Lessons of a Legacy Leader

The impact of Alexander Gonzalez' presidency will be felt for years to come

President Gonzalez

Having served Sacramento State for 12 years and the CSU for more than 35, President Alexander Gonzalez is stepping down after a distinguished career in higher education leadership.

The first time Alexander Gonzalez walked the grounds of Sacramento State was in the spring of 2003, just before he was named the University’s seventh permanent president. He and his wife, Gloria, were at once awed and astonished.

They found a lush campus canopy, a natural beauty unmatched in the California State University system. But they also saw some aging buildings, students sporting logo wear from other colleges, and a demand for parking spaces that outstripped the supply.

“We just looked at each other,” Gonzalez recalls. “I saw clearly what we could do, what we needed to do.”

He saw a great opportunity and, in time, Sacramento State’s campus would undergo a historic transformation. Now, as his retirement approaches and he contemplates a wardrobe beyond monogrammed dress shirts, supporters say that Gonzalez can look back with pride on his 12 years as Sacramento State’s president and on how his leadership has changed the University for the better and laid the foundation for its future growth.

“President Gonzalez came to Sac State with a bold vision, and the results have been phenomenal,” says Holly Tiche, a principal in Tiche Consulting and a member of The University Foundation at Sacramento State board of directors. “From student achievements to increased visibility in the community to transformational buildings on campus, the Sac State of today is vastly different than the Sac State of 12 years ago.”

His bold vision started with Destination 2010, a far-reaching initiative that Gonzalez launched in 2004. Among his goals: to foster excellent academic and student programs, build a welcoming campus, create a dynamic physical environment and develop community support. He envisioned Sacramento State as a premier metropolitan university, the flagship of the CSU and a destination campus for the West.

Broad groundbreaking

Gonzalez (second from the left) tosses a ceremonial shovel of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Eli and Edythe Broad Fieldhouse.

A record number of first-time freshman applicants for fall 2015 serves as proof that Sacramento State is now a destination campus, with the majority of applicants coming from outside the Sacramento region. In addition, more students are transferring to Sacramento State from other CSU campuses.

Gonzalez has been tireless in his efforts to improve students’ lives, and the physical changes to the campus during his administration have been extraordinary. New facilities include the suite-style American River Courtyard residence hall, the Hornet Bookstore, the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Fieldhouse and a multilevel parking structure.

Gonzalez worked closely with students on a referendum to fund construction of The WELL, a state-of-the-art student recreation and wellness center that opened in 2010 and which has become a central hub on campus. And the year before, Sac State acquired the former CalSTRS building, now called Folsom Hall. That building is home to the College of Health and Human Services Center for Health Professions, which includes the School of Nursing.

     “President Gonzalez came to

Sac State with a bold vision, and

the results have been phenomenal,

From student achievements to

increased visibility in the community

to transformational buildings on campus,

the Sac State of today is vastly different

than the Sac State of 12 years ago .”

           —Holly Tiche '89

              Principal, Tiche Consulting 

Construction begins this summer on another student housing project, a $54.9 million structure next to the American River at the north end of campus. And Sacramento State continues to work with partners on the development of a satellite campus at Placer Ranch in South Placer County.

Still on the drawing board under a new Campus Master Plan are a state-of-the-art Science II building and an event center.

Under Gonzalez’ leadership, Sacramento State also has raised more than $164 million and received such gifts as 150 works on paper by internationally acclaimed artist (and Sac State graduate) Wayne Thiebaud, the fully equipped HP Networking Lab in computer science, and support to provide future generations of math teachers through the estate of David Steinberg. During Gonzalez’ time, the University awarded more than $43 million in scholarships and created 304 new scholarships, including the President Alexander and Gloria Gonzalez Public Service and Community Leadership Scholarship.

Gonzalez also fostered such student programs as the Veterans Success Center, an general education Honors Program, an Executive Masters of Business Administration degree, a Business Honors Program, and the Guardian Scholars Program for former foster youth.

