Diversity in Higher Education
"Getting to Know: Dr. Gregory Chan"
By Lydia Lum
Dr. Gregory Chan is provost and chief academic officer at St. Thomas University in Miami, where he has been second-incommand since 2001. The 30-year educator began his career as a Seattle public school teacher and then principal. At Central Washington University, Chan rose through the faculty ranks from associate professor in teacher education to department chair, later becoming interim associate vice president for academic affairs. A native of Canton, China, he earned a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and literature from National Taiwan University, a master’s in speech communication from Portland State University and a doctorate in educational leadership from Seattle University.
DI: What led you to become an educator?
GC: I’m a fourth-generation educator. My father was a school principal, college administrator and professor. He was a botanist. My father’s father, and his father before him, were also principals.
DI: St. Thomas is a Hispanic-serving institution where students of Asian descent are so few that they numbered in the single digits in some grade levels a year ago, and there were none among sophomores. What is it like to work where there are so few Asians?
GC: I took this job as an adventure. Many minorities don’t want to move places where they’re the only Asian, the only Latino. I tell them to be open-minded. They can always find another job if they don't like the new place after they try it out.
DI: You participated in leadership development programs sponsored by the American Council on Education and the Council of Independent Colleges. How do you feel about the scarcity of Asian American applicants for college presidencies and vice presidencies?
GC: I encourage other Asians to apply. We risk being forever insignificant if we don’t put ourselves into different situations. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a director of minority affairs. But they can be more.
DI: What is your favorite movie?
GC: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was beautifully produced.
DI: What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
GC: My parents fled mainland China in 1949 with our family when the communists were taking over. I was about two years old, one of six children. We were among about one million refugees in Hong Kong. My father became a farmer. We had many hardships. But we couldn’t stay on the mainland, because intellectuals like my father faced persecution. I think my experience helps me relate to immigrant students.