As he sat down with student media at Fullerton College recently, interim President Dr. Monte Perez explained the many roles that a college president plays, and how the challenges excite him.
“I come to work enthused,” he said. “You have to be a problem solver.”
Perez began the interim role in July, which is not unusual, as many educational institutions have temporary leadership as they look to fill the permanent slot. In this case, however, he is the second interim for the vacancy created when former President Greg Schulz departed for Citrus College.
Perez takes on this assignment from former interim president Dr. Gilbert Contreras, who the district Board of Trustees passed on selecting for the permanent college presidential position.
In his conversation with broadcast journalism student Jay Aruya on 90.1 KBPK, Perez spoke to what he sees as his task at hand. “My role as the interim, the second round, is to set the platform for a permanent president. That he or she can take what I and the previous interim have established and hit the ground running.”
He believes the board is looking for a candidate who is “A leader that can inspire, a leader that can bring everybody together.”
He comes to Fullerton College after having retired from LA Mission College, where he was president from 2011-2021. Perez is not seeking the permanent job, but did miss being involved in higher education.
“The last six months of ‘21, I had this antsy feeling. I really miss not being a president in a college setting. I’m the type of president that… I want to do innovation, the next step. How can we serve?”
Excitement and respect for Fullerton College also played a role in Perez’s decision to step out of retirement in an abbreviated role. “I’ve been excited because the Fullerton community and North Orange County community has a lot of interest to do great things. That’s why I came back… to this interim so I could be an instrument for the community.”
His interest in a career in education began early — inspired by two great teachers he had at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, his original plan was to be a high school English instructor. Higher education came calling instead when Stanford University hired him in 1969 as the assistant director of admissions, where he specialized in recruiting minority students.
This began a 50+ year career in higher education for Perez. After Stanford, subsequent roles included serving as the director of the Educational Opportunity Program and Student Support Services at Cal State LA (where he also taught Political Science and Chicano Studies) and as president of Moreno Valley College from 2008-2011.
Perez received his baccalaureate degree from Cal State Los Angeles in Social Science Government and his master’s and Ph.D in Public Policy Administration from the University of Southern California.
While Perez is not here for the long haul, he wants to make a difference during his time at FC. One area of focus is to work on bringing students back to the college.
“Across the board in the state of California, we’ve lost 18-20% of our students… There are many good institutions out there who compete with us. So, we have to be able to offer innovative, streamlined, and exciting new frontiers for students.”
Another priority for Perez is re-engaging the local community, for both building enrollment and bringing resources to the college. This includes building relationships with civic leaders and nonprofit organizations.
“Part of my job is to shake hands and meet people,” he said.
During the board’s search for a permanent fixture at president, the father of 5 is looking to make his stamp on the Fullerton College community. “What students should understand is that the primary focus of why we’re all here and why the college president continues to remind or refresh everybody’s viewpoint is for the students.”
This story was produced in collaboration with the Fullerton College broadcast journalism program and campus radio station 90.1 KBPK. Listen to the full interview here.