With a tenure that began in August 1991, Welty is the longest serving president in the 102-year history of Fresno State. He has extended the university’s regional and global reach, cultivated unprecedented private financial support and promoted diversity, innovation, service, enterprise and community engagement as foundations for the university’s future.
Under Welty’s leadership, Fresno State has greatly enhanced its academic programs and overseen the construction of $425 million in new facilities. Fresno State’s enrollment has grown from about 19,800 to over 22,000 students and today offers 61 undergraduate degrees, 45 master degree programs, and three doctoral degrees.
Welty, who turns 68 next week, made the announcement during his annual Fall Assembly address to faculty and staff in the Satellite Student Union.
“It has been a great honor and privilege to serve this university and region,” Welty said. “I shall forever be grateful to our faculty, staff and administrators for their sacrifice, dedication and commitment to serving the students of Fresno State.
“The work of our university community – combined with generous support, help and advice from alumni, donors and friends in the larger community – has helped to build Fresno State into the premier regional university that it is today,” he said.
Welty said he intends to continue to serve the California State University system as a trustee professor at a CSU campus.
A leader in the 23-campus CSU, Welty is a recognized authority in national higher education issues. He has chaired and served on multiple national boards and has testified before Congress.
Welty has been actively involved in the CSU system and has served on groups addressing strategic planning, accountability issues, gender equity, emergency credentialing, alcohol programs and currently serves as chair of the newly created Cal State Online board. He has chaired three national conferences on substance abuse and prevention. He has served on advisory groups to the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture and chaired the Renaissance Group, a national organization of universities dedicated to improved teacher education programs.
He served as commissioner and chair of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges senior accrediting commission and chair of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities board. He served on the board, committees and task forces of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said President Welty “is recognized and respected as an exceptional leader both by his colleagues across California, as well as at the national level. During John’s tenure, he has transformed Fresno State into a premier university that contributes to the economic and educational vitality of the Central Valley and beyond.
“John’s commitment to serving students from underrepresented communities has changed many young people’s lives forever,” Reed said. “His leadership on key systemwide initiatives including online learning, teacher education and public accountability has been invaluable. His contributions as a member of the NCAA executive committee, his effort to move Fresno State into the Mountain West Conference and his commitment to intercollegiate athletics for women have gained the university unprecedented recognition.
“CSU has been very fortunate to have John serve as president for the past 21 years, and he will leave a lasting legacy at Fresno State,” Reed said.
Central California advocate
Since becoming Fresno State’s seventh permanent president, Welty has championed the university’s engagement with the Central California region to address local issues. His energy was contagious from the start, as was his belief that the university should leverage its academic and research resources in service to the greater community. He made it clear to community leaders that Fresno State welcomed partnerships and financial support and was willing to make curriculum changes to serve regional needs.
Centers and institutes were established to focus on regional challenges: health care issues, K-12 leadership and training, socio-economic inequities, local real estate and land-use planning, innovation and entrepreneurship, water resources, regional economic development and effective political service.
Welty was a leader in establishing the Fresno Business Council, the Central Valley Business Incubator, the Central Valley Higher Education Consortium, the Collaborative Regional Initiative, the Regional Jobs Initiative, the Kenneth L. Maddy Institute and several other partnerships.
He introduced service learning into the Fresno State curriculum, expanded community service opportunities for students and challenged students, faculty and staff to make volunteerism a way of life. The university community responded, and since volunteer hours have topped 1 million hours. Fresno State’s efforts have been recognized nationally by the Corporation for National and Community Service and the U.S. Department of Education. In 2009, Fresno State was among the top three Presidential honorees nationwide.
He led the effort to build the Save Mart Center, and dramatically increased private fund raising and grant and contract funding. The University is currently completing a $200 million capital campaign.
Early lessons on education’s value
The oldest of six children, Welty grew up on a small family farm in North Central Illinois. His first lesson in the value of education came from his father, a farmer who worked from morning to night and milked 30-40 cows every day.
Welty recalls: “Early in my life, both my mother and father encouraged me to read. ‘Do well in school,’ my dad told me, ‘so you won’t have to get up early every morning and work such long hours.’ ”
Though he left the farm, working long hours is standard for Welty, who is in the office or at meetings from early morning to late night as he works on behalf of Fresno State’s students, faculty, staff and alumni.
After his father’s death when he was 10 and watching his mother struggle to support six children, Welty became first in his family to graduate from college. He closely identifies with Fresno State first-generation college students, who make up about two-thirds of the enrollment, and says he is thrilled at each Commencement ceremony to see their achievement, as well as all Fresno State students.
Throughout 21 years of commencement ceremonies, Welty has shaken the hands of thousands of graduates and signed diplomas for nearly 83,000 degree-earners.
In hundreds of speeches to various clubs, civic and religious organizations over the years, Welty enjoyed asking the crowd to stand if they were graduates or parents of students and graduates of Fresno State. Invariably, nearly every person present was standing.
