4 Fresno State presidential finalists interviewing this week

The Fresno BeeApril 30, 2013 

The small army charged with finding Fresno State's new president will meet Friday in secret to interview a handful of finalists.

Six members of the California State University Trustees' Selection Committee and its 13-member advisory committee are slated to gather at a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport to decide who makes it to the final round.

Sources close to Fresno State on Tuesday told The Bee that the list of candidates has already been cut from 64 to just four names. The sources, who spoke not for attribution, agree on three points:

-- They don't know the finalists' identities.

-- Selection committee members and advisers have been sworn to secrecy on threat of derailed careers or social banishment.

-- The process to find President John Welty's successor may not be transparent, but that's just how it is going to be.

Friday's meeting is slated from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Marriott Hotel near LAX. The meeting's agenda says there's just one topic -- "consider candidate qualifications and determine which candidates (will) advance to the next level of consideration."

The full California State University Board of Trustees is scheduled to pick Fresno State's new president at its next scheduled meeting May 21-22 in Long Beach. No one expects the choice to be anyone other than the No. 1 candidate in the eyes of Chancellor Timothy White, the Fresno State graduate who replaced Charles Reed in late December.

It's not clear who will show up Friday at the Marriott, but there could be a crowd.

There is the selection committee. This six-member group is headed by Pete Mehas, the former Fresno County schools superintendent. Hugo Morales, founder of Fresno-based Radio Bilingüe, is also a member. So is Chancellor White.

As many as 13 of the search's advisory committee might show up. This roster includes Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who said Tuesday night she plans to be there; William Smittcamp, president of Wawona Frozen Foods; and Pete Weber, a leading force behind the Regional Jobs Initiative.

Welty, 68, has the distinction of being the longest-serving of seven presidents in Fresno State's 102-year history. It's unclear what his successor will make, but Welty made $299,000 a year -- the same salary he has made since 2007, university officials said.

Welty plans to remain on the job until the end of July to help his successor with the transition.

At stake is the next-to-last round in the search for a chief executive to guide a university whose performance will go a long way in determining the Valley's fate in the 21st century.

And as far as Valley residents are concerned, the weeding-out process might as well be happening on the dark side of the moon.

CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said the search committee will not make any announcement after Friday's closed session regarding the number of candidates or their names. The search, he said, is being conducted in secret to encourage candidates to apply and to protect their identity in case they aren't chosen.

A search for a new president at CSU, Los Angeles is being handled the same way; that trustees' search committee is set to meet May 10 at a different LAX hotel.

Uhlenkamp said this way the unsuccessful candidate doesn't have to answer sticky questions such as "Why are you looking to leave?" and "Why weren't you chosen?"

One veteran of the Fresno State political wars says such questions in the public spotlight are vital when filling a post as important as president of a publicly funded university.

Bob Merrill, emeritus professor of geology at Fresno State, said Tuesday he's concerned by the search's secrecy. To top it off, Merrill said, the public isn't even outraged.

In contrast, he added, when Harold Haak was appointed president in December 1979 and Welty in May 1991, the community got to ask them and other candidates questions before the selection was made by CSU trustees.

"The people of Fresno ought to wake up," Merrill said. "If not, the selection will be done by the good ol' boys network."

Merrill said he has another concern. He said a member of the Advisory Committee told him that a priority is finding someone who can fill Welty's fund-raising shoes.

At a tribute dinner for Welty last month, it was revealed that Fresno State's first university-wide fund-raising campaign netted $214.22 million.

"I would rather have someone with an academic background -- someone who has taught in the classroom and knows what it takes to enrich Fresno State's academic profile," Merrill said.

Mehas, the former Fresno State football player who has been a fixture on the local educational and political scene for a half-century, said the public can rest assured that "we have a good pool of candidates."

Mehas said the search committee values most the candidates' track record rather than eye-catching interview skills.

Secrecy is so tight around the search for Welty's successor that Mehas is careful even with his pronouns.

"We want to make sure it is the right fit for Fresno State."

Search committee

The six people on the Fresno State presidential search committee and its 13-member advisory committee:

Trustees' Selection Committee for President of California State University, Fresno

CSU Trustee Pete Mehas (chair)

CSU Trustee Bob Linscheid

CSU Trustee Rebecca Eisen

CSU Trustee Hugo Morales

CSU Trustee J. Lawrence Norton

CSU Chancellor Timothy White

Advisory Committee

Fresno State faculty member Honora Chapman, director of the Smittcamp Family Honors College and professor of classics and humanities

David Schecter, professor and department chair of political science

R. Lynn Williams, chair of the Academic Senate

Dean Luz Gonzalez of the College of Social Sciences

Staff member Shirley Staton of accounting services

Associated Students President Arthur Montejano, representing students

Brad Fischer, representing alumni

Katherine Flores, director, UCSF Fresno Latino Center for Medical Education and Research, representing the Fresno State President's Advisory Board

Community members Fresno County Superior Court Judge Robert Oliver; William Smittcamp, president of Wawona Frozen Foods; Pete Weber, a leading force behind the Regional Jobs Initiative; and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin

Jeff Armstrong, president of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, representing the presidents of other CSU campuses

The reporters can be reached at (559) 441-6330, plopez@fresnobee.com or ghostetter@fresnobee.com.

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