After 13 years at Cal State Bakersfield, President Horace Mitchell announced he would retire in June. We sat down with the 72-year-old to talk about his achievements, his vision and his retirement. (Responses have been truncated for length.)
Q: You could have retired a decade ago. What’s kept you passionate about this work?
A: I’ve enjoyed what I do. That’s been true of every position I’ve had over these last 50 years, and I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve been able to do only jobs that I enjoy doing, and this certainly has been one of those. That’s what has kept me here.
Q: One doesn’t leave education easily after 50 years. How will you stay engaged?
A: Well, I certainly don’t intend to take on another job. There’s plenty of national advocacy groups and think tanks. I could see myself being part of a study group that would talk about the future of higher education in America.
Q: What do you mark as your greatest achievements over your lifetime, not just at CSUB?
A: I mark CSUB as an important accomplishment. When I came here to the university back in 2004, I saw a lot of things that needed to get done. It was a very good university with good people, but I had the sense coming from UC Berkeley that there were areas of growth where my own background could make a difference. For me, it’s always been based on my assessment of whether or not i could make a difference in being there. I believe that I’ve made a difference here.
Q: What are your great achievements here at CSUB?
A: Some people say moving our athletics program to Division I, and certainly that was big, but it’s not the biggest. Because this is a university, the most significant achievements I made have to do with enhancing the academic quality of the university and adding new academic programs. Adding more outstanding faculty and educating and graduating our students and being involved in inspiring them toward excellence and transforming their lives – that’s what it’s all about. Seeing students come here and succeed is my greatest joy.
Q: What are the things you’d like for your successor to put on his or her priority list?
A: One of the next things we’ve already put on the list is an engineering and innovation building. It’s the next natural building for us. The role of the president is to not only serve the university not only during that person’s tenure as president, but a big part of the responsibility is preparing that university for the future. If I only focus on what I want to do while I’m here, that would not be serving the university. I have to have a vision about what could be and work toward positioning the university to get there.
Q: What was your vision in 2004, and do you think you’ve checked off all the boxes?
A: The vision was CSU Bakersfield would be the leading campus in the CSU system in terms of faculty and academic excellence, diversity, the quality of the student’s experience and community engagement. That realization of our vision would be advanced through hiring development and promotion of excellent and diverse staff with a commitment to organizational excellence in all areas. We’ve certainly made important strides on each one of those.
Q: What advice would you give to your successor?
A: Coming from Berkeley, I had a pretty good sense of where the campus was because I asked the former president if I could meet with his cabinet and his deans and the chair of the senate to talk about a vision for the campus. We worked on a vision. In addition, I asked each of them to prepare for me a three- to five-page paper outlining the major issues facing the campus, current strategies in place to address them and their sense of what the new president might do to advance resolution of any issues that were there. That gave me a leg up. I wanted to hit the ground running.
Having their insight into current issues was important for me. What we will do is provide a transition book for the next president talking about where we are, where we have been going and what our strategies have been. That new president can decide whether that still makes sense or if they want to move into a different direction.
Q: Anything you wish you had more time to accomplish at CSUB before retiring?
A: Know what the good news is? I’m not leaving now. I’ve got a whole year to take care of those things on the table. I’ve said to our staff and faculty that not only will I be here through June, but I expect to be fully engaged and I want this to be our very best year ever.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about retirement? Will you stay in Bakersfield?
A: Years ago, my wife and I talked about retiring, and one of the things important to us was living close to the ocean. About six years ago we bought what will become our retirement home in Huntington Beach a mile from the ocean. I spent the first 17 years in California at UC Irvine, and we raised our kids in that area, so they were excited when we decided that’s where we’d be.