Past and present campus members, as well as members of the California State University and representatives of state legislative leaders joined together early October to celebrate the man and the milestones achieved by the late California State University Fullerton (CSUF) President Milton A. Gordon, the University’s fourth leader who served for more than 20 years.
During the celebration of Gordon’s life, current CSUF President Mildred García shared a personal perspective, calling Gordon a mentor, a colleague and a friend.
“We welcome you to the celebration of life for President Milton Gordon, a man who spent 22 years propelling this university into the national spotlight for providing equitable, accessible pathways to higher education for all students — regardless of where they came from,” she said.
García made note of Gordon’s background and that before he was born, “his father made the 1,000-mile trek from the segregated south of Louisiana to Chicago in the north on foot, knowing that with every courageous step, his future children might have a better chance at a college degree.
“A young Milt would not fully comprehend his father’s exodus from the south until he himself made the return voyage to Louisiana to attend college at Xavier University some two decades later.”
Instead of walking 1,000 miles like his father however, “Gordon chose a lifelong journey grounded in the one true solution to violence, injustice and intolerance: education,” García said.
“President Gordon was not only a product of equitable access to higher education, but also a champion for its transformative power. In his final convocation message in 2011, he told the campus community, ‘I am grateful that I’m able to call higher education my life’s work.'”
Many in the audience agreed. Amir Dabirian, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, stressed Gordon’s vision about technology, including establishing the Division of Information Technology and the implementation of a campus network infrastructure in 1997, making CSUF the first in the CSU to do so.
“He was a trailblazer in his own right,” said Dabirian. “I am who I am because of him.”
Alumna and singer/songwriter Eric McNally fondly remembered the man she would often see on stage at ‘Concert Under the Stars’ and his enthusiasm. It was at Gordon’s 2011 retirement gala that “it finally hit me, how much he loved this school.”
Dick Ackerman, retired state senator and a vice chair of the Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Board, remembered Gordon’s efforts to bridge strong connections between the University and the community, how he even found the time and effort to track down the then-freshman senator on his first day to call.
“He was a very heartfelt man … he made town and gown meaningful,” he said.
Two CSU trustees also spoke of the man who became their friend. Silas Abrego, trustee and CSUF vice president emeritus for student affairs, remembered the first time he met the newly appointed president in 1990. Abrego, at that time, was serving as the University’s director of students, academic services and university outreach.
“He had only been here for a couple of weeks and my office was located in the basement of the library. Now, no one visited the basement of the library in those days,” Abrego explained to laughter. “But Milt Gordon did with a simple direct question: Why didn’t we have any of the federally-supported TRIO programs?”
Gordon then urged Abrego to get them.
“Thus began our 22-year working relationship,” Abrego said, who reminded the audience of how well respected Gordon became in the community and the honors he received from all quarters, including being asked to serve as president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. “Such recognition speaks volumes about him as a person, a scholar and a leader.”
Herb Carter, who chaired the CSU Board of Trustees from 2010-12 and also served as acting president of Cal State Dominguez Hills, noted that what he remembered most about Gordon was “that he almost never used ‘I,’ nearly always using ‘we’.
“When Carter finally asked him about it, Gordon said: “It was ‘the Fullerton way … it’s the way we do things. “Milt embraced ‘we’ over ‘I’ because it was the way he lived his life. As we in the Titan family process our grief and celebrate his memory, I know that we, too, are grateful that he made higher education, his students and this University his life’s work. We thank Dr. Gordon for all he has given us,” said García.