CSUB to award Bill Thomas honorary doctorate

May 27, 2008
Kathy Miller, 661/654-2456, kmiller26@csub.edu or
Michele Newel, 661/654-2720, mnewell1@csub.edu
Bill Thomas honorary doctorate Photo

California State University, Bakersfield will present an honorary doctorate to the Honorable William "Bill" Thomas at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 7. Thomas will also be the commencement speaker for ceremony, which begins at 7:15 a.m. in the CSUB Amphitheatre.

President Horace Mitchell will present the doctorate of humane letters in recognition of Thomas's sustained and significant contributions to the university, community, state and nation.

Thomas's connection to Bakersfield began more than 40 years ago when he joined the faculty of Bakersfield College as a political science teacher. In 1974 he was elected to the California State Assembly and, four years later, was elected to the United States House of Representatives. As a member of Congress for 28 years, Thomas was responsible for legislative reforms that have impacted the lives of all Americans.

"I am honored and humbled by this recognition," Thomas said. "It is especially appreciated because it is being given by people at home who have known me for a long time. I look forward to the privilege of sharing the stage with our country's future leaders as they graduate from CSUB."

Mitchell added, "For his legislative achievements and long-lasting impact locally and nationally, he is most deserving of an honorary degree. We look forward to conferring the degree and continuing our partnership in support of the university's vision."

Thomas commends the university for its ongoing commitment to excellence. "I have always been a strong supporter of CSUB and know the impact the campus has on improving the quality of life in our community. We have an asset that continues to gain in value."

Thomas spent his career strengthening health care, reducing tax burdens, advocating free and open trade, and protecting workers' pensions. As chair of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, he led legislative reforms that ranged from international and national issues to matters impacting Bakersfield, Kern County and San Joaquin Valley communities.

Thomas's longstanding commitment to health care hit home when he garnered a $40 million authorization for the Valley Fever Vaccine Project. A serious and sometimes fatal disease, Valley Fever affects a high number of Kern County residents. From national reform of Medicare legislation to creating the Medicare prescription drug benefit, there has been no one in Congress over the last 20 years who has a greater knowledge of health care policy.

In the area of transportation, the scope of Thomas's accomplishments are far-reaching. As a major transportation corridor between northern and southern California, Kern County roads are critical to interstate travel and commerce. Thomas successfully earmarked for Kern County $722 million in federal transportation funding. The Greater Bakersfield area alone received $630 million of this allocation.

Prior to obtaining funding to improve Kern County roads, Thomas secured substantial congressional funding to improve Bakersfield's airport, Meadows Field. In recognition of his leadership, the new $36 million international terminal was subsequently named the William M. Thomas Air Terminal.

"He did not hesitate when asked to co-chair with David Murdock the last phase of our $6 million fundraising campaign to move our athletics program to NCAA Division I," Mitchell said. "Bill led a successful $1 million challenge to match a $1 million gift from Castle and Cooke which enabled us to exceed our fundraising goal."

As an ambassador for the campaign, Thomas promoted the benefits of Division I status for CSUB, not the least of which was the Kern Economic Journal's feasibility study showing Division I's $5.7 million annual impact on the Bakersfield economy.

Thomas and his wife, Sharon, currently reside in Bakersfield and have two adult children, Amelia Minaberrigarai and Christopher Thomas. They are also the proud grandparents of two grandsons, Sebastien and William Minaberrigarai.

This is the eighth honorary doctorate the university has awarded. Other recipients are veterinarian and legislator Walter Stiern, banker and businessman Ray Dezember, auto dealer Jim Burke, community volunteer Millie Ablin, attorney and community activist Milton M. Younger, attorney and civic leader George Martin, and local realtor Bob Karpe.