University leader talks to local media about his transition, his goals, the search for a new provost and a growing student population
Fresno State President Joseph Castro spent this summer traveling back and forth between the Valley and the Bay Area, where he was serving out his final weeks as UC San Francisco’s vice chancellor of student academic affairs while preparing to return back to his home roots.
Banners with Castro’s face had been placed above posts across the Fresno State campus days after the California State University Board of Trustees appointed him as successor to former President John Welty on May 22, kicking off an informal countdown to the official start of his role as the university’s eighth president.
Castro served his first day on the job on Thursday, and he expects his first year as the university’s leader to be met with a record number of 22,710 enrolled students when classes begin on Aug. 22.
Castro, a Hanford native who is the first Californian and Latino to serve as the university’s president, said during a press conference he was excited to begin his role as university president.
“I want to continue building on efforts that focus on the success of our students,” Castro said.
“We’ve done an incredible job of attracting and graduating so many students, especially those who are first-generation to college. And that’s actually something that really attracted me to this role is the fact there’s so many of those students who are coming from all around the Valley.”
Castro’s first-day itinerary included stops at the Joyal Administration Building for a new employee orientation, the Fresno State Police Department for fingerprinting, meetings with Interim Provost Andrew Hoff and Academic Senate Chair Lynn Williams – and lunch at the University Student Union Pit with Associated Students Inc. President Moses Menchaca.
Castro formed a transition team – 43 members consisting of former associates and colleagues, Valley-based members of the presidential search committee and other Valley residents who were suggested to him – in mid-June to help him ease into his role as university president.
Though he has met with members of his group individually, Castro said he is “going to be relying on advice from lots of people outside the transition team as well as people from across the campus, throughout the Valley and outside the Valley.”
“I don’t want anybody to get the impression that that’s the only group that’s going to help shape the thinking ahead. It will be a number of people,” he said.
Fresno State hired 48 new professors this summer, Castro said, to teach this semester when 3,339 incoming freshmen – another record number – are expected to join Fresno State’s student body.
It remains unclear if more classes were added to accommodate the growing student population, but Vice President of Student Affairs Paul Oliaro said there were “sufficient classes to meet the demands for continuing students as well as new students.” Oliaro pointed out that incoming freshmen and transfer students did not, in general, have difficulty enrolling in a sufficient amount of units during this summer’s Dog Days orientation dates.
The search for a new provost also “is a very high priority,” Castro said.
Hoff delayed his retirement to serve as provost on an interim basis until the university permanently fills the position – which was vacated when William Covino was appointed by CSU Trustees as president of CSU Los Angeles in May.
The national search for a new provost, the school’s top academic administrator, will kick off in September with the hopes of appointing someone in the spring.
One of the main goals he addressed on Wednesday was to increase the university’s graduation rate. “I think that ties to the economic benefits of the university. …That will help the Valley economy,” Castro said.
Castro, 46, joked about embracing Fresno State’s spirit and colors (he said he stocked up on red ties and rented a red Mazda specifically because they matched the Bulldogs’ signature color).
He had an emotional, brief message for the Valley’s youth:
“No matter whether your family has a lot of money or a little money; no matter if you live in a large house or a small house; or if you would be the first in your family to attend and graduate from college; your future is bright,” Castro said. “Because the future of our youth is so bright, so is the future of this great Central Valley.”
Castro, his wife Mary and their two-year-old son will begin moving in to the University House on the corners of Van Ness Boulevard on Saturday. He will make his first address to the campus community on Aug. 19 at the Save Mart Center in this year’s Fall Faculty and Staff Assembly.