, where the world of entertainment and legendary personalities were responsible for bringing relevant earnings.


“As president, Milton Gordon has led California State University, Fullerton into prominence. His accomplishments have been a source of inspiration and strength to those he has met, students, community leaders, and his staff and faculty. Every so often, we are blessed with an educator who is totally committed to the academic success of students. We honor such an educator for his love, courage, and the sacrifices he has made to improve the education of all students, particularly for historically underrepresented students.” Dr. Silas H. Abrego, Acting Vice President for Student Affairs.


“We have the same struggles that Latinos. I do not believe that they have been attacked less than Americans. We are here together in the struggle towards equality”, says the doctor.


Why do you defend so much the Latino causes?

The African American history is the same history of the Méndez, the same history of Latinos. I have always felt the need to bring equality to African-American, Latinos or any other segregated ethnic group. I deeply rejected not to eat in the white dining room on the train when I was young, I never accepted it, so I took it as an insult. I’ve increased the ethnic diversity on campus. In 1990 the 59% was of white students, now the 57% is Latino, Asian and African-American. I want everyone to have the same rights and opportunities. I repudiate anyone that insults your culture or your differences. I’ve known Silas Abrego for over 30 years and we have achieved together having 41% of Latino students, 23% of Asians and 3-5% of Americans. We have graduated more Hispanic students than any other University in the state of California. Silas Abrego is a good friend of mine, the two of us have dedicated to our work with devotion. It has given me many awards, such as the “Alfredo G. de los Santos, Jr.”, “César Chávez”, among others. Also, I have gotten involved in many Latino organizations, I have been the President of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, HACU, for two years and I am still in its Board of Directors; on Sunday I must attend a meeting with them in Washington DC, and I’ll have my voice heard because I don’t see the difference between African-Americans, Latinos or any other human being.


“President Gordon has provided Fullerton with a steady leadership over a long period that has resulted in remarkable growth of the campus. His leadership is evident in not only the significantly larger physical capacity of the campus, but also in the diversity and size of its faculty and student bodies. His legacy of a transformed campus sets the stage for its hopeful future” – Anil K. Puri, Dean of the Mihaylo College of Business and Administration.

Thomas Klammer, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences said that through all the changes that the President brought the to the University, the most admirable was that its mission remained current: Access for all to a quality education.

More than 128,000 degrees were conferred during his tenure, surpassing 200,000 graduates. Gordon, who has traveled the world spreading the global vision of CSUF, has obtained 84 international contracts in 2011, there were seven in 1990, increasing the number of foreign students attending the University from 884 in 1990 to 1,544 in 2011.

“Among his many achievements, President Gordon led the campus towards excellence and is committed to expanding access to higher education, particularly to less represented communities, and the rest of the world” – Ed Royce, US House of Representatives and graduate from CSUF.

In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked CSUF among the 100 most important public universities in the country.

“I love CSUF and I am proud of what we have achieved together. There is one person in particular that I want to acknowledge and is my wife, Dr. Margaret Faulwell Gordon, who has been with me every step of these 22 years. An academic and trustee in her own right, she has been my main counselor, my fan and my best friend. We all owe her enormous thanks for her central role in the improvement of CSUF”, says proud on the day of his farewell.



What plans do you have today? Hobbies?

I’ll be working as trustee and will complete my work in this Office. However, my wife and I we like to travel a lot, we have done it around the world. We went to Milan and saw the Great Mirror of “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci; it was incredible, it is twenty percent damaged. Did you know that only 25 people can access this site per day? We have seen wonderful paintings by many artists from around the world, we went several times to England, Ireland, France. We enjoy much travel and read interesting books.

How many children do you have?

I have three sons, Patrick, Mike and Vincent.


Do you have grandchildren?

Nate, Chessa and Rabia. Nate is 18 years old and currently attends the San Luis Obispo campus. And, we are going to have a fourth grandchild, Christy is going to have her baby tomorrow Friday, or on Saturday, March 24.

Does the family get together often?

When we had the big Chapman house, 5,500 square feet with four or five bedrooms, there was much free space, we got together fairly often. We also used to meet with various Hispanic and African-American organizations, and host vocals and plays performances. We recently moved to a smaller house of 2,800 square feet, we have thousands of white boxes stacked everywhere. We are still getting settled so visitors will have to wait a little bit for now.


What is your message for Latino and African American young people who do not know what to do?

Not accept any snub from anyone. Feel proud of your roots and study much. My sisters and I grew up in a very poor neighborhood but studying, we managed to build us a good life. You too can do so.

Dr. Gordon always fought against the ghost of discrimination but through education, he forged a dignified life for himself and has given his wisdom and extended his protection to people of all races and creeds, encouraging them to continue studying, so they are educated moreover achieve a life full of gratifications. He is proud of his roots, of graduating from public schools in Chicago. “My two sisters taught for more than 30 years in public schools in Chicago”, he says satisfied.

His active professional involvement has led him to be a member of the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the National Association of Athletes and the NCAA Division in the Advisory Group of Presidents. He is a member of HACU; Subcommittee of the ROTC National Program; American Association of Scholarships for Colleges and Universities and Board of Trustees; American Council for the Commission of Education on international initiatives. He also serves on the boards of the Orange County Business Council, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, and the Board of Trustees of the World Affairs Council.

His many awards include: 2012, “Excellence for Life” – Orange County Hispanic Chamber; 2011, “Professional Achievement” – Illinois Institute of technology; 2010, “President’s Award of Excellence” – HACU; 2010, “Outstanding Service to Children and to the Community” – San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocates; 2010, “Alfredo G. de los Santos, Jr.” for distinguished leadership in higher education – American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education; 2010, “Man of the Year” – Church AME Christ Our Redeemer, African-American Chamber of OC, 100 African Americans of OC, and Ministerial Alliance of OC; 1999, “César Chávez” for service to the community – Hispanic Lawyers Association; 1998, “Director of the Year” – OC Society for the Promotion of Directors; 1998, “Citizen of Distinction” – OC – NCAACP;” 1994, “Tree of Life” – National Jewish Fund; 1992, “September 22, Milton Gordon’s Day” – University of Chicago, and many other awards.

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