He grew up in a hardscrabble home with only one book — the Bible — and parents who worked blue-collar jobs and never advanced beyond ninth grade.
But Melvin L. Oliver rose to become an award-winning University of California professor, researcher, author and administrator noted for championing campus racial diversity. Now he will become the sixth president of Pitzer College — and the first African American to lead one of the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges, officials announced Wednesday.
Oliver, 65, will assume office July 1 at a time of national campus unrest over racial, ethnic and gender equity, including protests that forced out the dean of students at nearby Claremont McKenna College last year. Pitzer student activists have also asked for steps to increase campus diversity.
Oliver, who has tackled racial and economic inequality with both research and practical initiatives during three decades at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, along with a stint at the Ford Foundation, said he would seek to address those concerns as one of his top priorities.
“I want to deepen the commitment of Pitzer to recruiting, supporting and graduating those students [of color] because I think it’s an exceptional education and I want it to be available to as many of them as possible,” he said in an interview.