Cessna defends CEO’s credentials

 - January 31, 2007, 9:16 AM

Cessna and its parent, Textron, rallied quickly to support president and CEO Jack Pelton’s credentials in the wake of a damaging 60 Minutes segment that aired last month. The CBS show mentioned that Pelton was among thousands who essentially purchased college degrees from an alleged diploma mill, specifically Hamilton University in Evanston, Wyo.

According to 60 Minutes, applicants did not attend classes or take exams, but qualified for degrees based on life and work experiences. “Your main assignments are to write a short paper and a big check,” said the CBS report.

Pelton, who was named Cessna president and CEO last December when Charlie Johnson retired, disclosed in his official biography that he holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from Hamilton University. The biography does not say when he received these degrees, but Cessna said it was before he joined the company.

Big Question: When?

A representative of Hamilton University, located in a refurbished motel, told AIN that it is “illegal for us to release any information about a student or graduate” without their permission. Pelton declined to reveal to AIN when he obtained the diploma, leaving unanswered the important question of whether he chose to acquire the diploma as a young man attempting to embark on an aviation career or later in life as a more seasoned individual.

Commenting on the 60 Minutes story, a spokesman for Hamilton University said the information presented was a “gross distortion of the truth.” According to Robert Davis, Ph.D., “While acceptance of the concept of granting university level credit and degrees based on life and work experience has grown tremendously over the last quarter century, not everyone embraces this idea. We stand firmly behind our 28-year record and the validity and usefulness of our programs. Hamilton University remains a fully legal organization.”

Nevertheless, Wyoming challenged that legality when it recently changed its education laws. “That forced Hamilton to stop selling degrees. Now, the campus is up for sale,” 60 Minutes said. Hamilton University’s Davis told AIN the change in the licensing law only prevents new enrollments and “in no way affects those who are currently enrolled in the program or graduates.” Davis didn’t comment on the campus being on the block.

The day after the 60 Minutes segment aired, Cessna released this statement: “Jack Pelton is a seasoned industry veteran with strong credentials, an exceptional background and a stellar professional reputation. He was hired as Cessna’s vice president of engineering based on the merits of his experience and accomplishments, and has earned the title of president and chief executive officer as a result of
his continued great work and strong leadership. We thoroughly researched Jack’s qualifications and background upon his hire in 2000, and his strong track record of professional success continues to make him an asset to both Cessna and Textron.” Pelton, then 45, was named president and CEO a year ago after fulfilling the leadership role at Cessna for four months, while Johnson was on medical leave.

Before joining Cessna in November 2000 as senior v-p of product engineering, Pelton served as senior v-p of engineering and programs at the former Fairchild Dornier in Germany. He also spent nearly 20 years at McDonnell Douglas in various executive positions.