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VC Horace Mitchell to lead CSU Bakersfield

| 02 June 2004

 



Horace Mitchell
Peg Skorpinski photo

After nine years as head of the campus’s Business and Administrative Services unit, Vice Chancellor Horace Mitchell is poised to assume the presidency of California State University, Bakersfield. Mitchell, 59, leaves California Hall July 9 and will assume the reins at CSU Bakersfield July 15.

“I have said in the past that the only reason I would leave prior to retirement would be to become a university president,” said Mitchell, in announcing his resignation. “This is an excellent opportunity. Cal State Bakersfield is a growing campus with infinite possibilities, and the opportunity to serve as its president is an honor. . . .If in the next decade, I could help CSU Bakersfield advance toward the level of excellence that Berkeley has achieved, then I would feel very proud.”

As head of BAS since 1995, Mitchell has been responsible for a large and varied universe of campus units supporting the campus’s academic mission — among them business operations, athletics, human resources, parking and transportation, printing, environmental health and safety, and health and counseling services. He managed an annual operating budget of $115 million and a staff or more than 1,100 full-time employees. This experience leaves Mitchell “exceedingly well prepared for this wonderful opportunity,” said Chancellor Berdhal, who cited Mitchell’s career as a faculty member and an administrator. “He knows the university from many perspectives.... I believe he will be an outstanding president for Cal State Bakersfield. The Cal community will miss him.”

He also praised Mitchell’s skill at connecting with people “in a very special way” — a quality borne out by testimonials from varied quarters. “Horace has set a standard for respectful treatment of people, one that enhances how we care for the community and how we deliver services to the campus,” noted Steve Lustig, Assistant Vice Chancellor for University Health and Counseling Services. In a note of congratulations, elevator maintenance superintendent Ron Cook recalled meeting Mitchell early in the vice chancellor’s tenure at Berkeley. “You were walking around meeting different folks, and for some reason you noticed me standing some distance away and you made the effort to introduce yourself and ask what job I held at the university. [This] left a lasting impression with me.”

A licensed psychologist who has taught in the campus’s Department of African American Studies, Mitchell has also been a role model for many students. Anita Smith was a student in Mitchell’s class in African American psychology. “He was on top of everything,” she recalled. “His lectures were awesome.” She is now pursuing a doctorate in psychology, she said, in large part thanks to Mitchell’s generous mentorship.

She added that Mitchell’s appointment as CSU president is bittersweet news for black students and staff at Cal, who feel both pride at his success and sadness at his departure. “With the African American student population so low on campus, his presence was a ray of hope, that we would have someone to connect ourselves with…. He was holding the torch up there.” Staffer Iola Fay Harris, president of the Black Staff and Faculty Organization, called Mitchell “a fine source of leadership and inspiration for African American students, staff, and faculty, not to mention the greater campus community.” BSFO is quite concerned about the diminished African American presence on campus, she said: “Horace has been instrumental in keeping the concerns of the African American community in the forefront.”

Before coming to Berkeley, Mit-chell worked at UC Irvine for 17 years, where he held various administrative positions, the last as vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life. He received his education at Washington University in St. Louis, where he later headed the Black Studies Program and served as an administrator.

Mitchell says he has been interested in leading a college campus since about a decade ago, when he was a finalist for the presidency of San Jose State. Soon afterward he came to Cal under then-Chancel-lor Chang-Lin Tien, who was concerned that while Berkeley was excellent academically, it was losing the administrative capability to support that excellence. Mitchell took the job at BAS with that in mind: He showed a keen interest in improving the campus’s organizational culture, revamping its administrative underpinnings (such as its outmoded financial system), and strengthening ties between campus and the community. Irene Hegarty, director of the campus Community Relations office, said his skills as a listener served the campus well in its relationships with the city and the East Bay business community. “As a psychologist, he understands, often at an unspoken level, where people are coming from. He’s patient and always calm.” Berkeley’s assistant city manager, Arrietta Chakos, said that in difficult town-gown situations, Mitchell always managed to interject humor just at the right moment, “which lowered the collective blood pressure of the group. It’s been a blessing.”

Mitchell is looking forward, he says, to strengthening CSU’s Bakersfield’s educational programs, its ties with the community, its partnership with K-12 schools, and its academic and research support to the region’s economy. To date, he’s made four visits to the Bakersfield campus and area and says both he and his wife have been “pleasantly surprised” by the community, which has a population of 260,000 and a strong oil and agricultural economy. “It was important to me that Barbara was entirely agreeable” to the move, he says. “Actually, she’s been quite excited.”

His new office looks out on a plaza and open land, some of which is available for development by CSU. Coming from space-starved Berkeley, that option is “really new,” and welcome. When CSU Bakersfield folks speak of a campus “parking problem,” he notes, they mean a five-minute walk from car to office.

Mitchell says he will miss rubbing shoulders at Cal athletics events with the cadre of stalwart grads familiarly known as “Old Blues.” He hopes to foster comparable pride among Roadrunner boosters.