Joseph Castro, UCSF vice chancellor, named Fresno State's first Latino president

The Fresno BeeMay 22, 2013 

Joseph Castro, a Hanford native, made history Wednesday when he was named the next president of Fresno State, becoming the first Latino to hold the post.

Castro, currently a vice chancellor at University of California at San Francisco, will be the eighth president in Fresno State's 102-year history. He takes over for 68-year-old John Welty, who will retire at the end of July after 22 years.

"It is incredibly humbling that the CSU trustees have appointed me as the next president of Fresno State, and I truly appreciate this honor," Castro said.

Castro, 46, touted his background -- he grew up in the Valley, was the first member of his family to attend college and has worked in the classroom as well as being an administrator.

But he also admitted he is not fluent in Spanish and is not well-versed in big-time athletics since UC San Francisco does not have a sports program.

"I'm going to be the president for every student, for every faculty member, for every staff member and for thousands of alumni, to make sure they all thrive," he said.

AUDIO: Listen to Joseph Castro's introductory statement:

Castro is headed into uncharted waters. He is leaving UC San Francisco, a collection of high-profile medical, nursing and pharmacy programs with an enrollment of fewer than 3,100 students and a faculty numbering about 2,400. Fresno State has more than 21,000 students and about 1,100 faculty.

The California State University Board of Trustees announced Castro's appointment Wednesday morning during their meeting in Long Beach after conducting a secret search for Welty's replacement that drew criticism from the public and some Fresno State faculty.

RELATED STORY: Hanford proud of native son Joseph Castro, new Fresno State president

CSU Trustee Pete Mehas of Fresno, who chaired the search committee, defended the months-long search, saying Wednesday that Castro's selection validated the confidential process.

"Clearly, he is the right fit for Fresno State," Mehas said.

But Keith Ayotte, a communications professor at Fresno State and vice chairman of the university's Academic Senate, said the secrecy still rubbed faculty wrong. Ayotte said he will reserve judgment on Castro's hiring.

"The process ensured that no one had an informed opinion on this, and from our end, it's not helpful," Ayotte said.

Raised in Hanford

Castro is the grandson of farmworkers born in Mexico who helped raise him with his mother, a beautician, in a single-parent home. He didn't speak about his father during Wednesday's teleconference.

He graduated in 1984 from Hanford High, where he was the editor of the school paper and a varsity tennis player.

Castro said his mother, grandparents, his high school teachers and a counselor all encouraged him to go to college. He achieved his goal, he said, through a program that identified promising Latino students from Valley farming communities.

He said "a number of students like me" with filled-out admission applications were invited to come to an office that UC Berkeley had in Fresno. He recalled that he was given a letter of admission "right there on the spot."

While attending Cal, he said he learned the importance of education. "I learned how important universities are to society and how they can transform people's lives," Castro said.

He earned a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in public policy from Berkeley, and a doctorate in higher education policy and leadership from Stanford.

In 23 years in the UC system, Castro worked in leadership positions in the Office of the President and on the Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Davis and Merced campuses. He also made a stop in Fresno in the 1990s as director of academic programs at the UC Center on Shaw Avenue. He and his wife, Mary, a homemaker, have three children, including a daughter at Humboldt State. His two older children attended public schools, he said, and so will his youngest, a 2-year-old.

CSU Chancellor Timothy B. White described Castro as thoughtful, introspective and gentle: "a real interesting man and just plain smart. Great fit, great life story. He's going to be fantastic."

Known to the Valley

Castro was among several finalists, but Mehas declined to name them. Sources previously said there were 64 applicants for the Fresno State job and four to six finalists who interviewed earlier this month in Los Angeles at a closed meeting of the search committee. More interviews were held Monday in Long Beach, sources said.

Mehas praised Castro for knowing the Valley and its issues with poverty, unemployment and high dropout rates better than the other finalists.

Castro said, "I won't need a GPS to find Tranquillity or Parlier. I know this community very well."

His salary has yet to be determined. Mehas said Castro's compensation package will be announced at the CSU board meeting on July 23. Welty earns an annual salary of about $299,000, which he has made since 2007. A trustees' policy adopted last year limits pay of new presidents to no more than 10% over what the predecessor was making -- and then only when the money comes from private donors who want to augment executive salaries.

RELATED STORY: Reaction from Fresno State Athletic Director Thomas Boeh

Castro said he plans to move into the university-owned home for Fresno State's president on Van Ness Boulevard and receive a car allowance.

He also said he has already talked with Welty and plans to keep in close touch with him during the transition period. His goal, he said, is "to build on this strong foundation and to guide Fresno State to new heights of success."

