Dr. John Pierce Watkins

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Dr. John Pierce Watkins

Emeritus President 

Dr. John Pierce Watkins, Emeritus President of California University of Pennsylvania, and a 1953 alumnus, has a long and dedicated history with his alma mater. President Watkins first joined the faculty at what then was known as California State College in 1957, as a professor in the Department of English. He served as chair of the department from 1966-1973, at which time he was appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs, a position he held until 1976. 

In 1976, he was named acting president, and on August 24, 1977, he officially was named California’s fifth president. He served as University president until his retirement in 1992.  The Council of Trustees of California University of Pennsylvania honored his exemplary service and dedication to the University by bestowing upon him the title of emeritus president and naming a newly renovated classroom building, The Watkins Center, in his honor. 

President Watkins is noted for many accomplishments during his tenure at California University. He established the University’s special mission in science and technology; led the school as it moved from “college” to “university” status; created a number of academic programs and student service departments; oversaw several difficult budget years; managed the University’s rapid enrollment growth to 7,000 students and 680 employees; built an international student exchange base; and developed an international student image. In 1982 he founded the ongoing Mon Valley Renaissance Program, a joint effort among the University, major corporations, foundations and agencies of state and federal government to enhance the economic development of southwestern Pennsylvania.

President Watkins held several professional offices during his career. He was state chair of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, from 1970-1973; president of the Commission for Presidents of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education; president of the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Universities; and co-chair of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ Committee on International Programs. 

In addition, Pennsylvania’s governor appointed him to serve on the Special Advisory Committee to implement the Pennsylvania Master Plan for Higher Education in 1982. The following year he was appointed to the Special Transition Team for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, which directed the shift in jurisdiction and oversight responsibility as per Act 188. 

He also served on the Board of Directors of the Executive Service Corps, and as chair and board member of the Mon Valley United Way and the Mon Valley YMCA. Following his retirement from California University, President Watkins was appointed to serve as interim president of Shepherd University, in West Virginia, from 1995-1996.

In addition to the Bachelor of Science in Education he received from California, President Watkins earned his Master of Arts in English from West Virginia University in 1955, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pittsburgh in 1964. He was a Danforth Scholar during his time at Pitt.

He is married to Carole R. Watkins. The couple has two children, John G. and Jennifer, and three grandchildren.