John Welty, a fierce fund-raiser whose commitment to academics and research boosted Fresno State's profile, announced Friday that he will retire as president at the end of the academic school year.
His legacy, however, may be tainted by costly gender-equality lawsuits and athletic scandals.
Welty, who turns 68 next week, made the announcement during his annual fall address in the Satellite Student Union, where he predicted gloomy financial times for Fresno State unless California voters pass Proposition 30 tax initiative.
"There is no best time to retire," Welty told reporters after his hourlong speech to faculty and staff. "But this is a good time because we are headed in one direction or the other."
The news hit some especially hard.
"He's an incredible human being," said Luz Gonzalez, dean of College of Social Sciences.
Gonzalez nearly cried when she recalled how Latinos initially worried that Welty wouldn't embrace minority students. But once she met Welty, she said she knew he cared about all students.
"His entire life has been dedicated to education," Gonzalez said. "I will miss him until the day I die."
With tenure starting in August 1991, Welty is the longest-serving of seven presidents in Fresno State's 102-year history. He makes $299,000 a year -- the same salary he has made since 2007, university officials said.
Colleagues say he is a tireless worker who has made hundreds of speeches to various civic and religious groups, and shaken the hands -- and signed diplomas -- for nearly 83,000 degree-earners.
Under his leadership, Fresno State's enrollment has grown from about 19,800 to 22,400 today. But what Fresno State will miss most is his fund-raising -- $350 million, so far, according to university officials.
"That's a huge accomplishment" considering Fresno State lies in one of the poorest area of the nation, said Pete Mehas, a California State University trustee and former Fresno County schools superintendent.
During Welty's presidency, the university has added many endowed schools, including: Craig School of Business; Kremen School of Education and Human Development; Lyles College of Engineering; Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning; and Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.
Mehas said his favorite is Welty's creation of the Smittcamp Family Honors College program, the first of its kind in the CSU. Founded in 1997, the program gives scholarships to 50 top high school graduates each year. They take a series of specially designed honors courses, perform community service and interact in educational and social activities.
"John has been instrumental in stopping the brain drain," Mehas said. "He made sure that the Valley's top students remained here."
Athletics a sore spot
But Welty also has taken some heavy hits.
In March 1998, a "60 Minutes" television news show portrayed Fresno State as a university out of control because of point-shaving suspicions involving the men's basketball team in 1996-97 under then coach Jerry Tarkanian. No charges were ever filed. There also were NCAA rules infractions under Tarkanian and his successor, Ray Lopes.
Fresno State's image hit rock bottom in 2004 with the murder of Rene Shannon Abbott by former men's basketball player Terry Pettis. Pettis is serving a life prison term.
Welty's troubles didn't end there. Over the years, Fresno State was rocked by several costly gender discrimination lawsuits, including a $3.5 million settlement with former associate athletic director Diane Milutinovich in 2007; a $9 million settlement with former women's basketball coach Stacy Johnson-Klein the next year; and a $5.2 million settlement with former volleyball coach Lindy Vivas.