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Cavazos, Lauro Fred, Jr.

Published onJul 30, 2021
Cavazos, Lauro Fred, Jr.

(January 4, 1927 – )

Quick Facts

Alumnus Lauro Fred Cavazos, Jr., served as U.S. Secretary of Education and worked to aid Hispanics in public education.



Lauro Fred Cavazos Jr., a sixth-generation Texan, was born on January 4, 1927, on King Ranch near Kingsville, Texas. 1 Cavazos was one of five children.2 His brother, Richard Cavazos, is a retired four-star Army general and the first Hispanic general in the U.S. His other brother Bobby Cavazos was one of the most decorated football players in Texas Tech history and is a member of the Tech Athletics Hall of Fame.3

Lauro Cavazos Sr., Cavazos' father, moved his family off the ranch when his oldest daughter was in third grade. The Cavazos believed education was very important so they wanted their children to go to the best school available to them: Flato Elementary School in Kingsville. Schools were not integrated at that time so Cavazos' father pushed the local school board to accept the transfer after they initially denied the request. Eventually his persistence paid off and his daughter was transferred. Lauro Jr. transferred to Flato Elementary School after completing the second grade and this time there was no resistance from the administration. Cavazos graduated from high school in 1944 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. 4 He was honorably discharged September 1946. Cavazos then enrolled in Texas College of Arts and Industries (referred to as Texas A&I College, now Texas A&M University-Kingsville) and transferred to Texas Technological College (Texas Tech) when his favorite professor transferred.

Cavazos originally majored in journalism at Texas A&I because he was interested in writing, but after having Dr. James C. Cross' biology class, he continued to take biology classes from Dr. Cross and switched his major to biology. 5 Lauro Cavazos earned a bachelor's degree in zoology and a master's degree in zoological cytology at Texas Tech. 6 From there Cavazos moved to Ames, Iowa, to pursue a PhD in physiology at Iowa State University where he had received a research fellowship.7

Cavazos completed his PhD in 1954 and began his first full-time teaching position in the fall of 1954 at the Medical College of Virginia, where he taught anatomy for 10 years.8 In 1964 Cavazos became faculty at Tufts University School of Medicine (1964-80, 1991-1996), and was dean of the medical school from 1975-1980.9 In 1980, Cavazos returned to Texas Tech to become the 10th President of Texas Tech University (1980-1988), and was the first alumnus and the first (and to date only) Hispanic to hold this post. Cavazos was also appointed president of the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center during his tenure as president of Texas Tech. Cavazos’ reputation as an approachable administrator who could bring compromise to opposing factions grew. In 1984 President Ronald Reagan gave Cavazos an award for Outstanding Leadership in the Field of Education.10 In 1985, Cavazos received the Distinguished Service Medal from the Uniformed Services University for the Health Sciences.11 He received the Citizens National Hispanic Leadership Award in the field of education from the League of United Latin American Citizens in 1988.12

Cavazos was nominated by Ronald Reagan for U.S. Secretary of Education on August 9, 1988, and was unanimously confirmed.13 As U.S. Secretary of Education he approved new programs to fight drug and alcohol abuse among school-age children and found resources to help at-risk children stay in school. 14 Cavazos was a strong advocate for parental involvement in the schools and focused on reforming education by raising the expectations of students, teachers, and parents. He also focused federal resources to provide better conditions and opportunities for the school districts in the most need of assistance.15 During tenure as secretary of education, Cavazos commissioned studies that would examine the educational inequalities among Hispanics and assess the participation of Hispanics in research grants and other federal opportunities as well as identify any barriers that limited their participation. President Bush signed an executive order on Cavazos' watch on September 24, 1990, that established the President's Advisory Commission on Education Excellence for Hispanics, which was the first time in U.S. history that the government created an organization that would focus on the needs of Hispanic students and make efforts to overcome barriers. Every president since has signed similar orders.16 Cavazos resigned as Secretary of Education on December 15, 1990.17

Hispanic Business magazine named Cavazos the Most Influential Hispanic in the United States in 1990.18 He received both the Alumni Merit Award and the Distinguished Achievement Award from Iowa State University in 2006.19 Texas Tech awarded Cavazos an honorary doctor of science degree at the May 2016 commencement ceremony.20

Currently, as of this writing, Cavazos is professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University Medical School where he continues his work with Hispanics and education.21 He has authored or co-authored approximately 90 publications. Cavazos has worked as a consultant to the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization.22

Cavazos met his wife, Peggy Ann Murdock, in 1948 while attending Texas Tech. Cavazos invited Peggy to his graduation from Iowa State University in Ames and proposed to her under the campanile. They have ten children.23

Selected Sources

See footnotes below.

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