CSU names a company man

Michael J. Fitzgerald is a journalism professor at CSU, Sacramento who taught at Chico State from 1982-1986. He can be reached by e-mail at mikefitz@csus.edu.

Most of the headlines about the appointment of Paul Zingg, soon to be Chico State University’s new president, refer to him as a “veteran,” a comforting term if his mission is to maintain the status quo in the California State University system—sort of a franchise branch manager in a corporate setting.

But the label should be alarming, too.

Not that Paul Zingg doesn’t deserve his chance. He certainly does.

But the term “veteran” in the case of the California State University can frequently be directly translated into “company man,” someone willing to carry out any orders from headquarters, in this case the commands of CSU Chancellor Charles Reed.

Reed has convinced the CSU Board of Trustees to hire safe, insider candidates in four of the last five university presidential searches, Humboldt State being the exception. With two presidential searches still underway, it looks likely that CSU, San Marcos will have an insider appointed, too. San Jose State’s three finalists are all from out of state.

So what’s so wrong with being a company man? What’s wrong with a little loyalty to the chancellor and saluting the CSU flag in Long Beach?

Potentially, plenty.

In the last five years, all that company man mentality, loyalty and saluting resulted in the university having to publicly defend a $662 million computer boondoggle called the Common Management System, a system Reed forced each CSU campus to accept.

The project prompted a scathing audit by the state auditor and has been the subject of two caustic legislative hearings in which Reed was grilled mercilessly about $200 million in cost overruns, sole-source purchasing and conflicts of interest among his staff. The money for the project was taken—and is still being taken—from the state general fund, money that should rightly go for classroom instruction.

To add further insult, the under-construction system is almost universally reviled as unworkable by the staff that must use it for student records, purchasing and personnel.

Zingg, as provost at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, presided over the spending of nearly $9 million in general-fund monies on CMS between 1998 and 2002, $2.5 million of it directly to consultants trying to make the thing work.

As Chico State president, he now has to shake his university’s piggy bank to find approximately $15 million over the next three years to pay for CMS—$15 million!

Chico State and the other CSU campuses are stuck with this CMS mess.

But when the next CMS-like dictate comes hurtling out of Chancellor Reed’s Long Beach office, we’ll see how independent the veteran Zingg can be about spending the money where it belongs—for classes, not boondoggles.