Philosophy Professor and Academic Senate President Retires

Story By: Blake Evans, Reporter

After twenty years of teaching, Fresno City College will be saying farewell to philosophy professor and Academic Senate President Wendell Stephenson, who will be retiring this semester.

Wendell Stephenson was born on December 9, 1948 in Fresno, California where he lived for most of his life until attending University of California, Santa Barbara in 1967 for college. There, Stephenson discovered his interest in philosophy after taking a philosophy class. “At UC Santa Barbara, I fell in love with philosophy and decided to pursue it all the way to doctorate in philosophy,” says Stephenson.

After receiving his doctorate, Stephenson worked temporary jobs like late night parking attendant until he began working as an adjunct at four different community colleges in Portland. “I tried to get a full time job teaching but I was unsuccessful until I got lucky and was given an offer to be a full time professor at FCC.”

When Stephenson was hired as a full time philosophy instructor at FCC in 1999, he found the college was in need of more space to offer more classes. Yet, at the time, what is now Old Administration Building (OAB) was slowly crumbling, barricaded with barbed wire and condemned to be demolished.

“We needed space for more classes, but we had this massive unused space,” Stephenson said, “so I made it my mission to save the OAB.”

The restoration of OAB quickly became the issue that initially galvanized Stephenson’s involvement with the Academic Senate, a governing body of faculty who represent the faculty at large on academic and professional matters.

The Academic Senate has ultimate say in course grading policies. Such as, will a class be repeatable? Will a course be allowed to be taken as a pass/fail?

Stephenson began his mission to save OAB by forming a coalition composed of a group of faculty and the Fresno Historical Society in 1999, called the Coalition to Save and Use the OAB.

“To get this project off the ground, we presented a resolution to the academic senate to get the faculty on board,” Stephenson said.

Luckily the members of the senate voted yes.

In 2002, voters in the Central Valley passed Measure E, a $161 million bond measure for the improvement of facilities in district campuses. Included in the bond was $25 million dedicated to saving OAB.

“The bond was great. But we knew the bond wouldn’t be sufficient to reopen OAB,” Stephenson said.

Over the course of a decade, Stephenson continued to advocate for the restoration of the building project to the Academic Senate.

Finally, in 2010 the building was rebuilt and partially opened.

Though Stephenson had completed his passion project by then, he continued to remain involved in the Academic Senate. In Fall 2012, Stephenson was elected president of the Academic Senate.

“I had a lot of experience with the Academic Senate and was one of the more active senators,” he said, “so I figured I could do a pretty good job.”

After he became president, Stephenson decided to distinguish his term through recognizing outstanding faculty.

“I made a point once a month to single out faculty for the work they’d done because I believe the strength of FCC is in its faculty and what they do often doesn’t receive the credit it deserves,” Stephenson said.

In his term as president, Stephenson sought to ensure the voices of faculty were heard. “There has always been issues in getting faculty voices heard in the district meetings,” he said.

At one point, the district decided to approve its operating agreement without consulting the Academic Senates of the district’s colleges. Stephenson protested this act by passing a resolution in FCC’s Academic Senate condemning the actions of the district.

Beyond his work in Academic Senate, Stephenson also looks back fondly on starting the Community Colloquium in 2006. “We [Stephenson and Anthropology Professor, Alan Beck] began the colloquium to provide a space for our fellow faculty to present the academic projects they’ve been working on,” says Stephenson.

The colloquium was initially solely faculty focused, but as the event grew and garnered interest from students, the colloquium began inviting students. By 2009, the event had expanded to invite the community at large.

Stephenson is also proud of his work in expanding FCC’s philosophy department. “When I was hired, there were only two full time philosophy professors, including me,” says Stephenson.

Through promotion of the philosophy department to students, Stephenson, with the help of his colleague, Professor Bob Boyd, was able to prove philosophy’s popularity to the FCC administration, thereby justifying the need to hire more full time philosophy professors and offer more philosophy classes. “We now have five full time philosophy professors,” says Stephenson.

Now, entering retirement after this semester, Stephenson plans to spend his retirement following passions he never had time for while he worked.

Stephenson said, “I may take up practicing piano again or finish reading famous novels that I should have read when I was younger.” Stephenson has a wife, Annie-Claude and two adult children, Taylor and Claire.

Though Stephenson is leaving Fresno City College, he isn’t worried about the future of the Academic Senate nor the future of the philosophy department. Stephenson says, “It doesn’t matter that I retire, because I know the faculty of FCC remains high quality.”