Confidence lost

Academic Senate lacks faith in Chico State’s administration

Long-simmering issues at Chico State have finally boiled over. Last week, the university’s Academic Senate delivered a vote of no confidence in President Paul Zingg and a couple of his top executives.

Throughout the fall semester’s turbulent final weeks, Zingg has characterized the allegations against his leadership team as vague and lacking in evidence, and didn’t waver on that point during the senate’s regular meeting on Thursday (Dec. 10) in Colusa Hall.

“If, in fact, the Academic Senate is a jury and my colleagues and I are defendants, it’s not simply a case of courtesy; it is a case of due process that both the jury and defendants understand the meaning of the assertions and accusations,” Zingg said.

Zingg and company—specifically, his second-in-command, Interim Provost Susan Elrod; and Lorraine Hoffman, vice president for business and finance—weren’t literally on trial, but it often felt that way during the meeting. For nearly four hours, members of the panel and the general audience debated the ramifications of approving a resolution to deliver the vote of no confidence.

The resolution, introduced at the senate’s meeting on Dec. 3, was prompted by recent uncertainty regarding the Academic Affairs budget (see “Confidence wavers,” Newslines, Dec. 10) but cites a host of longstanding grievances. It reads: “The failure of senior executives to make timely decisions and maintain working relationships has resulted in uncertainty and unpredictability; faculty, staff, and student stress; increased workload; deterioration of morale; loss of jobs; and very high turnover rates in administrative positions campus-wide.”

Not everyone agreed with that assessment. Members of Hoffman’s management team in the Division of Business and Finance praised her leadership and dedication to constructing new, state-of-the-art buildings on campus, and argued that a vote of no confidence would be detrimental to the university’s image and search for a new president. From a fundraising perspective, it may also discourage benefactors from donating to the university, added Joe Wills, the university’s director of public affairs.

The vote nearly wasn’t taken. Separate motions to postpone the discussion until next semester; remove Elrod and Hoffman from the document and target only Zingg; and table the resolution entirely were all defeated. Ultimately, the resolution, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass, was approved by a 24-8 vote.

And so the Academic Senate did something unprecedented: Never before has a Chico State president—let alone three of the university’s top executives—received a vote of no confidence, longtime senate member Joe Crotts told the CN&R.

But what does it mean? At the meeting on Dec. 10, Susan Roll, an associate professor in the school of social work, acknowledged a vote of no confidence is a mostly symbolic gesture, though it does have “some important ideological consequences.” For one, it communicates to the CSU Office of the Chancellor that transparency, shared decision-making and trust in administration have eroded on campus, Roll said.

“It sends a strong message to the next president that the conditions on our campus are in dire need of repair and restoration,” she said, “and that we want someone who is committed to work with us to make that happen—someone who sees this as an opportunity for change.”

In an email to the CN&R, Zingg, who’s set to retire at the end of the spring semester, insisted that he’s unconcerned with his legacy. Still, he’d like to better understand what his administration has done wrong.

“I am still waiting for someone to explain the desired outcomes of such a resolution,” he wrote. “It has been characterized as ‘symbolic.’ Symbolic of what?”