Susan Prager Named College President
Former UCLA Law School Dean Susan Westerberg Prager, a distinguished legal scholar, teacher and academic leader, has been selected by the Occidental College Board of Trustees as Occidental’s 13th president.
She succeeds Theodore R. Mitchell, who resigned last September to head the NewSchools Venture Fund in San Francisco.
Prager, a 1964 graduate of Stanford University who received her law degree at UCLA, served as dean of UCLA Law School for 16 years and spent 14 years on the Stanford board of trustees before taking the post of provost (chief academic officer) at Dartmouth College. She returned to UCLA in 2001, where she is the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Professor of Law. She will take office at Occidental July 1.
“We are delighted that a comprehensive national search has led us to a distinguished California educator to serve as Occidental’s next president,” said Catherine Selleck ’55, chair of the Occidental Board of Trustees. “Susan Prager has a deep understanding of higher education gained from years of experience as a student, teacher, trustee and administrator. Her commitment to the Occidental mission of excellence, equity and the life-long value of a liberal arts education made her the unanimous choice to lead the College to even greater achievements in the future.”
As one of the country’s longest-serving law school deans, Prager expanded the size of the faculty, developed new academic programs, and raised standards while increasing the diversity of the student body and faculty. At UCLA she was responsible for building the law school’s first major gifts program, which made possible a dramatic new law library. In 1985 she became the second woman to serve as president of the Association of American Law Schools, the leading professional organization in her field.
She received numerous awards for her work as dean, including the Legal Services Award from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; the Madrina Award from the UCLA Latino Alumni Association; the Maynard Toll Award for Distinguished Public Service from the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles; and the highest honor bestowed by the UCLA Alumni Association, the Edward A. Dickson Alumnus of the Year Award.
“It is a great privilege to carry on Occidental’s long tradition of excellence and to help further its innovative climate and strong sense of purpose,” said Prager, who will be Occidental’s first woman president. “Occidental is a remarkable place, where faculty are vigorously devoted to their students and where students and faculty engage together in and out of the classroom, often with exciting research. I’m drawn to Occidental in significant part because it sees itself as offering a breadth of opportunities to a diverse and highly motivated group of students determined to make a difference in their professional and civic lives.”
“Established when Los Angeles was a small town on the verge of becoming one of the nation’s largest cities, Occidental reached the high aspirations of its founders long ago,” Prager said. “For many decades now, Occidental has defined its excellence not only in traditional terms but also by its intimate connection with Los Angeles – its greatness, diversity, and the many challenges it faces. Because I love L.A., Occidental’s synergies with the city and the region are compelling for me in a highly personal and emotional way.”
At Dartmouth, Prager had broad responsibilities for undergraduate, graduate and professional education. She led the college into a partnership that built the new SALT telescope in South Africa, made the decision to make Dartmouth the nation’s first broadly wireless university campus, worked to change the culture of student residential and social life, created an ambitious physical plan for the campus and led a major academic planning effort that formed the foundation for Dartmouth’s current fundraising campaign.
Prager served on the Stanford Board of Trustees from 1976-1980 and 1987-1997, including four years as board vice president. As a Stanford trustee, she chaired the board’s Academic Policy Committee and was a member of the Presidential Search Committee that recommended the appointment of Gerhard Casper.
She has served as a member of the California Commission on Campaign Financing, the California Community Colleges Commission on Innovation, and has testified before the U.S. Senate, the California state senate and other governmental bodies on a wide range of issues. She is a longtime director of the Newport Beach-based Pacific Mutual Holding Company, which owns Pacific Life. A staunch preservationist, she and her husband have restored two historic Victorian houses in the Angelino Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles and have played an active role in historic preservation.
Prager grew up on a farm in Sloughhouse, a small farming community southeast of Sacramento. She graduated with honors from Stanford with a degree in history, where she also earned her master’s degree in the same field. Before attending UCLA Law School, where she was editor of the UCLA Law Review, she worked in the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, and the California Assembly. She joined the UCLA faculty in 1972, becoming a professor of law five years later. She and her husband of 32 years, Jim Prager, a lawyer, have two adult daughters.
Founded in 1887 as one of the first institutions of higher learning in Southern California, Occidental College is one of the few nationally ranked liberal arts colleges located in a major city. Its student body of 1,839 students, drawn from 45 states and 26 countries, combines a remarkable diversity – more than a third are students of color; almost 20 percent are the first in their family to attend college – with a traditional commitment to academic achievement. Occidental students regularly win many of the nation’s most prestigious awards. Particular strengths include its superb faculty, a top-ranked undergraduate research program, extensive opportunities for interdisciplinary, overseas and independent study, a historic commitment to community-based learning, and a beautiful 120-acre campus designed by architect Myron Hunt.