On Jan. 22, 2018, Mildred García will no longer be the president of Cal State Fullerton.
After serving nearly six years as the head of the university, García announced she was offered and accepted the presidency of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) in an open letter to faculty, staff and other employees Monday morning.
“This is a pretty bittersweet, emotional day for me,” García told the Daily Titan.
The final contract was signed Friday afternoon, though García said she had been interviewed for the position during the AASCU’s annual conference that took place from Oct. 21 to 25.
The AASCU is a national association based out of Washington, D.C. that represents nearly 420 institutions by advocating for public policy, helping create educational programs and offering workshops to support professional development for university presidents and other executives.
García said she was a beneficiary of programs put in place by the association.
“There’s an amazing program called the millennium program that actually prepares underrepresented individuals to think about becoming presidents,” García said. “I was in their first graduating class in 1999, and I was the first person to become president when I graduated from that program.”
According to an AASCU statement, García will be the first Latina to lead a higher education association in Washington, D.C.
The Oct. 31 appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos at CSUF postponed the president’s decision to take a new position, but she said the association was “very understanding” of her diverted attention and focus.
“I know that she and all of us were really focused on the speaking engagement that happened last Tuesday,” said CSUF Chief Communications Officer Jeffrey Cook.
CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White will visit CSUF “in the coming weeks” to meet with García, university officials and the local community so he can get an impression of what the campus is looking for in a new leader.
White will appoint an interim president when García leaves and will lead the search process to find a permanent replacement. García said she has no inclination as to who will be replacing her, or whether or not the successor will come from the CSU system.
“I encourage faculty, staff and students to be at those meetings and tell the chancellor about the kind of person they would like to see first as interim and then in the permanent presidency,” García said.
She said as of now, no one in the CSUF administration will be following her to the AASCU.
García’s departure comes amid CSUF preparing its next strategic plan, which she previously said would be unveiled during her 2018 Convocation Address.
The new four-year plan is set to be completed by May or June, García said, and veteran faculty members who helped with the first plan will be involved with the new one.
Because of this, García expects the plan’s emphasis on promoting the Graduation Initiative 2025 program, creating strong academic programs, hiring diverse faculty and raising more external funds for the university to remain even after she is gone.
“That is core to our mission and core of who we are, so we will continue working in that direction,” García said. “I do not believe anyone interim will come and stop the trajectory and the movement that is happening at Cal State Fullerton … I am still working here. I am still the president until I leave, and we will continue to work very hard for the benefit of our students, faculty, staff and community.”
García will continue to work with senior leadership on preparing for CSUF’s Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) reaccreditation and on events celebrating the university’s 60th anniversary.
Cook said even if this is “an emotional day,” García is leaving a legacy that gives CSUF a firm footing, especially given that “institutions are bigger than any one person.”
“This is an incredibly strong organization that, while we are certainly sad and there will be a deficit for us without her leadership, this is an institution that’s not going to stand still,” Cook said.
García said that while she won’t be present for events after January, like commencement, she will return to CSUF “if I’m invited and I can make it.”
“This university was fabulous and great before I got here, and it will be fabulous and great after I leave here because of the people that work here,” García said. “I would tell my potential successor to embrace an institution that loves the over 40,000 students we serve. To take the energy this university has and take it to the next level, to take it to even higher heights.”
Zack Johnston and Harrison Faigen contributed to this report.