The newly appointed president of East Los Angeles College, Omero Suarez, says his plans for the college include working closely with the community, striving to raise the rate of students who go on to four-year colleges and universities, and improving some of the physical facilities.
"I'm very excited," he said of his appointment. "I think East Los Angeles College holds tremendous potential to service minority students." Los Angeles Community College District officials announced his appointment April 20.
Suarez, 42, is currently head of the Valencia junior college division of the University of New Mexico. Suarez, as the first director of the division located south of Albuquerque, is credited with leading it from a tiny storefront operation in 1981 to a permanent campus of more than 1,000 students, half of whom are Latino.
The son of Chicano migrant workers, Suarez will begin July 1 at the campus in Monterey Park, where 68% of the 12,300 students are Latino and 20% are Asian. He will succeed Arthur Avila, the president for nine years who was forced out last September after disputes with faculty and district trustees.
Of the three finalists, Suarez was the only one from outside the Los Angeles district. Observers said the district wanted a fresh face to deal with administrative turmoil and a high student dropout rate. The other finalists were Evelyn Wong, acting president of Los Angeles Trade-Tech College, and Raul Cardoza, a vice president at East Los Angeles.
The trustees originally voted 5 to 2 for Suarez, but that vote was later changed to a unanimous one.
Suarez stressed that his family history makes him very "sensitive to people who do not speak English and who have trouble with employment." Seeking agricultural work, his parents moved the family to Nebraska from Texas when Suarez was 5 years old. To this day, his mother does not speak English, he said.
Suarez is the fourth oldest of nine children and was the first to attend college. He has a bachelor's degree from Chadron State College in Nebraska, a master's from the University of Nebraska and his doctorate in higher education administration from the University of Oklahoma, where a decade ago he headed the Chicano studies service center. He is married to a businesswoman who has a doctorate in adult education; they have two children.
Hal Garvin, president of the Los Angeles Community College board, praised Suarez's record in Valencia: "He created a college out of nothing."
Sources in New Mexico familiar with Suarez agreed with that assessment. They said that he has sometimes clashed with faculty over cuts and changes in program directions but that he is generally very well respected and the university there did not want to lose him.
Suarez will earn $79,448, officials said, and will be given moving expenses.