In 1991, Fresno State became one of the first CSU campuses to offer a doctoral degree when it partnered with the University of California at Davis for a joint doctoral program in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.). After the state legislature granted the CSU authority to grant certain independent doctorates, trustees approved Fresno State’s independent program. In 2010, 19 Central California educators made history when they were awarded Fresno State’s first independent Doctor of Education Degree in Educational Leadership.
This fall, two new doctoral programs will launch – Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT).
Welty led development in 1997 of the Smittcamp Family Honors College, considered among the best in the California State University system. Fifty top high school graduates students are admitted each year as a group, take a series of specially designed honors courses, perform community service and interact in educational and social activities. They receive an annual President’s Honors Scholarship for their undergraduate degree program up to a maximum of eight semesters. Scholarships cover in-state registration and fees and an optional credit for university housing.
An ongoing building program has been a Fresno State hallmark under Welty. The Downing Planetarium and Downing Planetarium Museum provides an opportunity each year for 25,000 people, mostly children, to scan the artificial heavens and get hands-on science experiences. The privately financed Save Mart Center is a state-of-the-art regional sports and cultural venue that has been recognized as one of the top such venues in the world.
The $105 million Henry Madden Library, which opened in 2009, is a stunning architectural statement and will serve campus and community needs deep into the 21st century. The building design won an award from the American Institute of Architects.
Other additions included the Smittcamp Alumni House, which welcomes thousands of campus visitors each year; a Student Recreation Center; facilities for student-athletes to provide study space and new competition venues; and a new parking lot topped with solar panels that generate 20 percent of the campus’ electricity demand.
Campus Pointe, a unique private housing-retail-hotel-theater development , is being constructed, and work is beginning on the new Gibson Farm Market and the Meyers Family Sports Medicine Center.
Under Welty’s leadership, the university has enjoyed its most successful fundraising era, securing the largest cash gift to the California State University system in 2009 when the Jordan family donated $29.4 million to the College of Agriculture, which was renamed the Jordan College in their honor.
The Campaign for Fresno State has been a testimony to the support the university draws from alumni and the community locally, as well as donors throughout the state and nation. To date, more than 31,000 individuals and corporations have made over 125,000 gifts. The Campaign has provided funds for scholarships, program support and research support that have benefitted students and faculty.
Welty’s fundraising legacy includes the Craig School of Business, Kremen School of Education and Human Development, Lyles College of Engineering and Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, the Smittcamp Family Honors College, the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning.
Welty led the campus intercollegiate athletics programs first into the Western Athletic Conference (1992) and then the Mountain West Conference (2012). He cheered for Bulldog student-athletes both on the playing fields and in the classroom. As Fresno State enters the Mountain West Conference, student-athletes have maintained an exceptionally high performance in the classroom. For the third straight year since the NCAA adopted the APR program, all of Fresno State’s sports programs are meeting and often exceeding standards. Additionally, none are under APR penalties.
Two national championships were attained during Welty’s presidency. The first was the 1998 NCAA Women’s softball World Series, Fresno State’s first NCAA National Championship. Ten years later was the baseball team’s NCAA World Series Championship.
Under his leadership, the university extended opportunities for women student-athletes and added intercollegiate sports, but also dropped others. Sanctions for violations of NCAA rules and a series of high-profile lawsuits were cleared up and the program was set on solid footing.
Honors and awards
Welty is the recipient of numerous local, state and national awards. Most recently, he was presented in 2112 the William M. Lyles Vision Award for his contribution to advancing entrepreneurship throughout the Central Valley. In 2010, he received the Sequoia Award from the Great Valley Center and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Western Illinois University.
In 2001 and again in 2011, he was recognized by the California State Student Association as President of the Year. In 1999, Welty was presented the Chief Executive Leadership Award by the Council for Advancement and Support for Education and was recognized by the John Templeton Foundation for his leadership in Student Character Development in Schools and Colleges.
Other honors include the Fresno Business Council’s Excellence in Public Service Award (2003), the Fresno Compact’s Harold H. Haak Award for Outstanding Business Partnership Educator of the Year (2007), American Humanics 60th Anniversary Honoree (2008) and an American College Personnel Association Foundation Educational Leadership Foundation Diamond Honoree (2009).
Before coming to Fresno State, Welty served as President of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) for seven years. Prior to assuming the presidency of IUP, he served as Vice President for Student and University Affairs for four years.
A native of Amboy, Illinois, Welty has served as an Admissions Counselor at Michigan State University, East Lansing, and as Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minn. At the State University of New York, Albany, he was Director of Residences, Associate Dean for Student Affairs, and Assistant Professor of Counseling and Student Development.
Welty received his bachelor’s degree in Social Science from Western Illinois University, Macomb in 1965; his master’s in College Student Personnel Services from Michigan State University in 1967; and his doctorate in Administration of Higher Education from Indiana University, Bloomington, in 1974.
President Welty and his wife, Dr. Sharon Brown-Welty, have five children and three grandchildren.