McNall’s two-hat act

Richard Elk is a retired Chico State University journalism professor and contributor to the News & Review

As the search for a new Chico State University president winds down, Provost Scott McNall continues to do his job while also acting as interim president. For this generous dual effort he earns former President Manuel Esteban’s annual salary of $208,500, while his provost salary of $160,000 goes for university expenses during grim fiscal times.

This situation begs the question: Why didn’t the California State University (CSU) trustees simply call off the presidential search, formally combine the two jobs, and hand the position to the locally savvy McNall along with another, say, $20,000 a year? After all, if he is willing and able to do in tandem the jobs of the two top people at the university for the salary of one, he should have been the common-sense choice all along.

But I’ve never heard anyone say the CSU leadership operates on common sense. The powers that be will duly install one of the two remaining candidates as president (at around $235,000 a year) with a glitzy and expensive inauguration, an absurd frill when students are struggling with record-high tuition. McNall will be “demoted” back to provost with fanfare and effusive thanks, and everyone will soon forget his two-hat act.

Thus McNall will again serve under someone elevated from his own rank, a typical move for Chico State, which has never appointed a sitting president. The recent withdrawal of Karen Haynes, president of the University of Houston at Victoria, leaves that trend intact. Further, except for Robert Hill (1966-70), whose field was business, the last three Chico State presidents have come from the humanities—Stanford Cazier (history), Robin Wilson (English), and Manuel Esteban (foreign languages)—another oddity because such folks don’t reflect the fields that most profoundly touch student lives today: computer and engineering technology, business and communications.

My bet goes on Paul Zingg, provost at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Why? Well, he’s from humanities (history), but more important he’s from a school that ranked second in the 23-school CSU system in off-campus fundraising, with $44-plus million, in 2001-02. Chico State, with $5-plus million, ranked among the six least productive CSU campuses at a time when fundraising has assumed top importance nationwide as state support for public universities continues to decline. In fact, Esteban has stressed that presidents are being evaluated more and more on their ability to raise money off campus. Also, fundraising expertise was a priority search-criteria item.

But who knows? The other candidate is Lois Muir, provost of the University of Montana, and CSU trustees may want a fourth woman president to raise the glass ceiling from 13 to 17.4 percent.