May 25, 2020

From the office of the president

Dr. John Welty previously served as president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is in his 16th year as Fresno State president.
Juan Villa / The Collegian

If it weren’t for the President’s Gallery that’s right outside his office, it seems hard to believe that the main office in the Thomas Administration building belongs to Dr. John Welty. Simply decorated, the office doesn’t have the ambience of someone as prominent as Welty, who has served as campus president for almost 16 years.

Throughout his tenure, the campus community has sung its praises, as it has seen the creation of the Smittcamp Family Honors College and the Save Mart Center.

But the campus has also been the subject of much scrutiny, with scandals including the misappropriation of funds to the athletic program. Strong criticism has been hurled at Welty and the university’s administration, with its most recent criticisms as a result of the Campus Pointe development plan.

While some members of the campus community and the region have made their opinions known to Welty, what is Welty’s response to it all?

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with The Collegian, Welty discusses the university’s reputation, Campus Pointe and the criticism it has been receiving, his way of interacting with students and his response to those who say it’s time for him to step down as university president.

G: How long do you plan to serve as campus president?

W: Well, I don’t have any set date. It’ll probably be several more years.

G: Is this your final stop in your career path or do you have other endeavors?

W: Well, I think it’ll certainly be my last stop as president. What I do after presidency, I don’t know at this point. But I plan to basically finish out my career here.

G: What do you think is the reputation of Fresno State in reference to other universities? How do you think we compare to them, such as Berkeley or other CSUs? How is Fresno State perceived by them?

W: The Carnegie Foundation has recently identified us as one of the 76 engaged universities in the country. And so, I think we have gained national prominence in terms of a comprehensive regional university that is committed to engaging students in their education and engaging with the region in which we’re located. I think in the coming years we will, as I’ve said many times, be one of the top 10 comprehensive engaged universities in the United States.

G: When you say “engaged,� can you elaborate on that?

W: Essentially what I mean is that the university has encouraged students to get engaged in their learning through community service, service-learning, research, internships, etc. and we have as a university community, we have attempted to link the resources of this university with the region and that has played out through our work with the regional jobs initiative, the Governor’s partnership for the San Joaquin Valley through a number of centers and institutes that we’ve established such as the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Central Valley Health Policy Institute.

G: What are some of your goals for yourself and for the Fresno State community?

W: I think the primary goals are laid out in our most recent plan for excellence. In brief, to continue to improve the university’s academic program as we serve a very diverse student population. And secondly, to continue to work to engage the university in this region and to be part of the transformation of this area into what we call the new California. It’s essentially the university’s strategic plan.

G: Is Campus Pointe a big part of this?

W: It’s certainly part of the total plan… it’s a significant part, but there are lots of other much more important things in terms of growth of our academic programs, the expansion and improvement of graduate education, and as I said, the continued improvement of the undergraduate experience for students.

G: Can you describe Campus Pointe and why it’s so important to you?

W: Campus Pointe really is a project that will provide both financial benefit to the university as well as a number of programs that will serve the university, and specifically, the revenue generated from Campus Pointe will help to retire part of the debt service on the Save Mart Center and to provide funding for the College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology. And then in terms of services it will provide a hotel conference center which will allow us to do a lot more academic and executive conferences on the campus. It also will provide housing for students, faculty, staff and senior housing. The senior housing will certainly allow a place for students in gerontology to work with senior individuals. In addition, the theater and other commercial facilities, not all of which are identified at this point, will provide accessible services for students on the campus — for example, a grocery store.

G: How do you respond to critics who say that university officials are only out for the business aspect of the university and they’re not trying to build on the academic foundation?

W: I think Campus Pointe will provide key services for students, faculty and staff. And as I said, it will also provide some opportunities for internships for students that serve our academic programs and allow us to look at, for example, a new program in hospitality management and some of those things. But the more important things that are really happening on the campus are the new library and a number of the new doctoral programs we’re adding. Certainly the Smittcamp Family Honors College, the Downing Planetarium, the additional facilities we’re building on the campus are far more important than the Campus Pointe project, but it is necessary to have quality facilities that students can use while they’re here and it’s part of the whole university experience.

G: How do you interact with the average student and how do you communicate with students in the Fresno State community? We usually tend to go to the vice president because we see him as more accessible.

W: He certainly does work at trying to be accessible. I meet, along with Dr. Oliaro, with the President’s Student Leadership group about once a month, and that’s one way that I interact with student leaders. I certainly attend a number of student functions and activities, like tonight I’m going to the Hispanic Business Association dinner and also the Construction Management dinner, so I attend a number of those. And certainly students are free to come in and see me, although realistically with my calendar, it’s hard to do that. The other way I do communicate to a lot of students is through e-mail, and any time I get an e-mail I answer that e-mail from students, so that’s one way that I regularly… And of course then I do the weekly “Reflections,â€? which I think some students read… probably boring reading it.

G: How many students do you think e-mail you on average? Do you get a lot?

W: Not a lot. I would say on an average week, maybe 10 to 15. Now if there’s obviously some issue that everybody hands out my e-mail address, then maybe more than that.

G: Do students receive the “Reflections� e-mail?

W: Well, they go out on e-mail. They don’t go to every student. So anyone that accesses infomail can certainly, and through Fresno State News you can access them as well.

G: Would you ever consider sending “Reflections� or something more relevant to students through e-mail?

W: We could do that, and occasionally I have done the message to students through e-mail. Our experience has been that a lot of students don’t read that, so rather than… I’m sensitive to not clogging up everybody’s e-mail system.

G: You wrote an opinion piece in The Bee talking about “The Importance of Transparency� during the misdirected funds situation. You discussed how the community has a right to know what was going on. But not all of the students in the campus community read The Fresno Bee. Since it’s the students’ money, why didn’t you copy and paste that column and send it out in a mass e-mail or send out a message like that to the students?

W: Well, that’s a good suggestion. It was posted on, so anybody could access it and again, we are sensitive that when I do send something out, we try to make it that it’s important enough that everyone will read it. And since it was really that particular piece, I mean, anybody that really wanted to get it could certainly get it.

G: It seemed like a big concern among students that it was an important issue, and I think students may have appreciated getting that sort of e-mail, even though it was on the Fresno State News Web site.

W: That’s a good suggestion, certainly worth our thinking about for the future.

G: Some of your critics say that it’s time for you to step down — you’ve been president for 16 years, and numerous scandals have occurred during your tenure here. What is your response to that?

W: Well, I think it’s important as you look at a 16-year period that you look at the tremendous growth of the university, and certainly much of that is a tribute to the great faculty and staff that we have here who have worked very hard. But if you look at this period, the addition of the Smittcamp Family Honors College, the large number of new facilities on campus, the strengthening of our academic programs, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, the dramatic growth and service-learning opportunities for students and community-service involvement and a number of other areas you can point to. And there have been issues and problems which have arisen, but I think each of those have been faced directly and the issues resolved, and as a result of those experiences we’ve become a much stronger university.

G: Do you feel as though the community gives the university and the administration credit for those positive things that have occurred while you’ve been here?

W: Well, I think most people recognize the tremendous strides the university has made. Obviously there’s a tendency to focus on the negative or the bad — that does often get more attention than some of the significant accomplishments that students and faculty have made. So I think it’s important to keep in perspective the growth of the university, the improved quality of the university and recognize that we gotta keep working to solve problems as they arise.

Coming Friday: Part two of an exclusive interview with Welty, where he discusses restored integrity in the athletic program, his views on how the media have treated him, reflections on his tenure — and what he’s learned from his past mistakes.

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