Dr. Neal King was gone from Southern California for two years, but when he returned last year to work at Antioch University Los Angeles in Culver City, there was one place he wanted to live — in Marina del Rey.

King came to the private, nonprofit Antioch Los Angeles — a school for adult learners — and thus Marina del Rey last year, when he accepted a job as academic dean. Not even a month later, he was appointed provost of the university.

And months after that, in February this year, after a decision to separate Antioch University Southern California into two independent campuses — Los Angeles and Santa Barbara — King was appointed president of the Los Angeles campus.

“I’m absolutely delighted every day to have this role and be at this institution,” King said. “I didn’t seek out being president of Antioch Los Angeles, but if someone said, ‘What’s your dream job?’ I’d have to say that’s probably it.”

Before returning to California last year, King was in New Hampshire working at Antioch University New England, where he was academic dean before serving as interim president of the university.

“The real adjustment was going to New England from California,” King said. “I actually grew up in L.A., so for me, this is being home. I’m delighted to be back.”

And King, known for his “playful personality,” says he loves living in Marina del Rey.

“My father was a naval officer, so I’m a naval brat and I feel really at home in a nautical environment,” King said. “I’ve always liked being in an urban area, but also in a neighborhood. I like being on the Westside.”

From his home, King can walk to the Cheesecake Factory and Chart House restaurant in Marina del Rey, among other places.

“I just love to be able to do all that on foot,” he said. “I can ride my bike and in five minutes I’m on Venice Beach.”

King also has a passion for photography and thinks the Westside is a perfect place to be for snapping great photographs.

And his passion for the arts is noted on campus.

“He appreciates the arts, and I think he will bring that dimension to Antioch, which is very, very welcome,” said Kirsten Grimstad, chair of the B.A. program at Antioch.

King says he loves his work as president at Antioch, but he doesn’t deny that it can be challenging.

“I think any college president who doesn’t see their role as a challenge is na‘ve,” he said.

What King says he finds most fulfilling in his role is “being in a position to facilitate opportunities for people to do the good work that’s in their hearts and really make a difference in their communities.”

And he thinks Antioch, which has six campuses nationwide, is a “pioneer.”

“In my view, this institution is unique,” King said. “I think of it as an institution of conscience. We were one of the first institutions to admit both men and women to the same institution; to admit students of color. We have always been pioneers.”

The various Antioch Universities grew out of the original school in Yellow Springs, Ohio, founded as Antioch College in 1852.

“We have a tremendous commitment to social justice,” he said. “It’s really the values of the institution — that’s why I am here.”

And King is well liked.

“We’re very, very lucky to have Neal as our president,” says Grimstad. “He’s an incredibly capable person. He brings a lot of higher education administration and management to the job and that’s what we need.

“He is a person who has a strong academic background. He’s not just an administrator. He’s a trained psychologist and he’s published. He has a faculty perspective as well, so that’s very important.”

Grimstad also says that King is funny.

“He’s got a marvelous sense of humor, and he’s a lot of fun to be in meetings with,” she said.

“From the moment he arrived on campus, he’s been accessible to everybody,” said Joanna Smith, director of communications for Antioch. “He’s a great listener. He’s open. He’s very positive and believes very strongly in the mission of the university. He was really able to prove himself as a qualified leader.”

King, who is a psychologist by training and did his graduate work at the University of California at Berkeley, also has 40 years experience as an educator.

He was a high school teacher and counselor in California, London, Laos and Algeria before he became a psychologist and opened a private practice in northern California for 14 years.

Before joining Antioch in 2004, King had also been the founding director of the Doctor of Psychology program at John F. Kennedy University in the San Francisco Bay Area and the founding campus president of what was then the University of Sarasota Orange County, California campus.

And it’s because of this experience and “excellence,” that Antioch has welcomed him with open arms, said Grimstad.

“He has rallied the whole campus in a way that’s amazing,” she said. “I assume that’s because of his excellence. It’s partly skill, but he has a depth and authenticity to him. You really know you’re dealing with someone who’s quite genuine.”

At Antioch, the approach to education is “making learning meaningful and vital while promoting social justice.” And the Los Angeles campus will be celebrating its 35th year this September.

The school focuses primarily on adult education, which is “for returning adult learners who are juggling careers and family, who still want to be able to go back to get their degree from a fully-accredited university,” said Smith.

Antioch — accredited by the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges (NCA) — offers graduate degrees in several fields, including education and psychology, and an undergraduate degree completion program.

The Master of Arts in psychology is the school’s most popular program, said Smith.

The school also offers a “weekend college” program that’s helpful for working students, or those fighting the traffic of the city.

“I think what’s distinctive about Antioch is that we’re not a degree mill — people actually come for the experience of having an education, as opposed to just the degree,” said Smith. “We offer real classes with real faculty. It’s not online, but it’s flexible.”

The university used to be located on Fiji Way in the Marina del Rey area before moving to Culver City.

“We have just grown so much that the facility couldn’t sustain us anymore, but we didn’t want to go too far because we’ve always served the Westside, so we just moved down the 90 [Marina Freeway] a little bit,” said Smith.

And that’s no problem for new president King.

“The 90 Freeway is my favorite freeway in all of California,” he says.

Information, www.Antioch LA.edu