Hail to the chief

Chico State’s Paul Zingg announces his retirement, effective May 2016

I didn't make it to Chico State President Paul Zingg's convocation last week. Come to think of it, I haven't been to one of those in years. Probably not since I was the higher-ed beat reporter at the local daily back in the day. In any event, from what I've read, those in attendance—mostly faculty and staff members—were shocked when Chico State's venerable president announced this would be his last year at the helm.

But shocked—really? Zingg turned 70 years old this summer. He also had triple-bypass surgery back in March, then a bout with kidney stones—his second, I believe. I'm not saying he doesn't have more to give. I'm not ageist. But, look, the guy has had some serious health issues and could have retired fully vested several years go. His announcement shouldn't have surprised anyone on campus, even though he once joked that he'd be carried out of there (presumably in a casket) someday.

I'm happy for Chico State's chief. Leading such a large organization is tough. In my book, he's earned his retirement. And, believe me, I'm one of the people who put him through his paces over the years. In fact, I'm quite certain I've interviewed him more than any other reporter.

I met Paul Zingg on Feb. 2, 2005. I'll never forget that date, because it was the day Chico State student Matthew Carrington—a local fraternity pledge—died in an unauthorized frat house a few blocks from campus.

I'd had a long-scheduled appointment with Zingg that morning. It was a get-together in which the two of us—me the new Chico State reporter (I'd been at the paper since 2003 and had recently switched beats) and him, the newer campus president (he'd been there for just about a year)—would get to know each other a bit. Instead, I walked into his spacious Kendall Hall office, shook his hand, made polite conversation for five minutes, and then spent the next 55 grilling him on what he was going to do about a dead kid in a fraternity full of other Chico State students. It'd been only a few hours since he'd learned of Carrington's death—attributed to a hazing rite.

To his credit, Zingg handled my pointed questions with aplomb, both that day and for years thereafter. He was never defensive or combative and I sensed that he cared deeply for the student body. Sometimes, while covering the south-campus neighborhood scene for the paper, I'd run into him walking there among students, talking to them and the patrol officers attempting to keep the rowdier ones corralled.

Not everyone recognized Zingg as the university president. But the students who did weren't afraid to chat him up. For a guy as tall he is—about 6 foot 4, I believe—Zingg's pretty approachable. This ink-stained wretch has few complaints with his tenure. If anything, I'd have liked for him to be less diplomatic. But that isn't his way.

Zingg has his detractors, of course, and I cannot say their issues with him are without merit. But from a journalist's perspective, overall, he's been a receptive and thoughtful source through the years. Those kind of folks don't come along every day.