Aug 05, 2020

Welty takes a hit, ponders future

President John D. Welty responds to questions from The Collegian in a one-on-one interview in his office on Friday.
Joseph Hollak / The Collegian

The popular expression may be “three’s a charm,” but for Fresno State, three is the multimillion-dollar straw that may break the university president’s back.

But whether that moment is now, the man in question won’t say.

Three lawsuits over gender equity have rocked the campus in recent months, sending shockwaves and a powerful message to college athletic programs both in the California State University system and nationwide.

The sexual discrimination case brought on by former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas ended in a verdict that was reduced to $4.52 million. Former Associate Athletic Director Diane Milutinovich settled her sex discrimination case for $3.5 million.

And then there was the third: Stacy Johnson-Klein. The one with all the hoopla. The one filled with sex and scandal.

The one that cost Fresno State $19.1 million.

Thursday’s verdict can only be described by many as shocking, and it’s a decision that has people questioning whether the university can ever recover from such an expensive blow to its reputation.

But on a rainy Friday, one day after the much-anticipated Johnson-Klein verdict was announced, University President John D. Welty appeared before cameras as calm as a leader under fire can be.

$27.12 million and numerous interviews later, Welty addresses in a one-on-one interview with The Collegian how students will be impacted by the verdict and eludes directly answering the other million-dollar question: Will he resign?

Garcia: Previous reports had stated that the university said the Stacy Johnson-Klein case was thought to be the most solid out of the previous lawsuits. When you were in the courtroom yesterday and you heard the verdict, what was your initial reaction?

Welty: Well, first of all, I wasn’t in the courtroom. When I did hear the verdict, I was shocked and certainly thought the award was excessive. That’s why we will appeal the decision.

G: One of the things students are concerned about is that tuition and fees will increase because of this reward that the university’s going to have to pay. Can you explain how that will be paid and address that perception?

W: The California State University self-insures itself against findings of this type, and it will, so any resolution of this will be paid for through our insurance fund. Now it is true that we do pay an insurance premium, and that premium will probably go up for a five-year period, but the amount will not be such that it in any way endangers what happens for students’ educational experience.

G: What do you and your office think that students think about the trial and the verdict?

W: I think there are probably varying opinions. Students certainly, I think, have been concerned about the case. I feel very deeply about our student athletes who were involved in this case, and they were very courageous in stepping forward. I regret very much that they suffered that pain that they did. And fundamentally, from my standpoint, students’ welfare and education are the most important thing to me and it will always be the most important thing.

G: Do you think that student athlete enrollment, as well as student enrollment in general, will be affected by this?

W: I don’t think so. In fact, last year we had a record number of applications, and in the month of November, 800 ahead of last year’s record. So I believe that indicates that Fresno State continues to be popular among students.

G: How have you been handling this whole situation?

W: It’s been painful, although I recognize that when you’re the position of president that you have to make difficult decisions from time to time. I feel that in the Johnson-Klein matter this was an issue, an action that I had to take for the health and welfare of our students, and I continue to feel that that was an appropriate action at that time and I will always act in the best interest of our students.

G: During The Collegian interview you had back in April, you had said it would be about several years before you planned on stepping down as university president. After the Johnson-Klein trial and the verdict, have your thoughts on that changed?

W: I’ve got a lot to do at the university and I plan to get it done.

G: Have you spoken to the chancellor about this, and what was his reaction?

W: I think he shared my shock and bewilderment at the amount of the award, and he’s been very supportive and very helpful.

G: During your interview back in April, one of your statements regarding situations like this that have happened during your tenure here, different scandals, as the community might consider them, you said:
“… 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.”
With regards to the trial and verdict, how do you see the university becoming stronger and growing from this?

W: Well again, this particular issue, from my standpoint, was an employment issue. It had to do with the performance and behavior of the head women’s basketball coach, and I acted after an extensive administrative review. And I will in the future act when an employee violates university policies and endangers the welfare of student athletes or students at all. Unfortunately, I hate to do that, but I will do it if I have to.

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