The Miami Herald
Tue, Nov. 18, 2003
Hispanic chosen as new leader of BCC

Trustees select Larry A. Calderon as the president of Broward Community College, the first time a Hispanic person is chosen to lead the increasingly diverse school.


A high school advisor once told Larry A. Calderon he would be ``lucky to be admitted to a junior college.''

Calderon, undaunted, pressed on. He was accepted to Ventura College in California, went on to earn a doctorate degree from another school, and ultimately became Ventura's college president.

On Monday, Calderon, who is half Mexican American, made history when Broward Community College selected him as its first Hispanic leader.

Calderon, 53, beat out a diverse field of more than 70 applicants to replace Willis Holcombe, who is retiring after serving as president of the Davie-based college for more than 16 years.

''It's an exciting opportunity,'' said Calderon, who has been president of Ventura College since 1995. ``I was serious about the position from the start.''

Calderon has told college officials that he will take the job, providing both sides can agree on the three-year contract.

He is being offered a $225,000 annual compensation package, including personal allowances for housing and car.

College officials said hiring Calderon would be a symbol of change in a school whose diversity is increasing.

Calderon's mother is Mexican-American and his father was of Italian descent.

''I think Calderon brings a vision of change that is comparable to what we have going on in the community,'' said board member Georgette Sosa Douglass.

Board members who supported his candidacy also said they were impressed that he is a product of the junior college system. Of BCC's 60,000 students, most are black or Hispanic.

Black students make up 27.8 percent of the student body.

Twenty-five percent are Hispanic. Forty percent are non-Hispanic white.

BCC officials project that in 2010 the student population will be 29.2 percent white, 32.8 percent black, and 32 percent Hispanic.

''I think it's nice to have a Hispanic to be the head of BCC,'' said longtime Broward Hispanic activist Pepe Lopez.

Calderon says his first action as president of BCC will be to learn the culture of the colleges.

''It's an increasingly diverse community,'' he said. ``There are cultural differences that exist at BCC. Students are one piece, and there is the culture of the business community and the social community.''

Board member Paul Tanner said Calderon's experience in junior college ``can't be replicated.''

That experience mirrors those of many junior college students.

When Calderon was in his senior year of high school, he said he ``hadn't taken the SATs and I hadn't applied to any colleges.''

He enrolled at Ventura College, which helped expose him to a whole new world.

''It was like removing the blinders off a horse,'' Calderon said.

He caught the education bug, received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and earned master's and doctorate degrees in education from the University of Southern California.

At Ventura College, Calderon is credited with creating and expanding the East Campus at Santa Paula, a satellite campus of Ventura College.

In 1999, a major expansion included more than $1 million in new computers and a state-of-the-art machine manufacturing area.

The programs moved into expanded space this year. The campus now offers a full range of general education, English as a second language, certified nursing and medical assistant, child development and citizenship courses.

At BCC, Calderon will lead a school that is growing rapidly while at the same time facing statewide budget cuts.

He was not considered a shoo-in to lead BCC.

Board chairwoman Cheryl Krause and board member Lourdes Garrido lobbied for BCC academic vice president Eileen Holden to get the post.

Krause said it would be a stretch for Calderon to take the helm of BCC, which is much larger than 13,000-student Ventura College.

During Monday's meeting, much of the staff and faculty appeared to support Holden, applauding when her name was called among the final two.

But after Holden didn't get the necessary votes to win the position, many of the people in the room walked out.

Deborah Nycz, president of the faculty senate, said she was disappointed that Holden did not get the job.

''But we have to give the guy a chance,'' Nycz said.

Calderon said that he's not concerned about backlash, but will focus on what the people at BCC have to offer.

''I'm going to pay a lot of attention and utilize the expertise and the wisdom of the people there,'' he said.