Seeking a Central Valley local with a track record of bolstering philanthropy, California State University trustees selected Lynnette Zelezny, a Fresno State administrator, to succeed retiring Cal State Bakersfield President Horace Mitchell, ending a monthslong national search.
She will be the first woman to lead CSUB, and the fifth president in the university's history, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said during a board meeting in Long Beach on Wednesday after announcing Zelezny's appointment.
“CSUB provides an excellent education for its students, affording them, their families, and indeed the entire Kern community, the opportunity for a vastly better future,” Zelezny said in an emailed statement. “I look forward to engaging with the CSUB campus community and university supporters in making that outstanding educational experience even more accessible.”
John Nilon, the former Kern County administrative officer and CSU trustee who chaired the search committee, said part of Zelezny’s appeal was not only her long tenure in the Central Valley, but also her ability to fundraise.
It’s something CSUB lags in when compared to other nearby universities.
“We’ve done good work, make no mistake, but look at Fresno State and the philanthropic dollars that go into that institution and compare it (to CSUB),” Nilon said. “It’s not much of a comparison. Lynnette can refocus our efforts in philanthropic giving and in grants and scholarship areas.”
Her track record of success at Fresno State of wooing big donors, including Chevron and The Wonderful Co., could prove valuable in Bakersfield, Nilon said. Such efforts are critical as state funding to public universities has been reduced over the years.
“In order to fill the needs and gaps, we need to rely much more on philanthropic dollars and grants,” Nilon said.
At the same time, Zelezny has played an integral role in increasing graduation rates in Fresno and building programs to ensure student success, Nilon said.
Zelezny, 61, has served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fresno State since 2014. She joined that university in 1988 and has served in a variety of roles.
"Lynnette Zelezny has served as an exemplary provost at Fresno State for the past four years. Her warm, caring and insightful leadership will propel CSU Bakersfield to new levels of academic distinction in the coming years. While we will miss her at Fresno State, she will be an excellent university president. I look forward to working closely together with Dr. Zelezny to serve our talented Valley students," Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro said Wednesday morning.
Zelezny succeeds Mitchell, 72, who led CSUB to its highest graduation and enrollment rates of all time, spearheaded a transition to a NCAA Division I athletics program and moved the university from a quarter-based system to a semester-based academic calendar.
“He’s a beloved president who has changed the face of the CSU in his leadership,” Zelezny told The Californian on Wednesday afternoon. “I feel extraordinarily privileged to be following in his footsteps. He laid the foundation for us to leverage this to a more exciting chapter.”
Before doing anything else, Zelezny said she plans to initiate a series of listening sessions with faculty, staff and students at CSUB to better understand the community and their goals and visions for the future. Mitchell did something similar before he became president almost 14 years ago.
Nilon described Zelezny as "perfectly suited" to succeed Mitchell.
She was selected from a crowded field of more than 60 candidates, a large pool given the dearth of educational executives nationwide. Nilon attributes that large pool to CSUB’s geographic position as the only public university within a 100-mile radius.
“The president of that university has an opportunity to be fully engaged in every important economic and social issue in the community,” Nilon said.
Zelezny’s salary will match Mitchell's — $313,044 annually, plus benefits, a $50,000 annual housing allowance and a monthly auto allowance of $1,000. Mitchell's pay and benefits topped out at $463,000 in 2016, according to Transparent California, a watchdog website that publishes public-sector salaries.
The decision comes after the start of a five-month confidential selection process that drew ire from some faculty members upset about not being able to vet applicants themselves. Selection committee officials said the confidentiality was a necessary step in getting the largest and most qualified pool of candidates possible.
"CFA is gravely concerned about the lack of faculty input and openness about the process," California Faculty Association Chapter President Bruce Hartsell said Wednesday. "Since we know essentially nothing about the candidate who has now been selected, we can’t make any comments about the quality of the candidate."
A committee initially anticipated candidate applications would be reviewed in February, and interviews held in March before a decision would be made in the spring.
Their announcement came one day after the official start of the season.
Zelezny is expected to begin her work in Bakersfield in late June.