After serving as president of Sacramento State for 12 years, Alexander Gonzalez is leaving behind a largely-altered campus still continuing to change.
In his first year as president in 2003, Gonzalez introduced Destination 2010, a plan to shift the culture of the campus from its commuter aspect to a destination campus. This included adding more on-campus housing and incentives to stay after classes.
“It [Destination 2010] was kind of bold, and I think people hadn’t seen anything like that in a long time,” Gonzalez said. “It was a very simple plan at the time. I think people saw the direction that everything was going. The campus was kind of isolated. People knew about Sac State but didn’t really come here that often. The community wasn’t as involved as they are now. It needed to have a clear direction of what we wanted.”
Before Gonzalez’s presidency, the existing dormitories- Sutter, Sierra, Draper, Jenkins and Desmond- were designated mostly for first-year students. In 2009, Gonzalez replaced a dorm building that was not being utilized with the American River Courtyard, which houses 606 residents who need 27 units minimum to room there.
Lauren Lombardo, current president for Associated Students, Inc., has worked with Gonzalez when lobbying for student concerns. She spoke of her experience with the president while being in ASI.
“Even talking to him now, he still has an idea about how the campus can continue to grow, and that is so unique and so beneficial that he could come into a campus that was really small and lacked a lot of resources and lacked a lot of funding and transform it into a campus really to be reckoned with,” Lombardo said.
Although Gonzalez’s presidency is ending, he was able to have Sac State’s Master Plan approved by the California State University Board of Trustees. The plan is designated to promote alternative transportation and encourage more students to live on campus over the course of the next several years.
Gonzalez was born and raised in East Los Angeles in 1945 and graduated from Garfield High School, shortly joining the Air Force as his next step in life. After finishing his service with the Air Force, he graduated from Pomona College and went to Harvard to study law for a year before dropping out of that to pursue a doctorate in psychology.
“I went back to Harvard for my second year and about midway through the second year, I just decided that’s not what I wanted to do,” Gonzalez said. “I took a leave and at the same time applied to graduate school in psychology. Once I got to graduate school within a few months, I started that program and never considered going back to law school.”
Eric Guerra, recently-elected Councilmember for District 6 and former ASI president, was on the presidential search committee in 2003 when he first met Gonzalez.
“He came across having a strong understanding of how the system works,” Guerra said. “A system with 23 campuses needs somebody who’s going to be a good advocate for home base.”
After former president Donald Gerth retired, Gonzalez, who at the time was campus president of CSU San Marcos, was approached about taking over for Gerth. He ended up being chosen as president over the director at the University of the Pacific, Clark Kelso, and Houston Victoria’s President Karen Haynes.
More of Gonzalez’s accomplishments include the creation of The WELL, the Academic Information Resource Center, the Hornet Bookstore and the University Union, which students agreed to increase their fees for in a referendum.
When The WELL was originally passed, Gonzalez said the money given to begin construction of the facility was not enough to fund all of the amenities originally intended, like a bowling alley, dental care, and indoor pool and most prominently, the event center that was voted against in 2013.
Although the event center has been rejected repeatedly because it asked for higher student fees, Gonzalez expects it to be proposed again.
“Your investment now is going to be relatively minor compared to the payout for the future,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what the event center really represents … it’ll come back. It’s not just for athletics. It’s just for the students, especially if you have more students living on or near the campus. The weekends can be a drag. You can study or you can do what you want to do, but to have events and be able to do stuff on the weekends, that’s a real tension-reducer and it makes you feel a lot better when you can do that.”
Gonzalez told a story of his early presidency where the dean of Health and Human Services at the time showed him a room in El Dorado Hall, the original location for the nursing program, with five students waiting their turn to get on a computer. He soon made a bid and was approved to acquire a building that would be named Folsom Hall in 2007 and relocate nursing there.
“The School of Nursing is forever grateful to President Gonzalez for his continued support of the nursing program,” said Carolynn Goetze, chairperson for the School of Nursing. “We are especially grateful for his achievement in moving the nursing program from El Dorado Hall to Folsom Hall. The space in Folsom Hall recognized the value of nursing to the health of the Sacramento community and the value the program brings to the university campus.”
Mike Lee, chief financial officer and vice president for Administration, has worked with Gonzalez and is helping to implement the Master Plan to increase the value of alternative transportation.
“I am honored to have worked with President Gonzalez for many years and witnessed, firsthand, how he transformed the university and brought out the pride we all have about Sacramento State,” Lee said.
Gonzalez feels confident that the population on campus is representative of the Sacramento area, especially since Sac State was recently named a Hispanic-Serving Institution, with the campus’s Hispanic population being about 26 percent.
“As a son of immigrants, my mother died at age 82; she still didn’t speak English having lived in LA for almost 60 years,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the kind of stuff that’s going to be important to me. Not third or fourth generation [students] with a lot of wealth or the expectation that you’re going to go to school. That’s the big difference, I could have opted to go to someplace like that but I didn’t. I stayed in the CSU because those are the kinds of students that we work with, and that’s exactly it. That’s what drives me, but now I’m taking my foot off the gas and I’m going to do something else.”
Guerra agreed with the type of demographic Sac State and the CSU system aim to assist with attaining higher education.
“He got the fact that we have a lot of folks who are not the traditional students,” Guerra said. “I think that was the biggest impression. He understood what CSU students, what Sac State students were going through and what we’ll need to do to create a strong academic environment.”
One building Gonzalez attempted to have built during his presidency was a science building to address the lack of course and lab space. It was ranked 12 out of 27 on the Capital Outlay 2015-2016 priority list and was never approved for construction.
“The frustration is there,” Gonzalez said. “We should have had that a long time ago. We need a new one, especially if you look at where the jobs are going to be in the future in health science, in health care, in the sciences. We need a much, much better facility for students to be to take the basic courses in say, biology, chemistry, the fundamental courses that you need for a variety of different types of jobs that are going to exist in the future.”
Gonzalez will finish his 12th year as Sac State president at the end of May. Starting in June, former president of the University of Texas-Pan American Robert Nelsen will assume leadership.