On Jan. 27, the day before classes began at San Jose State University for the spring semester, the California State University system announced that its board of trustees appointed Mary Papazian for president of San Jose State University effective July 1. Papazian, who will become the 29th president of the university, will replace interim president Susan Martin, who decided to step down instead of keep her job in the long term. In her first academic year as president, Papazian will face some crucial decisions to make with the athletics program, especially with facilities and leadership.
Who is Mary Papazian?
Mary Arshagouni Papazian, 56, has served as president of Southern Connecticut State University since 2012. Born Mary Ellen Arshagouni in Santa Monica, Calif., Papazian has a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the same institution. So once she is sworn in, San Jose State (formerly the California State Normal School, a teachers’ college) will have a trio of UCLA (formerly the southern branch of the Normal School) alums as president, athletic director, and football coach.
After completing her doctorate, Papazian was a professor of English at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. from 1988 to 2004. From 1999 to 2004, Papazian served as associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Oakland University. Heading to the East Coast, Papazian moved to Montclair State University in New Jersey in 2004 and became dean of its College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Papazian served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Lehman College, a member of the City University of New York system located in The Bronx. Papazian’s career took her to the next state up the Atlantic Coast when she became president of Southern Connecticut State University in February 2012.
Papazian’s literary scholarship includes two books, most recently The Sacred and Profane in English Renaissance Literature (University of Delaware Press, 2008). In 1991, she won the John Donne Society Award for Distinguished Publication on Donne for her essay on Donne’s Devotions.
Papazian’s record with Southern Connecticut athletics
Papazian hired current Southern Connecticut athletic director Jay Moran in 2014 to replace Patricia Nicol, who left the university for the same position at Emerson College in Boston. For 2014-15, Southern Connecticut finished in the top 20 percent of NCAA Division II institutions in the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup for the ninth straight year. Southern Connecticut student-athletes had a record 3.02 GPA in 2012-13, Papazian’s first school year as president.
Southern Connecticut men’s basketball, during Papazian’s time, has become to Division II hoops in the state what UConn is at the Division I level. The team finished the 2013-14 season 30-3 and made the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Division II tournament, in a season with the Northeast 10 Conference tournament title and No. 4 ranking in the final NABC top-25 coaches’ poll. In 2014-15, the team had a 24-8 season and made the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament. It has continued to be ranked in the NABC poll in the years since the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Important decisions with San Jose State athletics
As the chief executive of the university, Papazian will face some crucial responsibilities with Spartan athletics. Among them is to raise the profile of Spartan athletics by attracting ticket sales, donations, and sponsorships.
“President Papazian can certainly help by connecting with the local community and corporate leaders to explore what we need to do to earn their commitment of support. The students also need to be encouraged to support each other,” comments Tony Locy, a former San Jose State quarterback who is now president of the football program’s official booster organization, the Quarterback Club.
Locy also says that San Jose State has a long-standing reputation as “commuter school” where students lack any connections to their university beyond academics.
“We need to recreate a sense of pride around being Spartans, and this starts at the top,” adds Locy.
Papazian will oversee the ongoing redevelopment of athletics facilities at South Campus, chief among them Spartan Stadium. The proposed Vermeil-Walsh Athletic Center that would have renovated the north end zone area went from much introductory hype in 2013 to stalling in 2016. It will be up to Papazian to make a solid decision on that, either by proactively seeking new funding and donations or to scale back the project to fit the already-made donations. Pulling the plug could happen but is unlikely, as it would alienate those who donated the big dollars for the project and hurt future donations.
Papazian enters office at a time that compels decisions on retaining key figures in the athletic department. In the 2016-17 school year, athletic director Gene Bleymaier enters the final year of his contract. Bleymaier’s head coaching hires in key sports enter their fourth years of their five-year contracts: Ron Caragher for football, Dave Wojcik for men’s basketball, and Jamie Craighead for women’s basketball.
Although Caragher led the football team to a bowl game victory last year, Caragher has yet to produce a winning season, in a time when expectations have risen following the 11-win season of 2012. The 2016 season will reflect on both Caragher and the athletic director who brought him to 7th and Alma in the first place, Bleymaier. With another losing season, Bleymaier will probably have no choice but to let Caragher go. A poor early record combined with pressure coming from the president and big donors will probably lead to an mid-season firing of Caragher. Even then, Bleymaier’s job will not be safe.
Should Wojcik and Craighead stay for their fourth seasons, Papazian will have enough of a record to make an informed evaluation of these coaches. Wojcik faces an uphill battle, as he began his first two seasons with a 9-42 record due to player turnover and NCAA sanctions in 2014 that spawned from poor academic performance in the previous coach’s time. Currently, San Jose State men’s basketball is 8-16 (3-9 Mountain West) and has improved in both academic and athletic performance. As president of a university that enjoyed prominence in Division II basketball with top-25 rankings and NCAA tournament runs, Papazian has the understanding of what makes a successful college basketball program. She can guide Wojcik in doing so, while ensuring that Wojcik remains accountable for the results produced by the team.
Craighead has continued the women’s basketball team’s turnaround that predecessor Tim LaKose began in 2011, after the horrendous tenure of Pam DeCosta that produced only 13 wins in four seasons. Women’s basketball under Craighead has improved every season in Mountain West play, from five wins her first season to seven wins her second and now an 8-5 record in MW play as of Wednesday night. The highlight of Craighead’s tenure is her team’s unexpected run to the Mountain West tournament semifinals in 2015. Expect Papazian to recommend an extension for Craighead prior to the next basketball season.