Two finalists vie for top Chico State post
Hosting two presidential candidates back-to-back was a little like seeing Chico State University play the title role on The Bachelor: The campus community could kiss each contestant all it wanted, because the other one wasn’t watching.
The visits of Lois Muir and Paul Zingg Oct. 20 and 21 played in weird contrast, with no one really sure whether they were courting Chico, or Chico them.
Each made a different impression on the campus community, and by the end of the day Tuesday, students, faculty and staff were huddling to deconstruct the visits.
Eager and almost Pollyanna-positive, Muir, 55, seemed friendly and approachable, with a down-to-earth outsider’s view on the university. Zingg, 56, came across as confident, distinguished and well-versed in the budget and other CSU issues, calling campus notables by name and throwing out Chico stats like the sports fan he is.
Muir, a nontraditional student who started college at age 19 with a new baby in tow, is a quilter, her favorite environmental cause is water quality, she wishes she’d joined a sorority, and she actually enjoys raising funds from private sources.
She heaped praise upon Chico and referred often to how she’d translate experience gained at her current post, as provost at the similarly sized University of Montana and, before that, “party school” University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.
Zingg, now provost at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, seemed more comfortable in the spotlight, ditching the podium and walking across the Laxson Auditorium stage like a motivational speaker as he fielded questions from faculty members, staff, students and others.
A college basketball star before being sidelined by an injury, Zingg, a veritable Bartlett’s Quotations, promises to stay at least seven years if chosen ("I’m not someone to cut and run"), hopes to teach classes even as president and responded thus to a question that presumed an eventual end to budget troubles: “What have you been smoking?”
He also revealed that he declined two recent invitations to contend for the presidencies of other CSUs, holding out instead for a shot at the Chico State post.
Now, the decision is in the hands of the CSU Board of Trustees.
The candidates were put up at Oxford Suites and escorted through jam-packed days that started at 7 a.m., included meetings with virtually every campus group and culminated with a private dinner with Interim President Scott McNall and his wife, Sally.
Nervous memories of 1980s President Robin Wilson lingered in the air throughout the visits. If Manuel Esteban is the president who built bridges between the campus and the community, Wilson is the one who tore them down in the first place, widely seen as leading from the ivory tower with no connection to Chico as a whole.
Both Muir and Zingg said they would maintain close ties with the community, in the style of Esteban.
Each candidate was asked about faculty being pressured to do research, how to seek high-achieving students, how to maintain diversity and how to raise private funds to compensate for declining state support.
Muir said that she sympathizes with various employee groups as well as different deans and departments, particularly when budget cuts are on the table, and has a knack for understanding anyone’s perspective.
Muir also said she likes to “get out and walk around and talk to people in spontaneous ways.” She’d have an “open-door policy” and commit to meeting with student government leaders regularly, while respecting the autonomy of the Associated Students and its businesses.
Zingg also said he supports shared governance and admires the A.S.'s responsible management of its businesses. He’d even consider putting a student on the President’s Cabinet.
“I listen well, and I’m constantly asking for people’s advice and opinions,” he said.
While Zingg may seem to have an advantage because he’s already in the CSU system, Muir said she has been following the CSU’s budgetary ups and downs and believes there are “enormous similarities” with what she’s faced at other colleges.
Neither candidate offered specifics as to how he or she would solve Chico State’s budget woes.
The CSU has sent mixed messages about whether the new president would start in January as planned. (Some on campus are still stinging because the CSU put Chico’s search behind that of other, larger campuses, delaying its start eight months after Esteban announced his retirement.) Roberta Achtenberg, chairwoman of the Trustees’ Search Committee, wouldn’t allow the candidates to answer questions about when they’d be available to begin work.
In introducing Muir, Achtenberg said the Board of Trustees would meet Oct. 30 and announce its decision “almost immediately thereafter,” but later she spoke of a mid-November announcement.
Muir won Brownie points with reporters when she said she wouldn’t take it personally if a professional decision was questioned or her salary level criticized in public. “It goes with the territory,” she said. “It doesn’t throw me.”
Zingg, too, pledged allegiance to the First Amendment: “I get scrutinized where I am now,” he said.
They were also asked the unavoidable “party school” question and agreed there is a time for fun and a time for safety and studying.
“Believe me, I know how to party," Zingg told student leaders, "but it is a question of balance."