Back

Manuel T. Pacheco

Rethinking How Education Can Serve All Students

Manuel T. Pacheco, PhD
Foreign Language Educator and Higher Education Administrator
1962 Fulbright U.S. Student to France

Dr. Manuel T. Pacheco’s path to U.S. higher education leader could be considered “nontraditional.” He was the son of migrant farm workers, became the first in his family to attend college, graduated from a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), and earned a Fulbright U.S. Student award to France to immerse himself in the French language and culture while deepening his study of French literature.

Dr. Pacheco is the eldest of 12 children. He grew up in northern New Mexico and worked on a farm before and after school. As a junior in high school, Dr. Pacheco was one of the top 30 performers on a statewide test and was offered early admission to New Mexico Highlands University. He worked two jobs to support himself while in college, where he excelled in languages. He continued his study of languages as a Fulbright U.S. Student to France at the Université de Montpellier and went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees from The Ohio State University in Spanish and foreign language education, respectively.

Dr. Manuel T. Pacheco, 1962 Fulbright U.S. Student to France, during his tenure as President of the University of Houston-Downtown.

Dr. Pacheco began his career teaching French and Spanish in high schools in New Mexico, before moving into higher education administration as Associate Dean of Education at the University of Texas-El Paso. There he became known as a respectful leader who listened to all voices on campus. He served as President of Laredo State University (1984-1988), the University of Houston-Downtown (1988–1991), the University of Arizona (1991–1997), and Chancellor of the University of Missouri System (1997–2002). After almost twenty years of leading institutions and systems, he retired but again was called to serve – returning as the interim president of his alma mater, New Mexico Highlands University (2006-2007), and then for two terms as the interim president of New Mexico State University (2009, 2012-2013). 

When Dr. Pacheco became President of the University of Arizona, there were no other Hispanic presidents of research universities in the United States. From his nontraditional beginning, he became an extraordinary teacher, administrator, and leader who championed student-serving policies. 

His legacy as a leader in higher education is one of strong commitment to undergraduate education and expansion of student services and support, ensuring that all students receive the financial, educational, and health-related resources they need to be successful. His vision for higher education fostered the development of the student-centered research university, altering the traditional ideas of what higher education can be. In the process, he touched the lives of thousands of students, breaking down barriers and promoting access to education for Hispanic students, including through the Karen and Manuel T. Pacheco Endowed Scholarship at the University of Arizona.

In 2015, Dr. Pacheco noted, “Paths must be identified to pave the way for ‘nontraditional’ students, the majority of students, to move forward toward degree and credential completion.” Dr. Pacheco’s words echo the Fulbright Program’s commitment to engaging traditionally underrepresented audiences in all the Program’s activities, welcoming participants “regardless of their race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, geographic location, socio-economic status, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”