In spring 2018, the California State University Board of Trustees appointed Thomas Parham, Ph.D., to serve as president of CSU Dominguez Hills.

We spoke with the veteran educator, scholar, psychologist and leader about his new role, his goals and the importance of community.

 

Q: What are some of your first orders of business as president of Dominguez Hills?  

Dr. Parham: I'm looking forward to meeting with and listening to key stakeholders, both internal to the campus and external to the university, in addition to reconnecting with those CSU Trustees and colleagues at the Chancellor's Office who have been wonderfully supportive in ensuring I have a smooth transition. I will huddle with my leadership cabinet and support personnel to begin the process of team building. At the same time, I will get a read on the heartbeat of the campus from the Academic Senate and the student leadership, and get a better sense of the budget and space challenges that face us in order to prioritize the issues that need the most acute attention.

When fall arrives, I'll address the campus faculty and students so that they can begin to know me and trust that I am committed to serving them and this institution.

 

Q: What is your leadership philosophy? 

Dr. Parham:  That's an interesting question. I have a lot of "Parhamisms," as they have been called. Here are a few that speak to my leadership style: 

  • I'm a servant leader and not a ruling leader.
  • I try to be a people pusher and not a paper pusher.
  • I'm a collaborative leader and not an autocratic one. 
  • I try to lead by example, and help people dream about and stretch for what is possible, and not simply settle for what is probable or within our immediate reach. 

I want people to focus less on the eight out of 10 reasons why something cannot be done and instead focus on finding the two out of 10 reasons why something can be done. I am also cognizant of the fact that I am not the most important person in my organization; rather the most important person is the first point of contact for our customer base. I want everyone in our organization to come to work each day believing that what he or she does is significant, worthwhile and makes a difference in someone's life on our campus.

 

Q: What are the goals of your presidency? 

Dr. Parham: First, in building on the tremendous legacy left by President [Willie J.] Hagan. I want to help the campus achieve the best of itself by closing the gap between what we aspire to be in the context of our academic mission and strategic plan, and how those aspirations get actualized within the context of our daily activities on campus. 

Secondly, I'm committed to making CSUDH a destination campus for many students in Los Angeles and Southern California. I also want to cultivate interest and investment in CSUDH by our students, and particularly the corporate and philanthropic community who I hope will share my desire to help our Dominguez Hills campus be the best it can be. 

Lastly, I want CSUDH to be perceived as "The People's University." We must continue to both embrace our historic roots, and take our academic and research knowledge and disseminate and leverage it to address and solve real-world problems that impact people's lives in our community and beyond. 

 

Q: How do you believe your experience, both personal and professional, will best serve CSUDH?

Dr. Parham:  CSUDH is a reflection of me and my experiences. Professionally, I am a psychologist, clinician and an academician by training. I bring more than 30 years of experience in higher education as an administrator, senior executive, professor, author and scholar to this role as president.

I am, in part, a product of the California system of higher education, and I am committed to giving back much of what was given to me. I am the product of a single-parent household who, along with three siblings, grew up in Los Angeles. Despite growing up poor, we all managed to negotiate the K-12 public and parochial school system and then pursue higher education. Education literally changed my life trajectory. I want to provide that same level of excellence, access and affordability that my siblings and I were able to secure. Indeed, I am the students at CSUDH, just a few generations removed. 

 

Q: Do you have free time and what do you do with it? 

Dr. Parham: I have very little free time. Still, beyond recreational pursuits, I try to lend my time and talents to social uplift, community engagement and partnerships with community nonprofit organizations to raise up new generations of socially conscious, responsible and respectable young people who can take advantage of life's opportunities and confront life's challenges with confident reassurance. My hope is that the work I do in all of my personal and professional endeavors will be judged as having fulfilled and not betrayed a legacy that my African ancestors left me to build upon.  

 

Q: What was the last book you read? 

Dr. Parham: I've read a few books recently, including "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America," by Michael Eric Dyson. Professor Dyson writes very pointedly about some of the racial divisiveness gripping this nation while providing solutions to address these issues. I read a text on presidential transitions, and also Duane Acker's "Can State Universities Be Managed?," which I thank President Hagan for sharing with me. 

 

Q: What's something people would be surprised to learn about you? 

Dr. Parham: I love basketball. I'm a big Lakers and Clippers fan and also like the Wizards. I like tennis and golf and football. I'm a Rams fan. I am a big motion picture moviegoer. When it comes to music, I'm an old-school R&B, and smooth jazz fan.

I'm a very spiritual individual who is grateful for the grace God bestows on me in managing my life pursuits. I'm a family man who is grateful for the love and support of my wife Davida, my daughters Kenya and Tonya, and my siblings and family.

Finally, in much the same way Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. argued in his text "Strength to Love," I come to most situations with a tough mind and a tender heart, and a spirit committed to making the places and spaces I occupy better for others. 

About Dr. Thomas Parham

Most recently, Dr. Parham served as Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at the University of California, Irvine, a role he has held since 2010. During his more than 30-year career at UC Irvine, Parham also served as an adjunct faculty member and held leadership positions including Assistant Vice Chancellor for Counseling and Health Services, Counseling Center Director, and Director of the Career and Life Planning Center. Prior to joining UC Irvine, Dr. Parham served on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania.

Parham earned a bachelor's degree in social ecology from the University of California, Irvine, a master's in counseling psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.