Occidental College President Theodore R. Mitchell, a politically connected education expert credited with reinvigorating his Los Angeles campus over the past six years, said Tuesday that he would step down Sept. 1.
Mitchell, 49, is leaving the private liberal arts college to become chief executive of NewSchools Venture Fund, a nonprofit group based in San Francisco.
NewSchools, founded in 1998 by a group including Silicon Valley venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers, has invested $40 million in efforts to improve public education in urban areas.
Mitchell said he decided to take the job at NewSchools because "there is a great need for all of us who can make a difference to try to make a difference in public K-12 education."
"My area of scholarly interest, my area of teaching and policy work has been in educational access and opportunity," added Mitchell, who before coming to Occidental in 1999 was a dean of the graduate school of education at UCLA and who also held positions at Stanford and Dartmouth universities.
Mitchell was appointed in April by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to head a 15-member committee to study ways to overhaul the state's public school system. He said Tuesday that he expected to continue in that role.
During his tenure at Occidental, Mitchell's ties to Los Angeles power brokers led to controversy. In 2002, he was privately approached by former Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaire businessman Eli Broad to run for a seat on the Los Angeles Board of Education, in an effort they were pushing to unseat incumbent David Tokofsky.
Critics cried foul when it was disclosed that Broad offered to donate $10 million to a program at Occidental and that Riordan said he could pay for an administrator to assist Mitchell with his duties on campus. Both Broad and Riordan, whom Mitchell had served as an education advisor, denied that their proposed donations were intended to induce Mitchell to enter the race. The controversy abated when Mitchell declined to run for the board.
On Tuesday, Mitchell called the controversy "ancient history" and said it played no role in his decision to leave Occidental.
Mitchell is credited with leading Occidental out of budget deficits and raising its profile nationally. The school says it has raised about $20 million in donations this school year, more than double the annual level before Mitchell arrived.
Applications to the school have climbed more than 70% since he arrived, amounting to 5,120 submissions for this fall's incoming class. About 1,900 students attend the school.
During his tenure, Newsweek magazine twice named Occidental one of the nation's "hot" colleges. At the same time, Occidental slipped in the national rankings by U.S. News & World Report magazine, from 36th place in 1999 to 42nd most recently.
Occidental was ranked last year as the nation's leader among top liberal arts colleges in enrolling low-income students, an effort Mitchell has championed.
He has acknowledged, however, that admitting low-income students with, in some cases, weaker SAT scores might have hurt the school's U.S. News & World Report rankings.
Kenyon Chan, Occidental's vice president for academic affairs, was named to serve as interim president of the college beginning Sept. 1.