l Capital University Journal
DONALD R. GERTH
to leave the Sac State presidency after nearly two decades
by Ann Reed
A committed and seasoned leader, Donald R. Gerth has devoted 45 years to the California State University system, serving on four campuses. He is recognized nationally and internationally for his service to higher education. He is highly regarded as the dean of the CSU presidents.
This summer, after 19 years as the president of California State University, Sacramento, he will retire as its longest serving president.
President Gerth’s term has brought long-lasting stability to a campus that had previously seen frequent turnover in leadership and direction. He has guided the campus through a period of remarkable stability and growth, in terms of students, programs and the space to accommodate them.
Over the years President Gerth has added new initiatives designed to improve services and programs for students, including adding classes during high-demand times and providing free Internet access to all students. He has advocated developing learning communities and placed “customer service” to students as a high priority for the campus. He routinely meets with selected groups of graduating seniors to learn about their experiences and suggestions for ways the University can improve.
His devotion to student access has at several times required him to take tough stances, including a public debate in 1996 against Proposition 209, which barred the use of race, gender and ethnic considerations in public employment. He also challenged the federal government’s enforcement of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gays in the military. And he was a leader in rallying against hate crimes in the community and on campus, where he led a Year of Unity and established a Unity Center to promote tolerance and understanding.
The City of Sacramento recently has won acclaim as the most integrated city in the country and Sac State mirrors that achievement. Sac State was ranked 25th nationally by Black Issues in Higher Education for awarding bachelor’s degrees to ethnic minority students in 2000-01 and 16th in degrees awarded to American Indians. Hispanic Outlook ranked the University 35th in the nation in awarding bachelor’s degrees to Hispanic students and 55th for master’s degrees awarded to Hispanics.
President Gerth has encouraged many new academic initiatives, including the creation of the School of the Arts in the spring of 2000, a joint doctoral program in public history with UC Santa Barbara, and the first master’s degree in software engineering offered by a public university in the state. Sac State has become known for its leading-edge technology and the campus has one of the most advanced media services programs in the state, with two television production centers, four studio classrooms and a closed-circuit television network linking 400 classrooms and laboratories. Students receive Internet accounts and have access to more than 1,000 computer workstations. Parts of the campus offer a wireless computing environment. Information technology has been embraced campuswide, leading students to graduate with high-end technology skills in their fields of work.
One of the flagship programs that President Gerth encouraged was the fledgling Center for California Studies, which now houses research and fellowship programs that help support government as well as judicial programs. Its annual policy conference attracts hundreds statewide.
During President Gerth’s nearly two-decade tenure, buildings, laboratories and related facilities have been built and modernized through nearly $100 million in public and private funding, including three non-state revenue facilities. Newly constructed buildings provide more than 1.2 million square feet of space. One of the projects, Placer Hall, is a unique partnership between the campus and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Sac State accommodated 22,500 students when President Gerth arrived and today boasts more than 28,500.
Outside of campus President Gerth has developed ties and partnerships to enhance economic development of the region, such as the Regional Research Institute and partnerships with the World Trade Center and the Sacramento Area Trade Organization (SACTO). These partnerships underscore the important role the University plays throughout the region. More than 160,000 alumni, most of whom reside in the region, contribute not only to employment, but also to the economic vibrancy.
The campus is one of the top 20 regional employers with a payroll of $104 million and overall budget of $322 million. Sac State also boasts the largest cooperative education program in the state, offering hundreds of students each year an opportunity to work in degree-related jobs while earning college credit.
Another strong community effort has been the University’s National Public Radio stations, first KXPR, then KXJZ. That operation has continued to expand and now includes stations in seven locations including the Lake Tahoe area and Stockton. It was in 1986 that the stations first expanded to 24-hour operation and the following year won a Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Programming award. The stations have built strong community alliances and partnerships that reflect the University’s commitment to the region.
In addition to campus life, President Gerth’s personal commitment to the civic vitality of the region has been sustained throughout his time in Sacramento. His numerous community affiliations include serving on the Boards of Directors of the United Way, Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the Sacramento Club and as a founding member of the World Trade Council of Sacramento and the Sacramento Consular Corps. He was named Sacramentan of the Year by the Chamber in 2000 and in 2002 was one of 11 honored nationally by the World Trade Centers for distinguished service.
On campus President Gerth has worked closely with the faculty to ensure a quality educational environment. He has decentralized many functions to allow more consultation and decision-making, and has established numerous advisory bodies, including one for the budget. His relations with the faculty overall have been smoother than his predecessors because of his ability to listen carefully. One outcome was reorganizing the campus into colleges, and hiring new deans to direct those efforts. The most recent was the conversion of what was formerly the University’s extension program, Regional and Continuing Education, into the College of Continuing Education.
President Gerth began his career with the CSU in 1958 when he joined what was then San Francisco State College as associate dean of students and a professor in the department of government.
In 1963, he briefly held a post at the Chancellor’s Office for the CSU before moving to CSU Chico, where he held the roles of vice president for student affairs, director of international programs, dean of students, professor of political science, coordinator of the Institute for Local Government and Public Service and Public Administration, and co-director of a Danforth Foundation research project on the improvement of undergraduate teaching.
From 1976 to 1984 Gerth served as president of CSU Dominguez Hills when it was still a relatively new campus in the Los Angeles basin. The year after his arrival, “the new University” was granted full CSU status. The president guided a transformation from what was once designed as a small liberal arts college into a full-fledged urban university with a wide range of academic programs serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse student body. He stayed through the summer of 1984 when the campus hosted the cycling events for the U.S. Olympics.
It was in November 1983 that Gerth was named president at Sacramento, and he took the helm in July 1984.
After leaving the presidency he intends to continue as a part-time member of the CSU in an emeritus role. He plans to teach and write about public policy and higher education in California, as well as internationally.
President Gerth’s interest in education began early. At age 18 he was one of the youngest students to graduate from the University of Chicago, where he went on to finish his master’s and doctoral degrees. He first entered the university at age 16 under an early entrance program.
Prior to taking his first education post in the CSU, he served in the Air Force during the Korean War. He and his wife Bev met in 1955. They have two adult daughters and five grandchildren.