“Latino College Presidents: In Their Own Words” is a collection of autobiographical-professional essays by leading Latino and Latina presidents of colleges and universities across the country. Each has written a chapter based on their personal education and professional lives. Co-editors David León and Rubén O. Martinez talk about recollections and insights of how each one of the eleven featured educators forged their pathway and faced problems, their presidency, and lessons learned.
Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. Latino College Presidents In Their Own Words is a collection of autobiographical essays by Latino and Latina presidents of colleges and universities across the country. Joining me tonight to talk about the book are co-editors Dr. David Leon, chair and professor emeritus in the ethnic studies department at California State University Sacramento, and Dr. Ruben Martinez, a professor at Michigan State University. Welcome to Horizonte.
Both: Thank you.
Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. The book talks about literally in their own words, each chapter is written by a particular President, Latino or Latina, and one of the reviews I was read it go talked about the fact that you didn't do the normal statistical analysis. You really did want to hear what these people had to say about their experiences. Why?
David Leon: Well, I think that, that's a more powerful statement of who these individuals are. Many of them are first generation college students, and their parents have very low or no education, nine of the seven, were the first ones in their families to go to college, and here they are. CEOs and presidents and chancellors of higher education, and how, how did they overcome that, that huge educational and economic situation?
Jose Cardenas: And David, talking about some of the, some of the, as I understand it, six commonalities that you all identified in terms of the experiences that this group had. Talk about those.
Ruben Martinez: Well, one of them was that, that all of them came from families that valued education. It does not matter which, which economic position or location the family was in society, whether they were very poor or well to do. All of the families valued education, and instilled in their children a love of learning and a love of education. That was a strong dimension across the, the different presidents. And another one was, was that they did come to love learning, and they want, as presidents, to create opportunities for students, to be able to have the opportunity to learn, to, to take advantage of the, of the opportunities in higher education today.
Jose Cardenas: Now, with respect to the Latinas in the group, and I understand that there were four of them.
Ruben Martinez: Yes.
Jose Cardenas: One of the viewers talks about the devil helix of prejudice both walk-off their ethnic origin and their gender.
Ruben Martinez: Right. There is a couple of aspects. One of them has to do with, with the, the patriarchal roles that we have in the society, and particularly, you know, that's the larger society, but particularly, in our own Latino communities where, where women are expected to, to pursue traditional roles, as they become adults. So, they are not expected to become professionals or to take on roles that, that are not commonly held by women. So, they have that issue to deal with. But, then, when you get out into the professional world, you know, when they are in meetings and they are the only person in the room that's a woman, and they make suggestions about what could be done or, you know, their brainstorming about, about some issues strategically, they are not hurt. So, they have to find ways by which their ideas can be inserted into the conversation and they can be addressed and taken seriously as potential wave lengths in which some issue can be addressed.
Jose Cardenas: And Dr. Leon, the, the underlying motivation for the book is the significant underrepresentation of Latinos in leadership positions and higher education. Describe what you are talking about there.
David Leon: Well, when you take a look at colleges and universities across the country, only less than 5 percent of those individuals are Latino or Latina, and actually, when you take a look at the numbers, it's right now about 3.9 percent. So, it has, actually, decreased, and so this really troubling given the fact that the Latina population is the fastest growing minority population, not only in Arizona, but also across the country. And so, this really troubles us, and this is a wakeup call to the Latino community and to the community at large that something needs to be done. And we wanted to, to present that message to one audience.
Jose Cardenas: And is that a problem, though, that will cure itself as you have more and more Latinos and Latinas going into higher education, and some of them pursuing careers in that field? Will the numbers be such that at some point, that's going to take care of itself?
David Leon: I wish that that were true, but, there was another study done by A.C.E., and it was entitled, The Pathway to the Presidency. The general pathway to the president is, a Ph.D., teaching, become a department chair, move onto school dean, and then finally, to a provost position. But what we see is that when we take a look at those pathways, Latinos are not represented, and those critical positions, so, so we can't rely on that traditional pathway to, to provide a way for Latinos to, to come, college presence and universities, we have to find other means, other venues to, to find talented individuals, and to, to assume these leadership positions.
Jose Cardenas: And Dr. Martinez, how will this book deal with that problem?
Ruben Martinez: Well, I think the story is that the Presidents presented here speak to the humanness, to the kinds of obstacles that they experience and how they overcame them. And, and you know, in this society, there is a tendency to think of our institutional leaders as being as extraordinary individuals, and beyond the ordinary, and when in fact, they are very talented individuals, by virtue of experiences mentoring and some other opportunities. They have been able to get to where they are at. But, they are just human like the rest of us, and the presidents here not only speak to the obstacles that they experience because there is a tendency also to think that you are, you are at the top of an organization, that you had it easy to get there. And they speak about the, the obstacles that they faced and, and the other thing of it is that they provide a considerable amount of device, for young people, who, who are starting out in higher education, as employees, either as faculty, or staff, and they provide, provide, I think, invaluable information about, about the kinds of things that, that they need to do to be successful as administrators and I think that begins to address that issue.
