New Chico State president ‘thrilled’ to lead despite budget doldrums
After being interviewed by the California State University Board of Trustees on Oct. 30, Paul Zingg was instructed to go back to his Long Beach hotel room and keep his cell phone handy.
Just because he was up for the most powerful and prestigious job at Chico State University didn’t mean Zingg wasn’t “anxious and nervous,” he said. The search that launched several months after President Manuel Esteban announced his retirement in August 2002 had come down to Zingg, provost at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and Lois Muir, provost at the University of Montana, Missoula.
“The phone rang, and it was the Chancellor [Charles] Reed,” Zingg remembered. The news was good, and, “I was thrilled.” Zingg skipped the hotel honor bar, but a friend did take him out for a celebratory drink later that evening.
Zingg has been provost and vice president for academic affairs at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo since 1996, and before that he did the job in an interim role after serving two years as dean of the College of Liberal Arts there. He’s also held positions at St. Mary’s College of California, the University of Pennsylvania and schools in Chicago, Alabama and Georgia.
Attaining multiple history degrees, Zingg studied at the University of Georgia in Athens, the University of Richmond in Virginia and Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. He has published books and articles on topics ranging from free speech to sports history.
His salary will be set at the Nov. 19 CSU Board of Trustees meeting. Esteban earned $208,248 a year at the time of his retirement.
Zingg, who is 56, will be joined in Chico by his wife, Candace Slater, a leading scholar in Brazilian and Amazonian cultures who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley. They have no children but two dogs, Watson (named after golf great Tom Watson) and Annie (no relation to Chico founders the Bidwells).
In his spare time, he’s looking forward to indulging his hobbies of golf (his handicap is 6) and hiking, and he hopes someone will teach him how to fly-fish. He enjoys sports and cheers for Northern California teams. “I would never root for the Lakers,” he promised.
Scott McNall, Chico State’s provost, who has been serving as interim president since Esteban retired at the end of the 2002-03 school year, said he’s “delighted” the job went to Zingg, with whom he has worked on major projects.
“He cares about students and their success and, most important, he understands that Chico State is an exceptional university,” he said. “His knowledge and experience in the CSU will serve him and the university well as we continue to manage with a decline in state support. He enjoys fund-raising and will provide a much-needed lift in that area.”
While one of Zingg’s first tasks will be to help fill two vice presidential positions (Paul Moore is retiring from academic affairs, and the university is hiring a VP for advancement and fund-raising), McNall said he’s not going anywhere for at least a couple of years.
“I have a lot of energy, and I like what I do,” McNall said. “As long as I can help the new president, I will.”
In the days following the Oct. 20-21 visits of Zingg and Muir to the Chico State campus, the university’s three statewide academic senators sent a letter to the CSU trustees, urging them to reopen the search to include more finalists. The Chico search had been delayed while the Chancellor’s Office moved to fill other presidential slots first, and some on campus worried that Chico State would get the leftovers—especially after it was learned that two of the top four, who ultimately dropped out, made the finals in more than one other CSU search.
This week, Prof. Paul Persons, one of the letter’s authors, said that even though the trustees “ignored” the senators’ concerns, he had heard many good things about Zingg and believed he would do a good job. “My objections were not to the candidates. It was to the fact that we did not get out early in the normal draft season. … I would prefer to have had more people to choose from.”
Also, some faculty members worried that Zingg could be dubbed the chancellor’s “cut man,” handing down budget edicts. But those who heard the candidates speak agreed that Zingg had the best handle on the CSU system and is well-versed in the issues facing Chico.
State budget cuts have served up a $24 million funding gap to the Chico State campus alone, and the Chancellor’s Office has directed CSU presidents to raise more money from private sources.
“Of course, I would love to come in with resources flowing all over the place, but you play the hand you’re dealt,” Zingg said. The most discouraging element of budget cuts, he said, is how they translate to fewer students enrolling in college. “It contradicts the master plan for higher education in the state,” he said. “It’s a real issue to be turning folks away at any time, particularly those who are the first in their families [to seek higher education].”
With budget cuts, “the key is, you’ve got to be honest,” he said, and include everyone in the discussions.
Zingg said that once on the job he won’t hesitate to seek advice from Esteban, who not only was one of the first to congratulate him on his appointment, but also encouraged him to apply in the first place.
“He’s terrific," Zingg said, adding that he’s not intimidated by Esteban’s popularity in Chico—he’s inspired by it.