When Milton Gordon retired as Cal State Fullerton’s president in 2012, some of the graduates were the second generation that the Titan president, who served for 22 years, saw earn their diplomas. Only the fourth African American president in the history of the Cal State system, Gordon presided over the university as the digital age dawned, provided leadership during such crises as 9/11 and the Great Recession, and celebrated with Titans as the new millennium began.
We continue our recognition, in honor of Black History Month, of African American Titan leaders with a look at the life and legacy of the late Milton Gordon – affectionately known as “Milt” – who passed away on April 18, 2017, at age 81.
Milton Gordon’s Journey – From Chicago to CSUF
Like his predecessor and fellow African American groundbreaker, the late Jewel Plummer Cobb, Gordon was born and raised in Chicago, coming of age in the racially segregated world of the pre-Civil Rights Era Midwest.
Earning a B.S. in mathematics and secondary education at Xavier University in Louisiana, Gordon went on to earn an M.A. in mathematics at the University of Detroit and a Ph.D. in mathematics at the Illinois University of Technology.
After working as a mathematician at the University of Chicago Laboratory of Applied Sciences, Gordon taught both elementary and secondary students in Chicago public schools, before holding roles as associate professor of mathematics and director of the Afro-American Studies Program at Chicago’s Loyola University.
Gordon moved to the West Coast in 1986, accepting a professorship and vice presidential role at Sonoma State University.
In 1990, he took office as Cal State Fullerton’s fourth president. At the time, the university enrolled 25,600 students and the ethnic majority on campus was still white. When Gordon left office more than two decades later, enrollment had grown to more than 36,000 students and historically underrepresented minorities comprised a majority of the student population.
Under the Gordon administration, Cal State Fullerton embarked on more than $636 million in building constructions and renovations, the largest building boom in the university’s history and a contributor to Orange County’s economic growth.
Foremost among these constructions was the completion of the state-of-the-art Steven G. Mihaylo Hall in 2008, a home befitting the largest business college on the West Coast.
An Enduring Legacy
When Gordon gave his final commencement speech in 2011, he said, “I am grateful that I’m able to call higher education my life’s work.” Nearly a decade later, we and the global Titan community can say that we are grateful for the enduring impact of President Gordon.
As U.S. Representative Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) wrote in a statement when Gordon passed away in 2017, “Milt transformed CSUF from a regional school to a global one with his vision to help students pursue intellectual, cultural and economic dreams far beyond Orange County. Throughout his life, Milt’s determination shattered racial barriers, inspiring so many others.”