Honorary doctorates were awarded this fall to former California State University trustee and farmer Carol Chandler, Fresno State professor emeritus Helen G. James, and United Farm Workers Association co-founder Gilbert C. Padilla.
Honorary doctoral degrees are awarded on behalf of the California State University system and Fresno State in recognition of excellence and extraordinary achievement in significant areas of human endeavor that embody the objectives and ideals of the CSU system. They recognize men and women whose lives and significant achievements should serve as examples of the California State University’s aspirations for its diverse student body.
The honorary doctorates are typically awarded during Fresno State’s commencement ceremony, but the University-wide graduation was canceled this past May due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 honorary doctorates were awarded to the recipients during small, private outdoor ceremonies in this fall where Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro recognized their accomplishments. These were the final academic ceremonies of President Castro’s tenure in office.
Carol Chandler grew up in San Francisco but became a tireless advocate for agriculture. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Davis and her master’s from Fresno State. She taught at San Joaquin Valley schools, including Sanger High School and Fresno City College, before devoting her time to Chandler Farms — the family business. Chandler and her husband, Bill, grow grapes for raisins and wine, along with almonds, peaches, plums and nectarines.
Chandler served on the California State University Board of Trustees from 2004 to 2012 and also served on the University of California’s Board of Regents. She continues to serve on the boards of directors for a variety of agricultural organizations and is a member of several Valley community groups. Chandler advocates for ag labor, endangered species, education and water-supply reform.
In recognition of Chandler’s leadership in agriculture and business, and her inspired volunteerism and philanthropy, she was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.
James, who comes from a family of service, gained national acclaim in 2018 when she won a federal lawsuit — 60 years in the making — against the U.S. Air Force seeking to upgrade her once “undesirable” discharge to “honorable.” She joined the Air Force in 1952 and applied for a commission. But James was targeted, investigated and arrested for her suspected sexuality during the “Lavender Scare.” She was among thousands forced to sign an “undesirable” discharge.
James would go on to earn her master’s degree in physical therapy at Stanford University where she trained in the rolfing method, a system of soft-tissue manipulation and movement education that stretches and repositions the body’s fascia, helping to restore the natural fibers and elasticity of the body.
In spring 1973, James was recruited to teach anatomy in the fledgling physical therapy program at Fresno State where she taught the first graduating class of physical therapy students. She retired in 1981 and later opened a private practice in Clovis where she treated many prominent figure-skating athletes. In recognition of her exemplary career, service to her country and patients and her perseverance in the face of adversity, James received the honorary Doctor of Science degree.
Padilla was born in a San Joaquin Valley labor camp and traveled around California as a farmworker picking crops with his family. In 1958, Cesar Chavez asked him to help organize low-income workers. Four years later, Padilla helped co-found the United Farm Workers Association. He served as secretary treasurer of the United Farm Workers from 1974 to 1981 and helped to build a health plan for all members. Padilla also helped establish a minimum wage for farm workers, bathrooms in the fields, access to water while working and decent housing.
Padilla moved to Fresno in 1982 with his late wife, Esther, and continued to be an inspiration for many Fresno youth. In recognition of Padilla’s commitment and achievements in improving the lives of farmworkers, Padilla received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.