CSU chancellor defends secrecy of Fresno State president candidates

Special to The BeeMay 3, 2013 

— The chancellor of the California State University system defended the closed-door search for Fresno State's new president Friday as selection committees met with four candidates.

The six members of the trustees' Fresno State search committee and their 13-member advisory committee spent the day meeting with the candidates at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel.

During the committees' lunch break, Fresno resident and CSU Trustee Pete Mehas, chair of the trustees' search panel, said, "We have a great pool of candidates being asked questions by a very representative group. There is copious note-taking."

Another member of the trustees' search committee confirmed Friday morning that four candidates were in line to be interviewed at the hotel.

Eleven hours after it began, the interviews were over. But not the secrecy. As he headed for his car, R. Lynne Williams, chair of the Fresno State Academic Senate and a member of the advisory committee, said, "I have nothing at all."

There are no announced plans for any of the candidates to visit the Fresno State campus.

The full Board of Trustees is expected to pick Fresno State's new president at its next scheduled meeting, May 21-22 in Long Beach.

CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said the process of choosing a president to replace the soon-to-retire John Welty was akin to being "in the second half of a basketball game."

He refused to speculate if it was the third or fourth quarter. Instead, White said the entire "game could be replayed."

"Let's say there isn't anyone we feel is good enough. Then we will start the whole process over again."

Riffing off that analogy, Mehas at lunchtime said, "We could be going into overtime."

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

White said he will make a recommendation to the entire Board of Trustees. When asked if he "had a lot of juice" with the selection of Welty's replacement, he kept with the sports analogy and replied, "Let's say I've got a couple bottles of Gatorade."

Switching analogies, White likened the secretive search to the relationship of a long-married couple.

"It's like you're looking for a new spouse and it doesn't work out," White said. "When you go back home and your spouse asks you, 'Where have you been?', you don't tell her you've been unhappy and are looking for a new spouse."

When White was interviewing for the job of CSU chancellor, did he let his colleagues at the University of California at Riverside know he was looking to move on? "Heck, no," White quickly said, stressing the importance of keeping the process a secret.

Driving home the point, two people served as security outside the 18th-floor Executive Suite II meeting room where Friday's interviews took place.

And White interrupted a Bee interview Friday morning outside the meeting room to say, "You are not welcome on this floor," three times and, "I have no comment" several times before he started on the "unhappy spouse" and "basketball game" analogies.

Michael Uhlenkamp, director of media relations for the CSU system, said Friday's meetings were "private" rather than "secret."

"Everyone knows we are meeting here. It's not a secret."

Sources told The Bee earlier in the week that selection committee members and advisers had been sworn to secrecy. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, a member of the advisory committee who told The Bee she was going to the meeting, didn't return a call and a text Friday seeking comment.

The trustees' search committee and its non-voting advisory committee is considering applicants to replace the longest-serving of the seven presidents in Fresno State's 102-year history.

Welty has been at the university since August 1991. He makes $299,000 a year -- the same salary he's had since 2007, university officials said.

It's not clear how much Welty's successor will make. A trustees' policy adopted last year limits pay of new presidents to no more than 10% over what their predecessor was making -- and only when the money comes from private donors who want to augment executive salaries.

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 reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6330 or metro@fresnobee.com.

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