They have been at the forefront of the transformation of a small state college to a world-class university. Several of their names have left a permanent mark on campus. The seven individuals who have served as president or acting president of Cal State Fullerton have impacted hundreds of thousands of students, alumni and faculty. In honor of Inauguration Day, here is a look at the five men and two women who have led our university since its founding.
With a student population of about 40,000 and thousands of faculty and staff, leading Cal State Fullerton is similar to leading a small city. These are the individuals who have served as president and some of their accomplishments.
William Langsdorf, 1959-1970
Cal State Fullerton’s founding president was born in 1909 and grew up in Pasadena. He was president of Pasadena City College, a community college in Los Angeles County, when he accepted the position of president of the new California State College – Fullerton campus. During his tenure, the College of Business and Economics (now Mihaylo College) was founded and enrollment would grow from 454 to more than 15,000. In 1970, Langsdorf left the presidency to serve as vice chancellor for academic affairs for the California State University. He died in 2002 at age 93. Today, Langsdorf Hall, which contains classrooms, the university’s Career Center and various administrative offices, is named after him.
Donald Shields, 1971-1980
Former chemistry professor L. Donald Shields was the youngest president of a public university in the United States when he took office at age 34. During his time in office, President Gerald Ford appointed him to the National Science Board and he also served as a consultant for the National Science Foundation. Additions to the campus included the Fullerton Arboretum, the university’s internship program and the CSUF orchestra. Shields left Cal State Fullerton to become president of Southern Methodist University in Texas.
Miles McCarthy, 1981
When President Shields stepped down, he was succeeded by Miles McCarthy, one of the founding faculty members of Cal State Fullerton. A professor of biology throughout his tenure, he held a number of administrative positions before holding office as acting president for nine months. One of his legacies is the Health Professions Advising Office, which assists students interested in health professions. McCarthy died in 1995 at age 80. Today, the Letters, Arts and Sciences Building is named in his honor.
Jewel Plummer Cobb, 1981-1990
The campus is still mourning the loss of Jewel Plummer Cobb, the first African-American woman to lead a major university in the western U.S., who died Jan. 1, 2017, at age 92. Leading the university through much of the 1980s, Cobb oversaw a number of construction projects on campus, including residence halls, computer science facilities and the Ruby Gerontology Center. During her presidency, the university was a venue for the 1984 Summer Olympics, which were centered in nearby Los Angeles. The colleges for communications and engineering and computer science both were founded during her administration.
Milton Gordon, 1990-2012
By far the longest-serving president in Cal State Fullerton’s history, Milton Gordon oversaw growth from a student body of 25,600 to 36,000. During his administration, the university entered the internet age as well as the new millennium and weathered major challenges, including the post-9/11 era and the Great Recession. Gordon presided over the largest construction boom in the university’s history, which included Steven G. Mihaylo Hall. At age 76, Gordon announced his retirement in 2011.
Willie Hagan, 2012
For most of the first half of 2012, vice president for administration and chief financial officer Willie Hagan served as interim president. Today, he is president of California State University-Dominguez Hills and was honored with the City of Los Angeles Hall of Fame Award in 2016.
Mildred García, 2012-present
After serving as the first Latina president in the Cal State system at CSU Dominguez Hills, Mildred García took office as Cal State Fullerton’s president in mid-2012. A first-generation college student from the New York City area, she earned her doctorate in education from Columbia University Teacher’s College. As president, García has worked to improve graduation rates, lower the achievement gap among underrepresented minority groups and ensure that the Cal State Fullerton experience meets the needs of the 21st century workforce.