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Bridging the Gap : Black Woman to Serve as Interim President of Cal State Long Beach

February 11, 1988|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

June Cooper owns a coffee cup bearing a slogan that she says sums up a portion of her life philosophy.

"God grant me patience," the slogan says, "but I want it right now." Added Cooper: "I'm direct and task-oriented. I like to cut to the bottom line."

It is a quality that many believe will serve her well during the next five months at California State University, Long Beach, where she is scheduled to take the helm as acting president after Stephen Horn steps down Friday to explore a run for Congress.

"I know who I am and I'm comfortable with it," said Cooper, 54, who will be the first black and first woman to preside over the 35,000-student campus. "I can be serious, but there's always a twinkle in my eye."

As of Tuesday, more than 100 applicants had lined up to become Horn's permanent successor, a position for which Cooper has not applied. After initial screening and interviews, said Caesar J. Naples, the vice chancellor overseeing the search, five finalists will visit the campus in early May. The new president, he said, will be chosen by the CSU Board of Trustees at its May 17-18 meeting, to assume duties about July 1.

In the meantime, the campus will be under Cooper's tutelage. And she has wasted no time in articulating at least two goals she would like to accomplish during that period. One is to do something about the miles of bureaucratic red tape she says bedevils students and staffers alike on the campus.

"We've got to become more customer oriented," Cooper said Tuesday in an office interview. "Let's not lose sight of the student."

The other goal is one that is near and dear to her heart: increasing minority representation, especially among campus faculty and staff. "The fact that so few black (and other minority) students are following the paths that my age group pioneered greatly concerns me," said Cooper, the daughter of a New York policeman who believes she received the first doctorate ever awarded a black woman by New York University. "The disappearance of the black student is very depressing."

In 1981, there were 2,422 black students enrolled at CSULB, constituting 7.6% of the student body. In 1987, that had dropped to 1,800 black students, or 6% of the total enrollment. Currently, only 50 of the 1,757 faculty members--or 2.8%--are black.

As a partial antidote, Cooper plans to personally encourage minority candidates to apply for the 50 to 60 faculty and staff openings she expects to fill before July 1. By attracting minority faculty members, she said, the university can begin to attract more minority students.

Beyond those immediate goals, she said, she believes her tenure will largely be one of overseeing a process of healing and reflection after the months of discord and financial difficulty that culminated in Horn's resignation under fire from the CSU Board of Trustees. "This is a time of transition to reassess (our position) as best we can and establish whatever is appropriate for the future," Cooper said. "I want this to be a shared endeavor."

Cooper came to CSULB in 1966 as an assistant professor of speech communications; she later became department chairwoman. In 1975 she was made associate vice president for academic affairs and in 1983 was named vice president for faculty and staff relations, a title she still holds.

Today she lives in Rancho Palos Verdes with her two daughters, one of whom is a freshman at CSULB.

Some who have worked with the new acting president say that her leadership style--in many ways a stark contrast to Horn's--will aid in the transition. Where Horn was frequently off campus and inaccessible, Cooper says she hates to travel and plans an "open door" policy. And where Horn's relations with the faculty were often strained, faculty leaders generally give Cooper high marks.

"I admire and respect her very much," said Ben Cunningham, a journalism professor and chairman of the Academic Senate. "She is respected by the faculty and staff. She has shown a willingness to consult with others before making final decisions. She also has a sense of humor, and I appreciate that."

Cooper's sense of humor is evident, among other things, in the collection of "toys" she keeps in her office. Among them are a talking clock, an assortment of exotic-looking blown glass paperweights and a magnetized device containing hundreds of tiny metal chips that can be molded into odd shapes.

They all, she says, help keep her from taking herself too seriously.

"If my friends back in New York could see me they would just flip," said Cooper, recalling her days as an undergraduate at Queens College, where she cut classes to play cards in the campus cafeteria. "I just did what I had to to get by."

In the next few months, however, she plans to do a great deal more than just get by. "It's time to get on with the day-to-day functioning of this university," Cooper said. "We need to get on with the process."

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