Besides guiding the university through the shoals of an enrollment decline and, more recently, budget cuts, Esteban was at the helm during expansion of the campus. His door was open to faculty, staff and students. An “ivory tower” existence was not for this success story, a former glass-blowers’ apprentice who emigrated from Spain, first to Canada and then the United States, and worked his way through school.
Perhaps most important to Chico was the bridge Esteban built between the city and the university, which under previous leadership had been an island unto itself, prone to lawsuits and criticism.
Esteban’s accessibility extended to the community and the media—and a warm relationship with the press is an exception among school leaders.
Part of this he learned on the job, becoming more open in terms of public relations as time went on but still holding some information and plans close to his vest.
Esteban’s missteps can be counted on one hand. The News & Review, like almost everyone else in town, likes Esteban: his personal style, his leadership abilities and that cool accent.
We hope that Esteban, as he retires to private life in Chico, makes himself available to the university in a casual, advisory role. We hope to see him and his wife, Gloria, at community events.
One goal Esteban did not see to reality was the construction of a student-funded recreation center. The News & Review editorialized against it, not so much because it would compete with private gym owners but because it would have cost so much. A scaled-down rec center, however, is a good idea, and we propose a better name than the Wildcat Activity Center: the Manuel Esteban Recreation Center.