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FEATURE STORY
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Hail to the chief

Mildred García has assumed her new role as president of the second largest university in the Cal State system and the largest in Orange County. But as Cal State Fullerton’s chief executive, can she navigate the state budget mess, campus overcrowding and class shortages?

by jerry hicksPublished: September 01, 2012

When Dr. Mildred García took charge at Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) in June, she was excited about hosting her first reception at the historic 93-year-old El Dorado Ranch house, which now serves as the college’s official president’s residence – excited, that is, until all the bathrooms flooded.
   
García can tell that story now with a laugh, because things got a whole lot better after that inauspicious debut. For instance, there has been a round of receptions in her honor. Notable among them was one hosted by Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.
   
Prior to a day of meetings, García has found time to work out with a personal trainer several times a week. And she got to see “Little Women,” a student production on campus. Theater – and especially student theater – is among her passions, along with dance and music.
   
There was some minor grumbling about her high salary – the university gave García, 60, the maximum 10 percent raise when she replaced retiring Milton Gordon as CSUF president. But she came with impressive credentials: She was the first Latina president in the history of the Cal State system when she took the position at Cal State Dominguez Hills. And she’s won over most here with her energy and her passionate talk about connecting with the community through partnerships.
   
“It meant so much to us to hear her talk about the importance of alumni,” says Diana Fisher, executive director of the university’s alumni-relations office. “We have a strong alumni base here, but it means so much to have a president who understands reaching out to them and including them in the university’s future.”
   
But García believes that this is just one of her roles.
   
“A president has to run the campus plus be the face of the university in its fundraising efforts,” she says. “But there is an important third role: becoming a face to the legislature, to let them know what we are up against without their support. The tragedy is how far the Golden State has fallen behind in education.”
   
García takes over at a time when all the schools in the Cal State system have been hit with financial woes. In fact, things are so bad, CSUF is looking at zero new enrollment for spring semester if the legislature doesn’t come through with more funding.
   

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