Jose Cardenas: And the first point, that you made, which is that they are just human, they are like the rest of us, and one of the findings, though, that you discuss is the fact that they are held to a higher standard, or they seem to be. And, and, and as compared to their white colleagues.
Ruben Martinez: Right, that's the future of American society, right, we do have racism. It has been here since the beginning of the society. And still today, particularly in this period of austerity, period of austerity, people are more likely to, I think, protect valiant positions. One of the things about the presidency of an institutional of higher education, it's a prestigious position. It comes with good pay. It comes with political influence, it comes with incredible accolades, and a great reputation. So, it's something that people want to cover, they want to get to it and keep it. When you have scarcity in society, people ratchet down and begin to protect them, and so, it's important then that, that we recognize this and find ways as Dr. Leon is talking about, maybe expanding leadership programs, giving opportunities to others for internships, and administrative internships and so on, to be able to move up.
Jose Cardenas: And now, Dr. Leon, one of the things that the two of you comment on in your book, is, is not only the leadership positions overall, at the top level of the higher education, but then the differences between the two-year colleges, the four-year colleges, and between the, the major publics and the private institutions, and then the elite liberal arts colleges.
David Leon: Right. Well, we have a very structured, rigid system of higher education. We have the public and we have the private. If we look at, at the public institutions, in particular, most Latinos are college students, and so, when you look at the data, most Latinos, who are college presidents are in the community college, so that makes sense. And, and so, fewer Latinos are enrolled in four-year colleges and universities. We find fewer college presidents. And very few are in the private elite institutions, and at present, we have no, no Latinos, Latinas who are presidents of the elite colleges. We did have one President who was, who was at a prestigious institution but she's no longer there, termed out, and of course, we wanted her story, but she declined because, because she was writing her own story.
Jose Cardenas: So, one anomaly that I think that you note is you have, at the liberal arts colleges, where there is an emphasis on diversity and getting minorities, minority students in there, and their numbers are going up there. But, almost impossible for, for Latino or Latinas to become President.
David Leon: We really don't find examples of Latinos in those institutions of higher education. And, and I'm not sure why. But, we have seen inroads of minority, African-American women, and becoming presidents of the elite colleges and universities, and that makes nation-wide headlines, but we don't see that kind of happening -- we don't have that kind of situation for Latinos or Latinas, at this point.
Jose Cardenas: Dr. Martinez, David talked about one person who declined for a good reason. She started telling her own story. Anything that, that, that, that came out in terms of the people who a, said yes, and b, those who, who said no? And anything interesting about the reasons they gave for wanting to do this?
Ruben Martinez: Well, I think that they wanted to tell their story, and, you know, they continued to think of public higher education as being a public good, and they understand that, that there are issues with succession, so I think that they wanted to have the opportunity to tell the story both from the human side, and from the point of view of being able to offer some, some mentoring advice to those interested, so I think that they wanted to get that, that, that out. And in terms of the ones who didn't, we had individuals, very busy people, so, one of them who, who had initially agreed to participate, let us know later on saying, you know, at a campus that is unionized, and we're going to some very difficult negotiation process, so I will not be able to devote any attention to this project, and I'm going to have to bow out.
Jose Cardenas: And anyone who bows out because they were concerned about the consequences of being candid in a book like this?
Ruben Martinez: One of them did speak to that, wanted to, to -- felt that it would not be -- he would not be honest. If he did not speak to the racism that he had experienced. But then, felt that if he did come out with that, that it probably wouldn't be very presidential and might limit some opportunities in the future for him. So, it was kind of a dicey situation that we put these invitees in.
Jose Cardenas: David, we're almost out of time so last question. Anything that, that, that came as a surprise in this experience dealing with the individuals?
David Leon: Yeah, when we talked about the common characteristics of, of the President, one was that, that, that this connect, between the parents' view of education, and, but, the low educational achievement. So, demographically Latinos have one of the lowest levels of educational achievement across the country. But, their parents value education as a means for success. And I thought that that was -- that was a surprise to me, in a sense that, that if you have low education, then how would you -- why would you promote education? Of course, it makes sense because it's, it's an avenue for the children to get out of poverty. So, so, I really love that, that disconnect and, and it's a common perception that Latino parents do not value education. They are national, there are national studies and surveys that show that Latino parents value education more than your Americans, so, that's another surprise because they value education, and yet, we have the lowest educational achievement of ethnic groups in American society.
Jose Cardenas: There is so much more to discuss about this, including the impact of the immigrants versus people who have been here for a while. But, we're out of time, and thank you both for joining us to talk about the fascinating book.
David Leon: Thank you.
Ruben Martinez: Thank you.
David León:Co-Editor,Latino College Presidents: In Their Own Words; Rubén O. Martinez:Co-Editor, Latino College Presidents: In Their Own Words;