Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval is the new president of Fresno State, the California State University system announced Wednesday.
Jiménez-Sandoval has served as interim president since former President Joseph I. Castro became chancellor of the California State University system earlier this year.
By elevating Jiménez-Sandoval, the CSU system chose another educator with deep Valley roots to head Fresno State. Jiménez-Sandoval was raised in Fowler after the family moved there from Mexico. Castro was born and raised in Hanford.
Jiménez-Sandoval’s selection was hailed on social media Wednesday morning.
Congrats to Dr. Saul Jimenez-Sandoval, and to Fresno State – good to know that besides all of the other amazing things our Valley grows, it can grow university presidents too. https://t.co/XD8B7aIPXH
— Paul Loeffler (@P356Loeffler) May 19, 2021
— Victor E Bulldog III (@VictorEBulldog) May 19, 2021
CSU Trustee Jane Carney, chair of the Fresno State search committee, said in a news release that Jiménez-Sandoval was chosen to become the university’s ninth president because of his knowledge of Fresno State, the many relationships he has developed on campus and in the community, and his “exciting vision for the future of the university.”
What Lies Ahead
Jiménez-Sandoval wasted no time Wednesday in sharing some of his vision during a news conference with reporters in the Table Mountain Rancheria room at the Henry Madden Library.
Jiménez-Sandoval, who was accompanied to the news conference by his family — his wife, Dr. Mariana Anagnostopoulos, a member of the Fresno State Philosophy department faculty, and the couple’s two sons, Arion and Leo — led off by thanking his extended family, the university community and Valley community, and the CSU trustees for their support and encouragement.
His short-term goal are to return as many students and staff to campus for fall classes as is safe to do so. Those who remain on distance learning will be able to take advantage of technology improvements in classrooms, he said.
Over the longer term, Jiménez-Sandoval said, his goals include mounting a capital campaign to boost support for academics and athletics, increasing collaborations among the university’s colleges to address issues of concern not only to the Valley but also the world, and continuing Fresno State’s growth as a world-class institution. Details of the capital campaign will come later, he said.
He said he wants to showcase the university’s master’s and doctoral degree programs, because those students leave Fresno State and become “incredible” leaders who help transform the Valley for the betterment of all.
By combining disciplines such as agriculture, engineering, and business, and collaborating with the region’s industries, Fresno State can be a leader in innovating solutions to the region’s challenges, Jiménez-Sandoval said.
“So it’s really all about coming together as a community and really showcasing the power of Fresno State,” he said.
Athletics will need a strategic plan, which will include addressing deferred maintenance as well as finding new resources to move Fresno State sports to the next level of excellence, Jiménez-Sandoval said.
He said it’s important to focus on athletics as well as academics, because athletics is the glue that holds the university community together.
“It’s the one entity on campus that has the power to really unify us in such a solid, solid way. We all wear the red for our Bulldogs, and we all become the Red Wave. We’re not individuals in that sense. So athletics is absolutely part of our brand.”
Daring to Dream
Becoming Fresno State’s president was not how the 10-year-old Jiménez-Sandoval envisioned his future when the family moved to Fowler from Mexico. When he arrived, he spoke no English.
He got a good education in his Fowler schools and then prepared to head off to college. With five older sisters who tended to treat him like he was their baby and not just their baby brother, Jiménez-Sandoval decided not to enroll at Fresno State, but instead headed south to the University of California, Irvine.
“My goal was to get a degree and then return and say to my parents, I dedicate this degree to you. This is for you, for everything you’ve done for me.”
His plan was to get a bachelor’s degree and then come back to the Valley and become a teacher of history, biology, or Spanish, “I couldn’t decide back then.”
He graduated cum laude with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and History.
With encouragement from his UC professors, and because his thirst for education was still unquenched, Jiménez-Sandoval said he earned a master’s degree that he dedicated to himself. But his Ph.D. in Spanish and Portuguese literatures, also earned from UC Irvine, was dedicated to the Fresno community, in recognition of the investment that others had made in him and acknowledgement that “one of your own” earned a Ph.D.
There was never any question about bringing that Ph.D. degree back home, he said.
“I knew that I wanted to be here because I knew that I wanted to interact with the students from the Central Valley who know the value of work on the one hand. On the other hand, our students also know the value of education. And they don’t take it for granted.”
Rose Through Ranks
Jiménez-Sandoval, who joined the Fresno State faculty in 2000, was serving as the university provost or second-in-command when he was tapped to become interim president.
He previously served as professor of Spanish and Portuguese, coordinator of the Spanish master of arts degree, chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, interim associate dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, and dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.
Jiménez-Sandoval has professional certificates in critical theory from Cornell University, in Spanish art history from Escuela de Arte y Antigüedades de Madrid in Spain, and in Portuguese language and culture from Universidade de Lisboa in Portugal.
University spokeswoman Shirley Armbruster shed some light on Jiménez-Sandoval’s hobbies during her introduction of him at the start of the news conference: “He’s a really nice guy who speaks several languages, loves to cook, and plays the piano.”
And his appointment as president was lauded by leaders of the student body, faculty and staff, including Dr. Thomas Holyoke, chair of the Academic Senate and a political science professor.
“On behalf of the Fresno State faculty, I am delighted to hear that Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval has been appointed as our new president,” Holyoke said in a statement. “As an academic and a tenured professor, President Jiménez-Sandoval understands the central role faculty play in a university as well as the importance of a well-rounded arts education for training the San Joaquin Valley’s future movers and shakers.”