In addition to his role as head of student affairs at UC San Francisco, Castro was a faculty member in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. He said if time allows, he would like to teach at Fresno State, too.

"I would love to do it because I consider myself a lifelong educator," he said.

Larry Salinas, a Fresno State alumnus who worked with Castro at UC Merced, applauded Castro's hiring. Salinas, now an associate director in the UC Office of the President, said Castro has stellar academic credentials and has been a respected leader in the UC system.

"As a Valley native, he is someone who knows the educational needs of our region and will make an excellent leader of CSU Fresno," Salinas said.

Bay Area TV station KGO profiled Joseph Castro in 2010:

During a break in the trustees' meeting, Welty talked about Castro, whom Welty said he has known for about 10 years: "I think he understands the Valley very well. As a first-generation college student, I know he will be committed to providing opportunities to students."

Welty added that Castro is "very personable, easy to work with and has great experience."

Buzz on campus

Wednesday on the Fresno State campus, the mood was generally optimistic as word of Castro's hiring spread.

Outside a staff training event at the Save Mart Center, Amy Allen and Lerin Mundell said they hoped Castro's appointment would not be disruptive to their day-to-day work. But they were glad that trustees selected a Valley native.

"I'd hope whoever they pick will do a good job for the university," Allen said.

Virginia Rondero Hernandez, chairwoman of Fresno State's Department of Social Work Education, said she believes Castro's appointment "bodes well for the university."

"He comes from the Valley, so he has a perspective on the characteristics and challenges here," she said. "It sends a larger message that the chancellor wants leadership that has a deep understanding of the needs of the Valley."

Rondero Hernandez added that she has high hopes for what Castro's history in the UC system means for greater collaboration between Fresno State and its UC counterparts. "Work-force development is very important in this region, and I think this means there is a great potential for partnering in research and training in that field."

Castro's Valley roots also excited Fresno State's incoming student body president, Moses Menchaca. "I was definitely interested in knowing that there will be someone leading our campus who's from the Central Valley," he said. "He's in the Bay Area now, but he's probably used to the 100-degree weather here."

Citing Castro's background as a professor and an administrator for student academic services, Menchaca said, "It's good knowing the university is taking a step in making academics a priority."

At UC San Francisco, faculty members said Castro was a capable administrator who would be missed.

"He's done a marvelous job around here," said Farid Chehab, a professor of laboratory medicine and vice chairman of the faculty senate. "He was able to advocate for students, to advocate for the welfare of the students. He turned around the student academic services, and made significant improvements in student health insurance during a very serious and challenging period of funding."

Fund-raising was a major success for Castro "to achieve what he did. He knows how to make things work," Chehab added. "I think you will be fortunate to have him. I'm sure he will do as good a job, if not a better job, at Fresno State."

UC San Francisco faculty senate chairman Bob Newcomer, a nursing professor, described Castro as "easy to work with, someone who works very well with everyone."

"Joe has high regard from everyone I know on campus, particularly people who report directly to the chancellor," Newcomer said. "I was saddened to read the email that said he was leaving. I think you've done well to recruit him to Fresno State."

A UC Berkeley dean who worked with Castro said "he was fabulous, and you always knew he was slated for great things."

Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman Graduate School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, said Castro stood out as associate dean from 1993 to 1997.

"He's an enormously talented guy who gets along with people, and still gets things done and every body feels good; he puts those things together very nicely."

Active off campus

Castro has been recognized for his work with Canal Alliance, a San Rafael organization that provides a range of educational and social services for the Hispanic immigrant community in Marin County.

Tom Wilson, the alliance's executive director, said Castro got involved after reading a magazine article about the agency's work to help low-achieving Latino students graduate from high school. Since, Castro has served on the nonprofit's board for several years, including a term as the board president. Wilson said Castro has leveraged his own modest upbringing "to inspire the young people in our organization so they could see there is a path to success for them."

Wilson added that he was proud and happy for Castro's promotion, "but it's going to be tough to replace him on our board. The life experience and stature he brings are things not found very easily in one person."

"I think Fresno can count on Joe being very active in the community," Wilson added. "He will find time to dedicate to the community. It's the second of his two loves" along with his family.

Castro said during Wednesday's teleconference that he plans to work with local groups to give underprivileged children the opportunity to go to college.

Reporter Michael Krikorian contributed to this report from Long Beach. The reporters can be reached at (559) 441-6330, plopez@fresnobee.com, @beecourts on Twitter, tsheehan@fresnobee.com or @tsheehan on Twitter.

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