Author: Margaret Su
Deputy for Board Affairs Rozita Afar is finally opting to leave behind the institution that she loves, departing in pursuit of new challenges. When she arrived in 1999 as director of the president’s office she originally intending to stay for a maximum of four years. Sixteen years later she has seen the college through many changes.
“I find it difficult to imagine Oxy without Rozita,” President Jonathan Veitch said via email. “She held the college together through several presidents who preceded me and held me together through a very steep learning curve.”
Afar’s original intent was to help Ted Mitchell establish himself as Occidental’s twelfth president and then move on. However, since Mitchell’s departure in 2005, she has busied herself with various projects, including the management of two presidential searches and the planning of Occidental’s 125th Anniversary celebrations.
“There has been no time for me to think about myself,” Afar said. “I’ve always felt that it’s not the right time to leave the institution.”
However, after last year’s extension of Veitch’s contract through 2020, Afar decided the time was finally right for her to act in her own interest.
“I just need to do what I wanted to do many years ago, and basically repot and refresh and go somewhere else that needs fixing,” Afar said.
Afar’s primary job has been to support the president and the board of trustees, for whom she has served as secretary. She was also chief of staff prior to her promotion to deputy for board affairs. However, there are numerous other tasks that she has assisted with — in addition to the major logistical planning required in advance of every board meeting and commencement, Afar recalled constant work done behind the scenes.
She has dealt with concerned parents and students while also managing anything that the president cannot attend to. A fireman’s jacket that she received from her colleagues in the president’s office, symbolic of the many “fires” that she has put out, hangs on her office wall.
“Rozita’s a support person,” Director of Communications and Community Relations Jim Tranquada said. “That means that all of the stuff that people take for granted is the result of her hard work.”
Afar said she would not have ended up at Occidental if not for her loyalty to Mitchell, who is currently serving as Under Secretary of Education as part of President Barack Obama’s administration. She had worked with Mitchell at the J. Paul Getty Trust and ended up liking Occidental so much that she has commuted an hour each way to work for the past 16 years.
“I love the community, family feel of Occidental College,” Afar said. “I fell in love with the culture here and the people who work here.”
When Mitchell was offered the position as Occidental’s twelfth president in 1999, he knew he wanted Afar to join him at Occidental.
“Rozita is this incredible combination,” Mitchell said. “She is empathetic, she has a very high emotional intelligence and she is able to connect with people no matter who they are or where they are in their careers.”
Mitchell also commended Afar for her versatility and acknowledged that she has a strong project management background. According to him, she is wise with a hardworking spirit that has benefited her in her work at Occidental.
Afar’s contributions, she said, have played a large part in turning the board of trustees into a well-run, professional entity, and have also provided much stability in the president’s office throughout the years, which did not actually exist upon her arrival.
“When I first got here, there was really no Office of the President,” Afar said. “There was the president, and he had an assistant, but that was it.”
She also noted that the president’s office has become more professional and corporate, and that there are now systems and processes in place that did not exist before that add to its improved structure and organization.
“It’s a tribute to the systems that Rozita has set up, that it isn’t dependent on just one person,” Tranquada said. “It’s a measure of her success, that she can finally decide that now’s the time to leave, and that there’s a system in place that will keep running smoothly after she’s gone.”
Afar, who claims to know nearly every person that she runs into on campus, will miss the friends that she has made here — the trustees in particular. Having served as secretary to the board of trustees for her entire 16 years here, Afar has gotten to know many of them well.
“The trustees have been very, very kind and appreciative of what I’ve done for the board and for the college,” Afar said. “That means the world to me.”
In particular, John Power ’58, who served as chair of the board of trustees in the past and currently chairs the trustee affairs and governance committee of the board, can attest to the contributions that Afar has made to Occidental. According to him, she is willing, upbeat, easy to work with and extremely conscientious.
“She’s just a wonderful, wonderful human being, efficient and hardworking,” Power said. “I can’t think of a person I’d rather work with.”
In addition to the colleagues that she will leave behind, Afar will also miss Occidental’s campus, with which she associates many fond memories, such as her daughter’s commencement in 2010.
Afar said her experience working at Occidental has taught her that she is indeed highly capable in her work, but that at times she needs to have more confidence in herself. She credited Mitchell with encouraging her to do things that she did not think she could do.
Afar said she has been unable to keep up with the well-wishing emails she has received thanking her for her many contributions to the institution. Following her departure, her responsibilities will be distributed among existing staff members.
“She has been an incredible contributor to the college’s success over the past 16 years,” Mitchell said. “I only wish her well in her next adventure.”
Afar intends to take some time off before diving into new pursuits, traveling and visiting both Mitchell and Robert Skotheim, another former Occidental president with whom she has worked. However, according to Afar, this is by no means the end of her career.
“I’m not retiring,” Afar said. “I don’t know how to do that.”
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