Cal State Fullerton’s fourth president, Milton A. Gordon, who led the University into prominence as one of the nation’s most inclusive senior institutions of higher learning, died today. He was 81 years old.
A lifelong educator who began his career as an elementary school teacher, Gordon became president of Cal State Fullerton in August 1990 and served the University for more than two decades, during which he strengthened student recruitment and retention programs and formed new partnerships with public and private community entities.
“The impact of Dr. Gordon’s leadership is now and will forever be felt at this University and in the lives and family legacies of the approximately 122,000 Titans — more than half of the University’s total alumni — who graduated during his 22-year tenure as president,” said President Mildred García, in a letter to the campus that was sent earlier today.
He saw the institution grow from serving 25,600 students to more than 36,000 students and oversaw the increase in academic degree programs from 91 to 104, including the establishment of a doctorate in education program, one of the first in the 23-campus California State University system.
U.S. Representative Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) wrote in a statement: “Marie and I were saddened to learn of Dr. Gordon’s passing. I first met Milt more than 20 years ago, when he was in his first years as president at Cal State Fullerton, my alma mater. As a state senator, and then as a member of Congress, I worked closely with Milt and deeply admired his commitment to improving access to education for all.
“Milt transformed CSUF from a regional school to a global one with his vision to help students pursue intellectual, cultural and economic dreams far beyond Orange County. Throughout his life, Milt’s determination shattered racial barriers, inspiring so many others. Yet for all his achievements, I will always remember Milt, first and foremost, as a very good friend. Our prayers are with his wife, Marge; their sons Patrick, Michael and Vincent; and the entire CSUF community.”
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, then to its current site in Irvine.
He presided over the largest construction period in the university’s history — more than $636 million worth of new and revitalized facilities, ranging from buildings devoted to instruction and student support to residential and parking structures, among others. In all, he added 22 buildings and more than four million feet of interior space to meet the needs of the institution and the students it serves.
“Milt was a personal and close friend,” said U.S. Representative Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana). “He won my admiration and respect with his acts of kindness and his passion for all of our Titan communities. He did so much and asked for nothing in return. He walked the walk. We love him and we will miss him.”
“I am grateful that I’m able to call higher education my life’s work,” Gordon said when he retired as president of Orange County’s most populous university in 2011.
“Dr. Gordon had a quiet dignity,” said Jack Bedell, professor emeritus of sociology and former chair of the Academic Senate. “He strongly supported faculty, for example, dedicating all funds from an annual fundraiser to the seeding of the Faculty Development Center and approving a grading policy giving faculty, for the first time, the plus/minus grading option in the face of strong opposition from the elected student leadership.” Bedell was a member of the search committee that hired Gordon.
At his final convocation, where he announced his retirement, Gordon said: “Being president of this great University has been one of the most exciting and professionally satisfying experiences in my professional career. I love this University, take great pride in what we have accomplished together and know a bright future lies ahead for Cal State Fullerton.
“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 to build Cal State Fullerton into the extraordinary University that it is today.”
In his first convocation address, the Chicago native stressed the themes of caring, striving for greater cultural diversity campuswide and preparing students for lifelong learning. His comments were in keeping with the oncoming demographic shifts projected at the time.
In the decades since, the ethnic makeup of the University’s student population has grown increasingly more diverse. In the fall of 1990, 59 percent of those enrolled were white, and 31 percent were minorities. At the time of Gordon’s retirement, the percentages had reversed, with students of color constituting 57 percent of those enrolled and whites 30 percent.
“President Gordon was a visionary and an insightful leader who worked tirelessly to promote equity, access and diversity on campus,” said Susan Barua, interim dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “He cared deeply for Cal State Fullerton and enjoyed working with students, faculty and staff. Dr. Gordon left a lasting legacy and will be greatly missed.”
It’s also been a period marked by sustainability, with all new buildings erected since 2006 meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification standards. Such projects include the Student Recreation Center, Children’s Center, Fullerton Arboretum Visitor Center and Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei Heritage Museum, as well as the newest student residence halls and dining complex.
Gordon is credited with presiding over the creation of numerous partnerships and programs, including one that is a national model for serving foster youth — the Guardian Scholars Program.
The first of its kind in the nation, the successful program was launched in 1998, in concert with the Orangewood Children’s Foundation. It brought Gordon recognition from the San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocate Program, which awarded him its 2010 Award for Outstanding Service to Children and the Community. The previous year, the Child Welfare League of America honored the program with its National Fostering Educational Success for Award.
In the municipal realm, partnerships with the county of Orange, as well as the cities of Fullerton, Santa Ana, Irvine and Garden Grove span the arts, archaeo-paleontology, instructional centers and public transportation.
In athletics, Gordon cheered the Titans on to two national championships in baseball in 1995 and 2004, and twice accompanied the student athletes and their coaches to the White House for ceremonies following their College World series wins. He had served on the board of directors and the executive committee of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, as well as the NCAA Division I President’s Advisory Group.
The educator held other leadership posts for national organizations, including a two-year stint as chair of the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities and service on the HACU Governing Board of Directors. He was a member of the National ROTC Program Subcommittee, U.S. Army; American Association of Colleges & Universities Grants Resource Center and Stewards in Place II Committee; and American Council on Education’s Commission on International Initiatives.
His local service included memberships on the boards of the Orange County Business Council, the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the World Affairs Council Board of Trustees.
Gordon was honored often during his 21 years as CSUF’s leader. Among the awards he received: the 2011 Illinois Institute of Technology Professional Achievement Award, the 2010 President’s Award of Excellence from the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities, the 2010 Alfredo G. de los Santos Jr. Distinguished Leadership in Higher Education Award from the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, and the 2010 Man of the Year Award from Christ Our Redeemer AME Church, the Black Chamber of Orange County, 100 Black Men of Orange County and the Orange County Ministerial Alliance.
Gordon joined the CSU in 1986 as vice president for academic affairs and professor of mathematics for Sonoma State University. Prior to service within the state university system, Gordon served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of mathematics at Chicago State University; project director, Title III of the Strengthening Development Institutions Program, HEW at Chicago State University; director of the Afro-American Studies Program at Chicago’s Loyola University; associate professor of mathematics at Loyola; mathematics instructor at the Illinois Institute of Technology; and elementary and secondary school teacher in the Chicago Public School System; as well as a mathematician for the Laboratory of Applied Sciences at the University of Chicago.
Gordon earned a doctorate in mathematics at the Illinois Institute of Technology, an M.A. in mathematics at the University of Detroit, and a B.S. in mathematics and secondary education at Xavier University of Louisiana.
Gordon is survived by his wife, Margaret Faulwell Gordon; their sons Vincent, Patrick and Michael; his sister Dolores Gordon; and grandchildren Nathan, Chesney and Rabiah.
Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 25, at St. Juliana Falconieri Church, 1316 N. Acacia Ave., Fullerton.
The family has requested in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the President Emeritus Milton A. Gordon Memorial Fund (account #99079) online at:https://giving.fullerton.edu/giving.aspx?szAccount_no=99079.