Alumni Spotlight: Arthur Tyler

From the Streets of D.C. to the Halls of Academe

By Allan Zackowitz |   October 2010

Arthur Tyler , Alumnus

Anyone who doubts the transforming power of education should talk to Arthur Tyler.

By his own admission, Art Tyler wasn’t supposed to make it. He grew up on the streets of Washington, D.C., in the ’50s and ’60s, when there were few prospects for poor black kids like him. He suffered from dyslexia, which made it difficult for him to read and study. But he worked hard, applied himself, and earned grades that were good enough to get him accepted into college. Then he was drafted by the military.

But despite all of this—or maybe because of it— Art made it anyway. Many times over.

Today, he. is president of Sacramento City College. He may be the only UMUC graduate to rise to that level in academia, and along the way, he has formulated an educational philosophy that is very much based on his experience as a UMUC student. At the same time, he is putting into practice all that he’s learned from the unexpected twists that his life’s path has taken.

“While I was in the Air Force, I collected lots of college credits from the Community College of the Air Force,” Art said, “but not the right credits for a bachelor’s degree. My supervisor told me that I needed to focus.”

“The UMUC dean of the whole region flew in from Heidelberg to meet with me,” Tyler continued. “It wasn’t until I sat down with him and my supervisor that I was able to put all the pieces together."

Art was in Tehran, Iran, at the time, serving with a small group of military advisors while the Shah of Iran was still in power and the country was still a U.S. ally. His wife was working as the UMUC registrar in Tehran, so he decided to enroll for more credits.

“The UMUC dean of the whole region flew in from Heidelberg to meet with me,” Art continued. “It wasn’t until I sat down with him and my supervisor that I was able to put all the pieces together. By using some of my previous credits and the credits from my UMUC courses, I was able to earn a BS in business management in a very short period of time. In fact, I was the last person to graduate from UMUC’s Tehran location. I finished my coursework in December of 1978, just before the Iranian revolution took place.”

Art, who had learned to speak Farsi while in the Middle East, helped organize the evacuation of military families from Iran in early 1979. And by that time, his career was really on its way. “It was due to my degree from UMUC that I got a commission in the Air Force,” he said. He decided to stay in the military and continue with his education, earning a master’s degree in national security affairs four years later from the Naval Postgraduate School. He continued to serve in the Air Force for 21 years, moving around the world and working in antiterrorism and protective services, eventually retiring with the rank of captain in 1989.

After leaving the Air Force, Art returned to the United States and went to work in the security analysis field, investigating fraud, waste, and accounting abuse cases. His experience in the military and his master’s degree helped him build a good reputation in the fast-growing security field, and he credits his UMUC bachelor’s degree in business management with giving him the solid framework he needed to build on so that he could succeed in his business.

“Again, the job depended on my undergraduate degree in business management from UMUC," said Tyler.

 Art’s business ventures led him to Southern California, where he and his family decided to make their home. After eight years in business, he decided it was time to “give something back.” Once again, his UMUC degree was the key that allowed him to reach his goal.

“Again, the job depended on my undergraduate degree in business management from UMUC. I was hired as vice president of administration at Los Angeles City College to straighten out the school’s finances and fix up their rundown campus,” Art said. “I thought I would stay four or five years at LACC and then go back into business.”

That didn’t happen. After seven distinguished years at Los Angeles City College, Art got a call from the state chancellor of education, asking him to come serve as a troubleshooter at Compton Community College, another school that was in both financial and academic trouble and that had just been taken over by the state. Art spent 15 months there as a “special trustee.”

Even the state chancellor admitted that the job could have been a “career-ender” for anyone with aspirations in the field of higher education. Instead, Art is widely credited with restoring order and starting the turnaround that the troubled school needed.

“People helped me, and I’m passing it on to others,” Tyler explained.

By that time, Art was hooked on education. So he applied for the job of president at Sacramento City College (SCC), a 90-year-old community college with an ethnically and culturally diverse student population of 22,000, located in California’s state capital. After a nationwide search, 50 candidates were competing for the position. Art—the only candidate without a lifelong career in academia—got it.

Art has been presiding over SCC, the oldest public community college in California, since August 2005. He calls himself CEO, not president, and believes a college leader needs the skills of an executive more than he needs academic credentials. And, not surprisingly, his organizational approach emphasizes adult students in the workforce who are facing life challenges.

“People helped me, and I’m passing it on to others,” Art explained. “The faculty and staff are here for the students, to nurture them through the [education] process while maintaining high standards. Discipline and academic rigor are expected and appreciated.”

Art wants his faculty to be willing to talk about specific elements of learning. “Spooning out knowledge doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s the interaction between people, and the faculty learn from the students, too. Thoughtful and civil discussions create knowledge—the ideal way to learn.”

Sacramento City College seems like the perfect place for a self-avowed “lifelong learner” like Art. And so far it appears to be a good match for both the school and its new president.

“I was surprised by the warmth of the welcome I received from the people of SCC and the city of Sacramento,” Art admitted. “Everybody wants to cooperate, to help, to pitch in.”

It looks like Art is making it, all over again.