FCC President Dies during Easter Weekend

FCC President Dies during Easter Weekend

Photo by: Thalia Gonzales

FCC President Tony Cantu

Story By: Cresencio Rodriguez & Patrick Forrest, Editor-in-Chief & News Editor

Cantu — “I hope people will say that I cared and worked for the best interest of the college, the faculty and students”

Tony Cantu, president of Fresno City College, died over the Easter weekend, four years after he took over the reins of the institution.

Cantu ascended to the presidency of FCC on April 3, 2012; he had occupied the position on an interim basis since April 1, 2011. Cantu was the tenth president of the college and the third Hispanic to hold the position.

“All we know is that he died over the weekend,” said FCC Public Information Officer Kathy Bonilla. “A family member notified the district early [Monday] morning.”

Bonilla, who was friends with Cantu and last spoke with him last week while working on a report for him, described him as a generous man who “always had the students in mind.”

“He supported scholarships, he supported fundraisers, buying tables at dinners to support whatever cause,” Bonilla said. “Even when the concert band went to France to play at the anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, he supported them financially.”

Bonilla went on to say that Cantu will be missed on campus by the many that knew him.

“He was kind of a no nonsense type of guy, he told you what he thought, but he was also free with a compliment,” Bonilla said. “If he saw students that did well, he would always make sure to tell students what a good job they were doing and how happy he was to have them as Fresno City College students.”

Cheryl Sullivan, vice-president of Administrative Services will take the lead as acting president for the time being.

She said, “he had a protocol that if he was away, Dr. Villa was the first in charge and I was the second in charge and Dr. Tim Woods was the third in charge.”

Sullivan says she is still in shock after the news early Monday morning and has had more time to process everything.

“It’s not something I thought would be happening at this point,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan says it is a time of grieving and doesn’t have a clear answer to the question of where this situation leaves the college in.

When Cantu was hired, a member of the State Center Community College Board of Trustees said the board chose a man with vast knowledge and much needed experience to lead the affairs of Fresno City College during the uncertainties of a daunting budget crisis.

“There was a tremendous amount of input from the campus community that the board and chancellor considered [in choosing Cantu to lead the college],” said Randy Rowe, who was associate vice chancellor of Human Resources. “The result of that process is a quality individual, Tony Cantu, being named president of Fresno City College.”

Having been in the position for a year, Cantu said he would continue in his role and move forward to meet the challenges the college was facing. And with over 23 years of experience in the State Center Community College District, he was confident in his knowledge of the college and the district.

During his tenure at SCCCD, Cantu has held several leadership positions, including serving as the vice president of instruction from 1999 to April 2011, as dean of humanities from 1994 to 1999. He has also held administrative positions at Reedley College and served as the interim president of Reedley College from 2003-2004.

Cantu said that serving as interim president for a year prepared him for the position.

“I have learned a lot in terms of making sure communication is timely and consistent. I have learned there is a huge number of people here who are willing to work and do what we need to do to move the college forward,” said Cantu. “I am very proud of this college and the faculty and students committed to the college. Having seen it from a campus wide perspective, instead of just instruction, solidified what I had always thought.”

Claudia Habib who was academic senate president when Cantu was appointed president said she was confident of Cantu’s ability.

“I think it’s a good decision because Tony has been part of the college for many years. He knows the culture. He knows the process,” said Habib. “Right now, we’re making changes for the better. We’re making the transition so we’ll be able to keep the momentum because he has been working with different committees on the strategic planning and on program review; being able to continue all that will help us.”

Cantu said he was ready to work with the district and build on FCC’s accreditation report as well as the strategic planning process. He also wanted to make sure the college is well represented by individuals who work in different constituency groups.

And even amidst a budget crisis and the uncertainties it brought, Cantu remained optimistic. “I think we’ve stayed the course when dealing with doubts regarding the budget. We continue to provide as many services as possible to students. I’m very proud of that,” he said.        As the chief executive of FCC, Cantu focused on building a strong relationship with students. He hoped to share more information with students and to get them involved in the governance process.

Cantu said he drew most of his strength and confidence from his upbringing in the small town of Mendota, California.  He credited the small-town his strong sense of value.

“You get a sense of how everyone is looking out for each other. Everybody knows you, and that was beneficial for me growing up in that environment,” he said. “I went to Tranquility High School and that was a very good experience. I benefited from having very good teachers. I have been fortunate to have very good mentors. I’ve had individuals who have taken an interest in me and have encouraged me.”

After graduating from Tranquility High, Cantu went on to pursue several degrees. At CSU Fresno, he received advanced degrees in Linguistics and ESL. He later received his degree in French from CSU Long Beach and completed graduate courses in French and Spanish Literature at UC Irvine.

Even on his ascendancy, Cantu remained humble, giving credit to FCC’s past presidents with whom he worked closely and gained valuable experience.

“It feels good to be part of this history. It’s not where I expected to be at this point in my career, but it’s very exciting,” he said. “I hope people will say that I cared and worked for the best interest of the college, the faculty and students.”

Cantu is survived by his mother and siblings. A memorial service is scheduled for Friday at 2:00 p.m. in St. John’s Cathedral in downtown Fresno.