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A First for Latinos: Ortiz to Head California Community Colleges


LATINO PERPSECTIVE--Long Beach Community College District head Eloy Ortiz Oakley will take over as chancellor for California’s 2.1 million-student community college system in December. The community college Board of Governors announced their unanimous selection of the system’s 16th chancellor at a board meeting in Sacramento on Monday, July 18. 

He will become the first Latino chancellor of the 113-college system, which serves 2.1 million students and is the nation’s largest higher education system. He replaces Brice W. Harris, who retired in April after leading the system through a crucial period of budget cuts,  academic reform and controversies over accreditation. 

Serving as superintendent-president of the district since 2007, Oakley is best known as one of the architects of the Long Beach College Promise, a partnership with the city and local schools to provide early outreach, a free year at Long Beach City College and guaranteed admission to Long Beach State for students. It has been credited with raising college attendance in the area and was a model for a similar national program proposed by President Barack Obama. 

Oakley will also be the first Latino chancellor of the California community college system, where nearly one-half of students are Latino. He emphasized a need to raise completion rates for students who have been “historically left behind” in higher education, including Latinos and African Americans. 

“This is the backbone of our workforce and we must lead the entire state higher education system in addressing their needs and lifting them all,” he said. 

Praise for Oakley rolled in from higher education and political leaders, including Ted Mitchell, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and Gov. Jerry Brown, who said in a statement that the state’s 113 community colleges “are in good hands.” 

In November 2014, Brown appointed Oakley as a regent on the University of California’s governing board. Oakley said Monday that he would continue in the role to “build bridges” between the systems.

Geoffrey Baum, president of the California Community Colleges Board of Directors, said the relationship with Brown was a major selling point for Oakley, who will advocate for additional funding in California budget negotiations and in Washington, D.C. 

“He's known up and down the state as one of the most supportive presidents of the faculty senate,” said Karen Kane, president of the Long Beach City College Academic Senate. “[Oakley] has the right vision and the ability to see things that other people don't see. And he lays it out there and has the patience to wait for most people to catch up and understand where it is he's trying to go. He's the right leader at the right time.” 

Oakley said that in his first 90 days, he will focus on building relationships and continuing the priorities begun under Harris and former Chancellor Jack Scott. 

“They did a wonderful job of setting a very aggressive agenda for our system. So we're going to continue to move forward on the various student success initiatives, the workforce initiatives that are already well underway,” he told The Los Angeles Times. This is another example of how American Latinos are making a great difference in our communities. I wish Mr. Ortiz great success in his new role.

(Fred Mariscal came to Los Angeles from Mexico City in 1992 to study at the University of Southern California and has been in LA ever since. He is a community leader who serves as Vice Chair of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Coalition and sits on the board of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council representing Larchmont Village. He was a candidate for Los Angeles City Council in District 4. Fred writes Latino Perspective for CityWatch and can be reached at: [email protected].)


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