Searching for Fresno State's new president

FRESNO, Calif.

Dr. John Welty will retire this summer after serving nearly 22 years as head of the university. On Monday, a 20 person panel tasked with finding his successor, held it's only public meeting to gather input from students, faculty and staff.

Dozens of people showed up to the Satellite Student Union to share their thoughts. One panelist described the duty as the most important decision the university will make this year moments before opening the forum to the floor.

One of the first speakers to address the California State University Search Committee was Joel Murrillo, an attorney from Fowler.

"What we need in terms of a president at this university is someone who will be able to deal with people of not only money, but people of rural, poor communities," he said.

Murrillo said the University needs to have someone who recognizes the interests and demands of the Valley's Mexican culture, because he said Latinos make up about half of the population in the area. He also said there's a lack of Hispanic teachers and administrators at the college.

Professor of Music Theory and Composition Benjamin Boone also spoke. He told the panel Welty's replacement must have two characteristics.

"I would like for our new president to recognize that the number one thing we do is academics," he said. "Number two, I'd like for the new president to continue Dr. Welty's continued commitment to service learning and community engagement."

He told the panel, "Fresno State has clocked in one million hours per year for volunteerism. It's distinguished itself nationally and regionally as a leader in community engagement and service learning and that needs to be a priority for our new president."

Others stressed the importance of research at the college, as well as collaboration and shared governance.

The meeting was the only one open to the public, which concerned some of the students and faculty in attendance.

"We won't necessarily get to meet the candidates, even know who they are until one is picked," said student Rebecca Asami. "I feel, at the very least, students and faculty should have a say in who their university president is."

She requested students have a meet and greet with the candidates once they're identified, but members of the committee said an open process may discourage applicants from expressing interest in the job.

"We have found that we need the best possible pool of candidates to apply for this position and sitting presidents will not apply if it's opened up," said committee spokesperson Pete Mehas. "You put themselves in their shoes, if they don't get the position, how are they going to go back to their students and faculty in their community?"

Instead representatives from both the University and the community will be involved in the process. People like Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Fresno Superior Court Judge Rob Oliver and California State University Chancellor Tim White.

"Our task is simple and its complicated and that is to find the best leader for Fresno State University and for the San Joaquin Valley and the state of California," said White. "The point of view of being a culturally confident president of Fresno State University is something we're not going to miss on," he said.

Over the next few months, the search committee will review resumes, interview candidates and eventually narrow down the list. The board of trustees will have the final decision. It's expected to announce a new president in May.

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