Message from the Board of Trustees

Announcement | January 13, 2016

Dear Pitzer College Community,

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, it is my great pleasure to announce Melvin L. Oliver, an accomplished scholar, author, educator and administrator, as Pitzer College’s sixth president, effective July 1, 2016.

President-designate Oliver is a first-generation graduate of a private liberal arts college, an award-winning teacher and distinguished author, and is nationally acclaimed for his leadership in both philanthropy and the academy.

The depth of Melvin L. Oliver’s commitment to Pitzer’s core values throughout his lifetime—as evidenced by his scholarship, writing, leadership and philanthropic endeavors—reinforces the harmonious match achieved in this appointment. The Board of Trustees found in Dr. Oliver a seasoned leader, a thoughtful problem solver, fundraiser and visionary who is keenly committed to collaboration and possesses an activist’s passion for social justice. Melvin Oliver shares the Pitzer community’s belief in the transformative power of a liberal arts education for students, their families and communities.

In short, Melvin consistently inspired the trustees, the search committee and the advisory panel in the course of the search process, and we believe he is the perfect fit to assume the presidency of Pitzer College as we enter our second half-century, mindful of the future.

President-designate Oliver is currently the executive dean at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s College of Letters and Science, where he is also the SAGE Sara Miller McCune Dean of Social Sciences and a professor of sociology. Oliver has served as the dean of social sciences at UCSB since 2004. Among his numerous accomplishments during his 12-year tenure has been his championing of increased access for underrepresented students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as faculty diversity. At the undergraduate level, he was a co-principal investigator of a successful McNair Scholars Program that prepares qualified underrepresented and first-generation undergraduates for entrance to a PhD program in all fields of study. Under Melvin Oliver’s leadership and through funding from the National Science Foundation, the UCSB Division of Social Sciences has experienced a 40 percent increase in underrepresented graduate students since 2004. And he has been a guiding force behind an innovative initiative designed to hire senior ladder-rank faculty whose research and scholarship relate to the Black World.

From 1996-2004, he served as vice president of the Asset Building and Community Development Program at the Ford Foundation, where he refocused the foundation’s poverty reduction programming toward building human, financial, social and environmental assets of the world’s poor. As a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, from 1978-96, he was named California Professor of the Year and received the Harriet and Charles Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award. As a founding director of the Center for the Study of Urban Poverty he has raised millions of dollars to support scholarly work in the area of racial and urban inequality.

Melvin L. Oliver’s (with Thomas M. Shapiro) book Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality won the Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award from the American Sociological Association, the C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and the award for the outstanding book on the subject of human rights from the Gustavus Myers Center for its groundbreaking exploration of race and equality when it was released in 1995. To learn more about President-designate Oliver’s scholarly works and professional accomplishments, I invite you to view his full CV here.

President-designate Oliver said he is honored to be selected as the sixth president of Pitzer College. “With its unique vision, Pitzer College is one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the country where a socially engaged transformative education can flourish and enrich future generations of college students. Along with faculty, staff, students and trustees, I am eager to join you in moving Pitzer to its next level of excellence — one that includes greater economic and racial diversity among students and faculty, an ever-deepening commitment to social justice issues and a larger national spotlight for the brand of liberal arts education that Pitzer College represents.”

President-designate Oliver’s selection follows a robust process in which the presidential search committee, chaired by Trustee Donald Gould, met with an impressive and highly diverse pool of candidates. Our confidence in Pitzer’s outstanding strength in both its diversity of academic programs and its unique model of shared governance was affirmed by our conversations with leading candidates across the United States. Melvin L. Oliver impressed us with his exemplary mix of academic and administrative experiences and his deep commitment to the core values of Pitzer College.

Join me in welcoming President-designate Oliver, his wife, Suzanne, and their family to the Pitzer community.

Interim President Thomas Poon will continue to serve Pitzer during this transition. His able hand at the helm continues to keep Pitzer on course. The Board extends its sincere thanks to Interim President Poon for his selfless leadership.

Thank you to all those involved in this presidential search for your hard work in ensuring a secure, fair, constructive and inclusive process.


Shahan Soghikian ’80
Chair, Pitzer College Board of Trustees