The namesake

Questions surface over Zingg Recital Hall

Chico State’s 196-seat Paul and Yasuko Zingg Recital Hall.

Chico State’s 196-seat Paul and Yasuko Zingg Recital Hall.

photo by jason halley, csu chico

Over the summer, when Chico State faculty and staff picked up one of the university’s publications, Arts & Ideas, many were surprised to see a familiar name attached to the new $58 million Arts & Humanities Building’s largest feature: the Paul and Yasuko Zingg Recital Hall.

Academic Senate officers Betsy Boyd and Paula Selvester say that, soon after the arts calendar and events publication hit stands in June, they began fielding questions from concerned campus employees who wanted to know whether the naming represented a conflict of interest because it was approved while now-retired Paul Zingg was Chico State president.

“Some people have said that it seems a bit incestuous, if you will,” Boyd said.

Boyd and Selvester charge that Zingg had a history of making decisions without following protocol, which is one reason the senate delivered a vote of no confidence in him and a couple of his top executives last December. Learning of the recital hall’s naming after the fact sent shock waves throughout the staff.

“We had just voted a no-confidence on [Zingg], right? So having something named after him on our campus would have thrown up so many red flags,” Boyd said. “I can’t even imagine. I mean, our committee would have probably gone ballistic.”

Zingg, who retired in June after 12 years at the helm of Chico State, has long wanted to donate his art collection on behalf of himself and his wife, Yasuko, to the campus, according to Ahmad Boura, who was appointed as vice president of University Advancement in June 2015.

In an interview with CN&R, Boura recalled discussions with Zingg about the art collection, going back to January of this year. That was right around the time when the university was putting the finishing touches on the Arts & Humanities Building. Boura’s job is to solicit donations from alumni and businesses to support the university, which at the time was actively pursuing donors for the building’s various facilities. The recital hall, for example, was listed in a brochure with a suggested donation of $1 million. Zingg expressed interest in donating his collection—preliminarily valued at $400,000—toward that naming, Boura said.

“When this opportunity opened up and it was brought to my attention, I said, ‘OK, we need to follow the process if you’re interested in the naming opportunities,’” he added.

Boura wrote a letter to CSU Chancellor Timothy White asking for his permission to honor Zingg “through a naming of a recital hall located in the new Arts and Humanities Building.” Boura explained that the naming would recognize Zingg’s 23 years of service to the CSU, as well as the donation to the university’s Janet Turner Print Museum.

In April, White wrote a letter to Zingg approving the namesake. The two letters and other related documents were obtained by the CN&R for this investigation through the California Public Records Act. The documents include a copy of the appraisal for Zingg’s donated 86-piece art collection, which was found to be worth $313,675.

In comparison, the name of the university’s new art gallery in the same building was advertised for a recommended $500,000 donation. Artist and woodworker Graham Hutton donated two checks and a gift-in-kind—together totaling the asking price—to name the gallery after his late wife, Jacki Headley, a Chico State alumna who died in 2012 after a 35-year career as a local textile artist and entrepreneur.

Boyd and Selvester said that upon learning about Zingg Recital Hall, faculty and staff urged them to review the policy and procedures behind such a naming. Was it normal for a sitting president to have a hall named after himself? They wondered. And who oversees such things?

The policy, coincidentally enacted by Zingg in 2008, states that the CSU board of trustees retains the authority to name all buildings, “major portions of buildings,” “highly visible facilities and properties,” and things like stadiums and baseball fields. The university president, on the other hand, has the ability to name “individual rooms, limited rooms, limited areas and individual items or features within buildings, individual landscape items or features, limited outdoors areas, and other minor properties.”

It also says, when honoring an academic figure or administrator for his or her service to the university, “a proposal shall not be made until the individual has been retired or deceased at least two years.”

The policy does not offer clear criteria for what constitutes a minor facility vs. a major one, such as the square footage, cost or capacity, but rather gives discretion to the president. The recital hall is 3,866 square feet and seats 196 people.

“Most people would say that that’s a major area of the building,” Boyd said. In fact, it’s the building’s largest individual space, but covers only a fraction of the 91,000-square-foot facility.

The naming policy does outline a clear process for handling proposals: First, they should be submitted to the vice president of University Advancement (Boura), then forwarded to the president (Zingg) and the Academic Senate Executive Committee (a group of top-ranking academic senators, the president and members of his cabinet).

Boyd, who chairs the Academic Senate Executive Committee, said the committee was never forwarded the Zingg proposal.

Two days after the chancellor’s letter made the naming official, the Academic Senate’s executive committee held a meeting where Boura said he informed members of the gift and the naming. However, four members of the committee contacted by this reporter said they recall hearing him mention only the gift. The naming was never discussed, they said.

“I mentioned that,” Boura told the CN&R when shown a copy of the minutes. “It probably hasn’t been quoted in these minutes, but I did mention that we were going to, had gone to the chancellor.”

Boyd said she would remember such a statement, especially given the controversy that dogged Zingg in the months leading to his retirement.

Though Zingg declined to be interviewed for this story, he did briefly reply in an email.

“The naming reflects the gift of my extensive art collection to the university,” he wrote. “It does not honor my service to the university.”

White’s letter to Zingg on April 13 suggests otherwise: “In recognition of your generosity and 23 years of service to the California State University, I am approving the naming of Paul and Yasuko Zingg Recital Hall.”

In the end, Boyd said that while the policy may not have been broken, it lacked transparency. There is a silver lining, she added. In a recent Academic Senate Executive Committee meeting, the policy was brought forth and discussed, she said. Based on her interactions with the new president of Chico State, Gayle Hutchinson, she’s confident that any naming of a facility—major or minor—will be openly discussed with the committee.

“I fully expect that Gayle will honor that,” she said.