Legacy of Leadership

Legacy of Leadership

For more than three decades, President James M. Rosser has been a powerful and nationally respected leader known for strongly speaking out on behalf of the underserved communities in higher education, and more broadly, the underlying principles of social justice. President Rosser is consistently recognized for the remarkable breadth of his service, for his early and long-standing commitment to academic excellence, and for championing the arts and the STEM field disciplines. He is distinguished for participating in landmark changes in state and national policy – what one magazine recently called, “the Rosser Revolution,” and his eloquent testimonies have been heard before Congress, at the White House, in corporate and nonprofit board meetings, as well as at virtually all local, state and federal levels.

As a young man, growing up in East St Louis, James M. Rosser. was an athlete, musician and talented student. The discipline inherent in each of these aspects of his youth informed his choices in life and positioned him to excel and span boundaries which, in the era before civil rights, were narrowly drawn for many in this country. His first opportunity beyond East St. Louis came when he accepted a basketball scholarship to attend Langston University and subsequently, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. The sport offered him access to an educational environment he found both challenging and engaging, ultimately leading him to a Ph.D. in health education with an emphasis in healthcare administration.

These characteristics have persisted throughout his life. It is the potent combination of creativity, teamwork, intelligence and fairness that have become the bedrock of his personal principles and the hallmarks of his professional career.

Access and Diversity

President James M. Rosser has championed increasing access to higher education among underserved communities—doing so in Congressional testimony, in presentations at national meetings, moderating a White House forum, in service on key commissions, and by promoting programs that increase diversity in education and in the scientific community. He has served on the CSU Presidents’ Council on Underserved Communities, the CSU-Public Schools Outreach Advisory Committee, the ACE Commission on Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity, the ACE Commission on Inclusion, and the AASCU Committee on Economic and Work Force Development.

In 2008, Rosser received the Frank W. Hale Jr. Diversity Leadership Award from the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) and a Lifetime Educator Award at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference. In recognition of his outstanding leadership and contributions to the greater Los Angeles community, Rosser was also presented with a 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award by The 100 Black Men of Los Angeles, Inc. Most recently, he was presented with the 2012 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award by the American Council on Education.

His numerous previous honors include the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Greater Los Angeles’ 2008 Spirit of Philanthropy Award, National Science Foundation’s Educator Achievement Award, the Los Angeles Urban League’s Volunteer Service Award, the Brotherhood Crusade’s Pioneer of Black Historical Achievement Award, the Golden State Minority Foundation’s Medal of Excellence, and the Torrance Area Chamber of Commerce’s Humanitarian Award.

Teamwork and Education

President James M. Rosser has served on the boards of many state and local community organizations, including the California Community Foundation, the Fedco Charitable Foundation, California Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Community Television of Southern California (KCET), Los Angeles After-School Enrichment, Education and Recreation Program—L.A.’s BEST, the Music Center Performing Arts Council/Education Council, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, and Americans for the Arts. His civic contributions also include service on the City of Los Angeles’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Theatre, the city’s Economy and Jobs Committee, and the Rebuild Los Angeles task force. He also served on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Budget Reform; the Los Angeles County Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools; the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project (LAAMP), a nonprofit educational reform organization; and the Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now (LEARN).

Rosser was a member of the National Institutes of Health’s National Advisory Council on Aging from 1989-1993, and on the Task Force on Minority Aging from 1990-1993. From 1982 to 1995, he served on the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles Urban League, during which time he was chair of its Nominating Committee and a member of the Education and Technology Advisory Committee. He also served on the organization’s Prospect Review Task Force LAUL Endowment/Capital Development Program from 2001-2003.

Rosser’s other educational, professional and business board affiliations have included the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the American Council on Education (ACE), Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), Edison International, United California Bank and FEDCO, Inc. In 2005, he was named a distinguished member of the honor society Phi Kappa Phi. He also served on the Board and the President’s Advisory Committee of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Intelligence in Science and Technology

Early in his career, James M. Rosser was a research bacteriologist for Eli Lilly and Company. Over the ensuing decades, he has promoted science and engineering education; and he has sought ways to galvanize the synergies between science and engineering education, research, technology and industry. He has influenced state and national science policy as a member of the California Council on Science and Technology, the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Congressional Caucus for Science and Technology, American Council on Education’s Committee on Science and Technology, and several National Science Foundation and National Academy of Engineering panels and forums.

He serves on the 22-member National Academies Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable Council and on the CSU Presidents’ Commission for CSUPERB – the California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology. He championed new collaborations between CSUPERB’s eight Los Angeles-area campuses and the Southern California Biomedical Council (a life-science industry trade association), and the Pasadena Bioscience Collaborative. The formal agreements strengthen the alignment between biological education and the biotechnology industry, thereby bolstering opportunities in life science education, innovation, and workforce development.

President Rosser is renowned for his efforts in health care. In 2003, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, conferred him an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, citing his pioneering efforts to advance the opportunities and contributions of African Americans in science and health care. He also holds the rank of professor of health care management and professor of microbiology at Cal State L.A. His contributions to the field of health care delivery have resulted in published works on health, health values and the health profession, as well as a number of related appointments, including consultant to the National Institutes of Health's National Heart and Lung Institute and member of the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners.

Creativity and the Arts

Rosser is renowned nationally as an innovator for arts and arts education, and sought after for his record of support and leadership. He has served as a board member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and is known for his deep commitment to bringing the city together through the arts, which have resulted in high profile residencies at CSULA, including the Joffrey Ballet and the Anderson Quartet.

For the Music Center Performing Arts Council/Education Council’s Advancement Committee, through the National Endowment of the Arts, Rosser worked with leaders such as Ernest Fleischmann to identify and support emerging artists.

Rosser served as a KCET board member, helping the television station deliver inspiring content that educates and enlightens millions of individuals. Working with CSULA faculty, he played a major role in the development of KCET’s A Place of Our Own, an innovative educational program that provides support, information and inspiration to those who care for young children.

He helped guide the national organization Americans for the Arts, serving on several committees and as a member of its Board of Governors. He chaired the organization’s Los Angeles Taskforce on Multiculturalism in the Arts, and was a member of its National Policy Board from 1996-2004.


Dr. Rosser earned his Ph.D. in health education and master’s in microbiology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale where he also served as a faculty member, assistant to the chancellor, and founding director of the Black American Studies Program.

  • Ph.D., Health Education, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1969
  • M.A., Microbiology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1963
  • B.A., Microbiology (with honors), Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1962

Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, also conferred Rosser with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in 2003, and Pepperdine University awarded Rosser an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws in 2005. Prior to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Rosser studied at Langston University in Oklahoma on a basketball scholarship.