CLAREMONT, CALIF. (January 13, 2016)—Melvin L. Oliver, a noted expert on racial and urban inequality and the executive dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has been named Pitzer College’s sixth president following a unanimous vote by the College’s Board of Trustees. He assumes office on July 1.
“Melvin is a seasoned leader, thoughtful problem solver and visionary who is keenly committed to collaboration with an activist’s passion for culture and fairness. We believe he is the perfect fit to assume the presidency at this time in Pitzer’s history,” said Pitzer College Board of Trustees Chair Shahan Soghikian ’80. “Melvin is a first-generation college student, an award-winning teacher and author, an accomplished scholar and a distinguished foundation and academic leader. In sum, he is a living example of the transformative power of a liberal arts education.”
Melvin L. 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 co-principal investigator of a successful McNair Scholars Program, which prepares qualified underrepresented and first-generation undergraduates for entrance to a PhD program in all fields of study. Under 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.
Prior to UCSB, Oliver was the vice president of the Asset Building and Community Development Program at the Ford Foundation. Under Oliver’s direction, the program developed pioneering grant initiatives, including a $50 million program to secure home mortgages for 35,000 low-wealth households and change the way banks evaluate applications for home mortgages; the American Dream Demonstration on Individual Development Accounts; and the Leadership for a Changing World Program, which identifies and supports community leaders and others.
As professor of sociology at University of California, Los Angeles, from 1978-96, he was named California Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and received the Harriet and Charles Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award. In 1989, he was the founding co-director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty, which promotes research, teaching and service on the causes and consequences of urban poverty in the United States. The Center is a leader in the development of undergraduate and graduate curriculum and world-class research on urban poverty and social welfare policy. Under his leadership, the Center garnered more than $5 million in extramural funding of research in the area of racial and urban inequality.
Oliver co-authored Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality with Thomas M. Shapiro, which 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 first released in 1995. He is the co-editor of four books, including Prismatic Metropolis: Inequality in Los Angeles, and the author of numerous special journal issues and more than 50 scholarly publications. In acknowledgment of the quality and impact of his scholarly contributions, Oliver was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012.
Oliver earned his BA at William Penn College and his MA and PhD from Washington University in St. Louis. Washington University awarded him the Distinguished Alumni Award, Arts and Sciences in 2002 and the Sesquicentennial Celebration Distinguished Alumni Award in 2003. William Penn University honored him with the Distinguished Career Award in 2012.
This appointment concludes a 13-month search by a committee that included Pitzer faculty, students, staff, alumni and trustees. Melvin L. Oliver succeeds Laura Skandera Trombley, who began her tenure in July 2015 as the president of The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.