In the heat of summer, the interplay of leadership positions filled and vacated has been relatively still. However, one hire whose responsibilities oversee nearly half a million students is creating a big splash. The California State University (CSU) system may have found its long-awaited leader with a proven track record of success.
A pair of other colleges, both small and large, have found their presidents, too. One enters her tenure as a proven academic leader, while the other enters the fray after a career in public service and a private law firm.
Each president was a “first” upon their hire, either as their respective school’s first Hispanic, Latina or women leader.
Mildred García – California State University System
Facing a $1.5 billion budget gap, lasting criticism over bungled sexual misconduct cases, and a powerful union poised to strike again possibly, CSU is turning to a familiar and exceptional individual to navigate the 23-campus network out of its hole. CSU’s Board of Trustees has selected Dr. Mildred García as the first Latina chancellor to lead the system.
García’s list of accolades and accomplishments is exhaustive. She last worked at the CSU system as president of two different universities back-to-back (CSU Fullerton and CSU Dominguez Hills) over an eleven-year period. Previous to that, she became the first system-wide president and CEO at Berkeley College, which comprised six campuses across two states. Her administrative experience expands across at least five schools, including Pennsylvania State University and Columbia University.
However, her most recent work in higher education is at the national level. García is currently in her fifth year as the president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), whose purpose is to effect public policy favorable to public higher education’s standing. As the first Latina president at AASCU, she has restored the 350-member organization’s health, according to a CSU statement. Additionally, former President Barack Obama appointed her to several education advisory boards and by the U.S. Secretary of Education to serve on a committee measuring student success.
“Dr. García is a highly skilled, dynamic and principled leader who has championed student success—especially for those students from underrepresented communities—throughout her long and distinguished career in public higher education,” said Wenda Fong, chair of the CSU Board of Trustees.
Beginning October 1, García will enter a CSU system amid an audacious tuition hike proposal.
Kimberly Andrews Espy – Wayne State University (Mich.)
The Wayne State University Board of Governors has tapped Dr. Kimberly Andrews Espy to lead the university. As of Aug. 1, she will be the school’s 13th president and first female.
With the hire, Espy is leaving the University of Texas at San Antonio after an illustrious career as the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs since 2018. She will be remembered for prioritizing student career development and her innovative hiring structures that ensured the recruitment and retention of a talented and diverse faculty body. In 2021, she oversaw the university’s earning of R1 Carnegie classification, according to a school statement.
Her previous leadership experience in higher education is in vice president roles at the University of Arizona and University of Oregon.
However, her 25-year career in higher education also expands into true academia. Espy is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Association. Her work studying young children’s academic outcomes has earned her over $22 million in funding. She is a licensed clinical psychologist with a Ph.D. in clinical neuropsychology from the University of Houston.
Jay Gonzalez – Curry College (Mass.)
Former Democratic nominee for governor of Massachusetts Jay Gonzalez will debut in higher education leadership as the president of Curry College. He is slated to start as the school’s 15th president—and the first Hispanic to serve in the role—on July 31.
Gonzalez earned his bachelor’s from Dartmouth College and his law degree from Georgetown University. From there, he worked on former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s gubernatorial campaign, from which he became Secretary of Administration and Finance three years later. He also helped reform the state’s health care system as Chairman of the Board of the Massachusetts Health Connector. After losing to incumbent nominee Charlie Baker in Massachusetts’s 2018 general election, Gonzalez became a partner at law firm Hinckley Allen in 2019.
“This is an opportunity for a transformational leader to join Curry and coalesce the community around a forward-thinking agenda,” said Board Chair Pat Hughes, according to a Curry College statement.
Gonzalez’s experience working in higher education is as an adjunct lecturer at Northeastern University School of Law.