Dreams to degrees

President Alexander Gonzalez meets student scholarship recipients at the From Dreams to Degrees reception

“President Gonzalez has made a lasting impact on our campus and restored a new sense of energy that has brought back so many Hornet alumni,” says Eric Guerra, incoming president of the Alumni Association and newly elected Sacramento City Council member. As president of Associated Students Inc., Guerra served on the CSU’s presidential search committee that selected Gonzalez.

“Getting to know President Gonzalez and his wife, Gloria, from the start, I could sense the passion they had for education and their commitment to providing a future for students,” Guerra says.

A look back and a peek at the future

Alexander Gonzalez was born Sept. 14, 1945, the fourth of Altagracia and Guillermo Gonzalez’ seven children. They lived in a two-bedroom house in East Los Angeles, surrounded by Armenian, Japanese, Anglo and Mexican families. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as young adults. His father worked as a baker. His mother, who never spoke English, raised her children and took in sewing for extra money.

The Gonzalez children grew up speaking Spanish at home, but with the help of his older siblings, who learned English in school, young Alex was fluent in English by the time he started first grade. He went on to graduate from Garfield High School in 1963.

In those days, young men from the neighborhood generally took jobs in manufacturing after high school because few had the opportunity to attend college. Gonzalez had taken college-prep classes and made good grades but, as a high school senior, he wasn’t ready for college.

He and a friend enlisted in the Air Force. Gonzalez served four years in the military, much of it in the Philippines.

He was still in the Air Force when he met his sister’s friend Gloria Martinez in Los Angeles. They would marry in 1971 and raise two sons, Alexander Jr. and Michael. Gloria Gonzalez has embraced the role of Sacramento State’s first lady and her husband considers her his partner in the presidency.

The WELL

The opening of The WELL recreation and wellness center was a high point in the Gonzalez years at Sac State.

Once Gonzalez completed his military service, he enrolled at East Los Angeles College on the G.I. Bill, the first in his family to attend college. Before long, he transferred to Pomona College, where he became fascinated with psychology and IQ testing. He attended Harvard Law in the early 1970s, but couldn’t see himself making the law his career, so he and his wife returned to California, and he earned his master’s degree and doctorate in psychology from UC Santa Cruz.

Gonzalez discovered his gift for leadership while in charge of his barracks during Air Force technical school. His love for higher education would make him a natural to become a university administrator, first as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Fresno State, and then as president of Cal State San Marcos before coming to Sacramento.

“President Gonzalez has made an impact on many generations of college students across the state, especially those from underserved communities,” says CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White. “He has dedicated his professional life to the CSU.”

Former CSU Chancellor Charles Reed concurs:

“What I really like about Alex’s leadership is that he always put students first, and he engaged students,” Reed says. “He built a great relationship with the community around Sacramento State but never forgot that his real purpose was the students’ needs. Alex has always been willing to do what is right and what is best for students, even if he has to take heat for it.”

After he retires, Gonzalez plans on spending time with his family and friends, entertaining, and traveling. He also plans to return to Sacramento State as a faculty member, teaching about leadership.

“I think Sac State is poised to get to the next level. I’ve set the foundation,” Gonzalez says. “Our new Strategic Plan and Master Plan should be the blueprints to go forward. My legacy has never been the motivation. My motivation has been to do the best job I can to serve students and to make the CSU and this campus the best they can be. “Students come first. They’re the reason we’re all here.”

President Alexander Gonzalez: his education and career

Gonzalez

Education

  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University, 1982-1983
  • Doctorate in psychology, UC Santa Cruz, 1979
  • Master’s degree in psychology, UC Santa Cruz, 1977
  • Harvard Law School, 1972-74
  • Bachelor’s degree in history, Pomona College, 1972

Administrative experience

  • 2003-2015, President, Sacramento State
  • 1997-2003, President, Cal State San Marcos
  • 1991-1997, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Fresno State

Teaching experience

  • 1979-1997, professor of psychology, Fresno State; awarded tenure in 1983 and served as chair of the Department of Psychology, 1987-1990

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