Sep 21, 2019

Learning from his past mistakes

At Monday’s Virginia Tech Memorial, Welty addresses the campus about the tragedy’s impact on Fresno State. Welty said a way he interacts with students is by attending campus organization dinners.
Juan Villa / The Collegian

Dr. John Welty sits in his office, in the same president’s chair he’s occupied since 1991.

From his chair, he’s seen scandals rock the university’s athletic program; from his office, he’s read scathing stories written about him in the local newspaper.

Welty admits he’s made mistakes. Everyone does.

But Welty’s missteps are on display to the students in the Fresno State community and locally for the public to criticize.

In the second half of an exclusive interview with the 62-year-old campus president, Welty talks about how the media have treated him, accepts responsibility for the misappropriation of funds and shares lessons he’s learned from his time spent at Fresno State.

G: How do you feel The Fresno Bee has treated you throughout the situation of the misappropriation of funds to the athletic department? Do you think that you’ve been treated fairly?

W: Well, I think we have responded to The Bee on some of the earlier articles that we think were not accurate, or certainly did not accurately reflect the situation. I think there has been, in most recent weeks, an attempt to be accurate and to be fair and hopefully that will continue.

G: What about the news media in general throughout your tenure here?

W: I think the media has been for the most part fair, and certainly work to cover the activities that are happening at the university and to highlight those.

G: What’s your relationship with The Fresno Bee now? Do you feel as though those problems, like you said, have been corrected and do you feel like you have a better relationship now?

W: I think The Bee is certainly making every effort to be fair and factual in its coverage, and certainly if you were to take the last three months and look at the number of articles in The Bee, you would find far more positive articles than negative. And so it’s important to keep that in perspective, that there are gonna be times when the editorial board differs with something that we do, and when that occurs we’ll usually make our statements clear as well. I think it’s important, as long as in the news part that the news reporting is accurate and factual, and I would say for the most part that has been the case with The Bee.

G: You made this statement in a 2005 welcome back speech: “Unfortunately, mistakes have been made which have had a negative impact on our university. We must take steps to restore the integrity of the program and become a leader in student athlete academic performance as well as on the field performance.� What steps did you take, and do you feel as though any integrity has been restored since then to the program?

W: Yes, I think the athletic program has made major strides in restoring the integrity of the program. How that has been done is through certainly under the leadership of Thomas Boeh, our new director of athletics. He has made that a top priority for the entire program. But specifically, we have strengthened our compliance program and hired additional staff there. We have also placed a much heavier emphasis with the coaches on academic performance of student athletes, and there are some great examples of very good performance. The football team is among the top teams nationally in terms of their academic performance, and there are other sports where you could point to similar progress. There are also some where we need to make more progress.

G: Where are some of the areas?

W: Some of the teams do need to improve their academic performance. We will continue to strengthen the compliance efforts as well as just the general fiscal operation program.

G: Some members of the community think that certain people should step up and take responsibility for the misdirection of funds. Do you think the right people have taken responsibility? Do you accept any responsibility?

W: Well, I have certainly indicated that ultimately I’m responsible for what happens to the university and when we identified the problem five years ago, we did take steps to the best of our ability to correct that problem. We are, as I think you know, reviewing over a multi-year period the whole issue, and if we identify further problems we’ll correct those problems as well. And if it’s any individual individuals are identified as being responsible, we’ll deal accordingly with them as we did in the past when those situations arose, but I think it’s important to realize that the problem is really a function of miscommunication between offices, poor training and really procedural problems rather than anyone willfully or intentionally intending to make the errors that were made.

G: In retrospect, would you make any changes to the things you’ve done while at the university? Would you go back and change any mistakes you think you may have made in the past?

W: Well, if I had that opportunity, there are a number of things I might change. There’s no question. I’ve made mistakes along the way, but I think as those mistakes were made we corrected those, and when you make a mistake, you wish you hadn’t made a mistake but the important thing is to correct that mistake and I think most importantly to actually learn from the mistake and improve upon it.

G: Were there any situations in the past that you feel like you could go back on and go about differently, or do you think the whole learning process is something that the university needed in order to grow and be better?

W: I think it’s important… first of all recognize that people make mistakes, I make mistakes. But if you recognize when you make those and then learn from those that the university and I as an individual will be much stronger.

G: Are there any particular instances or situations you want to elaborate on that you would change?

W: Well, I’m probably not ready to really reflect on those at this point, but at some point, as I get toward the end of my tenure, I’ll be happy to comment on them.

G: What about the hiring of Jerry Tarkanian? Would you have hired him if you could go back and do that differently?

W: Well, I think as it turned out, obviously it was not beneficial to the university and problems occurred. I think certainly the outcome or the decision might have been different. I think that the time the decision was made we had every reason to believe that it would work out and I regret that it didn’t.

G: Do you think the building of the Save Mart Center would have been possible without him?

W: Well, he certainly he was a major factor in building enthusiasm for the program, building the support for the program that allowed the Save Mart Center to occur.

G: What are some of the things you’ve learned along the way while serving as campus president?

W: I think there are a number of things. One is that I think it is important to have a plan that is communicated to the entire university. It’s important to treat people fairly, to respect what they’re doing. It’s very important that you work to support our faculty and staff and the work that they’re trying to do with students. It’s important, I think, to listen to members of the university community and try to be responsive to those issues that are identified. It’s certainly important to hire good people that are actually better than you. I’ve actually been able to do that in many, many cases. And it’s important, I think, for the university to feel like we are succeeding and making progress and that people have pride in our university.

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