The CSU Board of Trustees today announced the hiring of UC Davis vice chancellor of student affairs and campus diversity Adela de la Torre as new president of San Diego State University. De la Torre will take over for current interim president Sally Roush in June, becoming the first woman and first Latina to lead SDSU as its permanent president.
We made no secret of our hopes that the next SDSU president come from a diverse background. When former president Elliot Hirshman announced he was leaving for another university last year, I tweeted out a thread of all the presidents in school history. Eminently credentialed and well-qualified all, and each and every one a white guy.
Does this indicate a history of deliberate, willful gender bias and discrimination by the California State University and SDSU? No. But I submit that it doesn’t have to. It reflects and illustrates the structural inequities that have always underpinned society in this city, state and country. From 1898 through at least the ’70s, women and non-white potential candidates most likely weren’t even given an interview to be passed over for school president.
The hiring doesn’t fix or paper over that history. It does indicate progress in considering people from all backgrounds when hiring executives and leaders of large institutions. The presidency of a big school like San Diego State is a highly sought position. No doubt the California State University trustees had a deep pool of extremely qualified candidates. So all else being equal, it makes perfect sense for a Latina to lead the flagship university in San Diego, birthplace of colonial California. De la Torre’s hiring raises SDSU’s credibility as the primary educational institution and cultural hub of the city. Her background in student affairs should prove important as SDSU sheds its image as a commuter school.
The new president will arrive during a monumental transition period for the university as it strives to grow its endowment, lift the school’s standing as a research university and expand the campus footprint. De la Torre’s academic career at UC Davis, the University of Arizona and Cal Berkeley — prominent schools in their own right — has hopefully given her the experience and perspective needed to advance those aspirations.
SDSU can’t take a formal role in the electoral battle for Mission Valley, but the topic is nevertheless sure to dominate headlines for the first summer and fall of the new president’s tenure. Alumni and fans of San Diego State sports immediately began speculating what the hire portends for the mascot and Aztecs moniker. The mascot decision may already be decided when the new president arrives. Interim president Roush has indicated she would decide on the issue in May after an SDSU task force presents its recommendations. The university senate passed a resolution last November to retire the human mascot and representations of spears, but not the Aztecs nickname.
Clearing that decision off the table — before De la Torre arrives to a brimming full plate — makes a lot of sense too.