After 22 years, Fresno State president John D. Welty is retiring.
His tenure has seen the creation of many programs and much infrastructure improvement. He also initiated a spirit of community service among Fresno State’s student body.
Welty was hired in July of 1991, coming from the University of Indiana of Pennsylvania where he served as interim president. Before this he worked in administration at State University of New York at Albany, Southwest State University in Minnesota and Michigan State University, East Lansing.
The public university, Welty believes, is not only a place of higher education, but also a place that reaches out to the region in which it is located.
“What I was attracted to was I saw a university with tremendous potential and an opportunity to serve the region in which it was located,” he said.
At the time of his hiring, the California State University (CSU) system was in a financial crunch. Going into the position of president, Welty said he knew money and fundraising would be a big focus of his tenure.
Indeed, fundraising has been a significant mark of his time at Fresno State. Recently, the university celebrated the Campaign for Fresno State. Through this campaign developed by Welty and other administrators, Fresno State accumulated more than $214 million in donations.
Through the fundraising initiatives begun by Welty, the university has seen several significant building additions. These transcend anything seen within the CSU system.
Such projects include the building of the Save Mart Center, University High School, the Fresno State Winery and the Smittcamp Alumni House.
“I think the facilities we have really have added opportunities for more students. Certainly the library has become he focal point of the campus,” Welty said. “A number of other things that we’ve gotten support for — the winery — have linked the industry much more closely. Certainly, the Save Mart Center links this entire region. Instead of everyone leaving to go somewhere else for entertainment or a concert people now come to Fresno.”
Welty said the building projects and academics go hand in hand in creating a university experience.
“I think what we’ve been able to do is link people to the university through academic programs, through other facilities that we have so that there is a greater understanding of the role the university plays in this region,” he said.
President Welty and the administration’s projects have received some criticism from community members, students and some faculty.
Fresno State political science professor Mark Somma is one such faculty member. He voiced acknowledgment of Welty’s skill for fundraising and promoting student involvement, yet questions the retiring president’s understanding of university culture.
“We have, for good or for bad, the Save Mart Center. We have Campus Point, whatever that’s going to turn out to be,” Somma said. “It’s not easy to do that stuff. However, it detracts from the mission of the university.”
Somma criticized the Welty administration for its seemingly overt focus on infrastructure improvement and public relations, saying the need is for financial priority on academics: class size, research, student jobs and highly qualified faculty.
“I see a brand new farm market. And I teach in a building that’s as old as I am, and I’m pretty old. So it’s clear where their priorities are,” Somma said.
Somma said the emphasis should be on academics first, then infastrucutre. That, he said, is how universities operate.
“I don’t want to leave the impression that [fundraising is] an easy thing to do, because I don’t think it is. But the buildings have to have a richer culture of academics, and they don’t,” he said.
In 2007, Welty challenged the student body to log more than 1 million volunteer service hours by the Fresno State Centennial celebration in 2011.
The university reportedly reached the 1 million hour mark by the 2009-2010 academic year. According to Fresno State’s university communications department, 1 million hours was once again met during the 2010-2011 year.
The distinction of this many hours has been recognized with a place on the Higher Education Community Service President’s Honor Roll with Distinction from the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Department of Education.
For Welty, this volunteering has helped the university connect with the community in new ways.
“The fact students contribute over a million hours of community service every year is a great tribute to, not only students but also to the faculty that have worked on expanding service learning opportunities,” Welty said.
Community service from the student body has indeed set Fresno State apart from other schools, said Honora Chapman, director of the Smittcamp Family Honors College.
“Raising money is an expectation of all presidents across this nation, but setting the bar so high for community service is not typical of many presidents,” she said. “But President Welty embraced that as the hallmark of his presidency.”
As part of his legacy, Welty said he hopes academics will continue to expand.
“I would hope that the university continues to focus on students and particularly serving first-generation students, because I think we do a very good job of providing those opportunities for students, and a lot of students that take advantage of what’s here,” he said.
Welty said the greatest challenge facing the next president will be in the realm of academics and tuition cost.
“I think the challenge will be to try to engage faculty into looking at ways that we can deliver and structure more effectively,” he said.
Welty went on to say the other challenge will be keeping costs at a minimum for students.
Though he is retiring, Welty will be working as a trustee professor at the Palm Desert campus of CSU San Bernardino.
“I’m still working out specific assignment,” Welty said. “And I’ll probably work out with the president of San Bernardino some specific assignments to serve that area and that region.”
Welty sees Fresno State as place that has grown consistently for the last 102 years. For this reason, he forecasts a bright future for the university.
“I think that the sky is really the limit,” Welty said.