Chapman’s Jim Doti leaves thumbprint on Orange after 25-year presidency

By Daniel Langhorne

Jim Doti describes himself as an economist, educator, mountain climber, marathon runner, renaissance man and president emeritus of Chapman University. Two descriptors he hasn’t used are fitting, though: game changer and real estate mogul.

Since becoming president in 1991, Doti transformed a small Christian liberal arts Chapman College into what it is today, a comprehensive university that attracts students from around the world with programs in film and media arts, business and economics, and performing arts. When Chapman opens its $130 million Center for Science and Technology in fall 2018, Doti and President Daniele Struppa hope to add the sciences to that list.

Old Towne Orange has changed alongside Chapman over the past 25 years. Undeniably, Doti’s role in recruiting more students, faculty and staff contributed to this change. The student population has grown from a few thousand to more than 8,300, including hundreds of students studying at Chapman’s Rinker Health Science Campus in Irvine.

Food for thought

Many Orange Plaza storefronts have converted from Old Towne’s renowned antique shops to trendy restaurants. Doti said he is proud to see hundreds of employees and customers visiting the plaza each day to work, dine and relax.

“I feel very, very good about what we’ve accomplished these last 25 years,” Doti said. “I’m feeling anxious about teaching again, and what that’s going to be like, but I like a challenge, so I’m excited about it. In terms of leaving Chapman, I think it’s a great time. Daniele Struppa is ready, and I think it’s time for new leadership, so I’m feeling good about the university I love.”

Doy Henley, a long-time Chapman trustee, first met Doti when he was an economics professor. “He was an outstanding guy, and everyone had a lot of respect for him as a professor,” Henley said. “There is nobody like him. There is nobody in higher education that has better leadership skills than Jim Doti.”

Henley also mentioned that Chapman’s growth is accompanied by rising home values in Old Towne. “We’ve made Old Towne the most valuable real estate in Orange County,” he said. “The houses sold for $35,000. Now they are selling for half a million dollars.”

Room to boom

Orange City Councilman Mike Alvarez remembers Chapman’s campus didn’t extend west of Glassell Street when he was first elected to the council in 1996. 

“It has been a booming growth period during my eight years,” Alvarez said. “Nobody really predicted that when he took over. Everything they built was just beautiful. It was beyond what we thought was possible.”

During his current tenure on the city council, Alvarez has been most vocal on curtailing Chapman’s growth. His recommendations include putting more constraints on how landlords rent houses to Chapman students, which often become magnets for neighbor complaints regarding parties, trash, noise and crowded parking.

Such issues were not as prevalent when Doti took office, Alvarez said. “I don’t even recall any discussion about students living off campus.”

Mayor Tita Smith remembers when there were few places to enjoy a Saturday night dinner in the Orange Plaza. Now traffic jams are a regular occurrence in the plaza, in part because of the recent restaurant boom.

Different strokes

“People don’t really realize what the infusion of sales tax means to the city,” Smith said. “I just appreciate what [Doti] has done for the Orange community and the larger community, and I will miss working with him in a leadership role.”

Robert Baca of the Orange Barrio Historical Society put it another way. “Doti has contributed his talents by breathing new life, economically, into Old Towne,” he said, “but not without sacrificing the original ambience of its surroundings, and ushering in gentrification, while erasing entire cultures that were rooted in certain areas surrounding the campus.  People became numbers, opposition became a target, a challenge -- and heritage became a property value.”

“We are blessed to be in Old Towne, and Orange and I hope our neighbors feel that they’re blessed to be neighbors of what has become one of the leading comprehensive universities in the nation,” Doti said. “And bottom line, I hope that the perception and what we’ve done will be recognized, and will not only be recognized, but is a win-win for Chapman and for our neighbors.”

Courtesy of Chapman University

President Emeritus Jim Doti will return to teaching economics after 25 years in the top job at  of Chapman University.

November 2016