Cal State trustees pick UC Davis campus diversity leader to be San Diego State’s new president

California State University’s Board of Trustees has appointed Adela de la Torre the new president of San Diego State, reflecting a push by the nation’s largest public university system to diversify its top campus leaders.

De la Torre, who is currently the vice chancellor of student affairs and campus diversity at UC Davis, is the ninth woman appointed as permanent Cal State president under Chancellor Timothy P. White. She is the first woman to serve as San Diego State’s president and replaces Sally Roush, who has led the campus on an interim basis since last summer.

The appointment of Roush, and now De la Torre, mark the first time that more than half of Cal State’s 23 campus leaders are women. Trustees on Wednesday agreed to give De la Torre the same $428,645 salary — the highest of any Cal State president — as her predecessor, Elliot Hirshman.

Trustee Adam Day, who chaired the search committee, noted De la Torre’s diverse experience in higher education and vision for San Diego State, one of the system’s most high-profile campuses.

“Adela is a skilled, student success-focused administrator and, most importantly, is a visionary leader,” he said. “She emerged from a deep pool of candidates as the perfect person to lead the university.”

De la Torre, 63, joins the 35,000-student campus at a time of significant growth. Under Hirshman and Roush, San Diego State raised its profile as a major public research university and moved up 43 spots in U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings among national universities — reaching 140 on the most recent list.

De la Torre also inherits a number of challenges facing the university, including the divisive debate over whether the school should keep its Aztec mascot. Pressure to enroll more students continues to be a sticking point. San Diego, along with five other Cal State campuses — Fresno, Fullerton, Long Beach, San Jose and San Luis Obispo — are so popular that every major and program has had more qualified students applying than can be accommodated by faculty, staff and campus resources.

The university recently unveiled an expansion plan that includes a new stadium and classroom and research facilities.

Hirshman, praised for raising more than $800 million for scholarships, began addressing many of these issues in a new strategic plan for the university.

In a statement Wednesday, De la Torre said she admired San Diego State’s “robust and dynamic variety of academic offerings taught by world-class faculty” as well as its “commitment to serve a brilliant and diverse population of students.”

“I am excited to join the vibrant university community,” she said. “I look forward to meeting and working with faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters to further the SDSU mission.”

De la Torre will be coming from UC Davis, where she has served in various roles since 2002. She chaired the university’s Chicana/o studies department and, since 2004, directed the Center for Transnational Health. As the vice chancellor of student affairs and campus diversity, she oversees 28 departments and numerous student programs and services.

She is also familiar with the Cal State system, first as a professor of healthcare administration in 1988, and later as chair of the Chicano/Latino studies department at Cal State Long Beach.

From 1996 to 2002, she directed the Mexican American Studies and Research Center at the University of Arizona.

De la Torre joins a number of women appointed in recent years to lead a Cal State campus: Ellen N. Junn was selected in May 2016 to lead Cal State Stanislaus. Gayle E. Hutchinson and Erika D. Beck were named that March to lead Chico State and Cal State Channel Islands, respectively, and Mary A. Papazian and Judy K. Sakaki were selected in January 2016 to head the San Jose and Sonoma campuses, respectively.

Cal State, which educates more than 484,000 students, previously had come under criticism for a gender imbalance in top leadership. White said that after he became chancellor in 2012, retirements gave him the opportunity to start to change that.

These recent appointments have had a ripple effect by encouraging more women to apply for leadership positions, he said. That, in turn, has created a larger pool of women who are qualified for top jobs at Cal State and elsewhere.

De la Torre holds a bachelor’s degree in political economy of natural resources from UC Berkeley, as well as a master’s of science and PhD in agricultural and resource economics.

She will join the San Diego campus on or before June 30, administrators said.

1:20 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from De la Torre, additional details about her background and information about Cal State’s appointment of women in leadership roles.

This article was originally published at 9:05 a.m.

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