Promotion of Welty's wife at Fresno State questioned

Some on faculty critical after appointment of John Welty's spouse.

April 26, 2011 

The new dean of graduate studies at Fresno State has a familiar name: Sharon Brown-Welty, wife of Fresno State President John Welty, was appointed to the high-level position earlier this month.

News of Brown-Welty's new job raised eyebrows among some faculty. With faculty positions and salaries on the chopping block, some wonder why the president's wife was named so quickly, and so quietly, to the prestigious position.

"Are there knowing glances and winks and nods? Yes," said Lisa Weston, Fresno State chapter president for the California Faculty Association, the union for professors. "It all came extremely suddenly."

Provost William Covino announced Brown-Welty's appointment on April 6, less than one week after current Dean of Graduate Studies Karen Carey announced her departure.

Covino sought out Brown-Welty for the job because her experience leading CSU's only doctoral program made her "uniquely qualified," he said in an email.

Covino did not conduct a search or accept applications from other candidates for the two-year interim position. The appointment came quickly to provide continuous leadership as CSU develops new graduate programs, he said.

Faculty were surprised and have questioned whether other qualified candidates were overlooked. They also suspect that the new job will let Brown-Welty secure a higher pension when she retires. Brown-Welty, 60, has 18 years of CSU employment now and would be eligible for a yearly pension of about $67,000 after 20 years -- approximately $9,800 more than she would have collected at her former annual salary.

There's a "cynical observation" among some faculty that, "yeah, that's a nice way to boost your pension," Weston said.

Brown-Welty will lead graduate studies while continuing to direct the doctoral program in educational leadership. The new gig will earn her a $20,264 raise, bringing her annual salary to $138,500 for both jobs. Carey earned the same amount as dean of graduate studies and psychology professor.

Brown-Welty, though, said she will lose part of her income when she's forced to give up summer teaching and research duties when she starts as dean on June 1. She'll also be working more hours and have more responsibility, she said.

"It's not really that lucrative," Brown-Welty said. "As far as cash coming in, I'll probably be on the losing end." She acknowledged her pension will be affected, but said she wasn't sure how much.

Welty was not involved in his wife's appointment, according to administrators.CSU nepotism policy prohibits university employees from participating in decisions that may directly affect the employment of an immediate family member. Covino will be Brown-Welty's supervisor.

Although the perceived suddenness and exclusivity of Brown-Welty's appointment have raised questions, no one is challenging her qualifications. She teaches master's and doctoral classes and has helped produce the CSU system's first doctoral students. She has received a number of accolades for her research and teaching since joining Fresno State in 1993.

The two-year interim has become an established practice at Fresno State amid tight budgets.

The deans of business and engineering and the assistant vice president for continuing and global education were all recently appointed to two-year interim jobs. The associate vice president for academic personnel received an 18-month interim appointment. None was open to applications.

The reporter can be reached at hsomerville@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6412.

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