Why Zingg should win the presidential race

by Leonardo Castaneda

Elliot Hirshman 5-10
Elliot Hirshman 5-10

This past week the San Diego State community got its first — and only — look at the three finalists vying to fill SDSU President Stephen L. Weber’s shoes when he retires on July 5. During their two-day visit, each candidate took an hour to talk to students, staff and faculty at SDSU.

Dr. Elliot Hirshman is the provost and senior vice president at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County where he oversees all academic elements of the school from admission, instruction and financial aid to research and athletics. Previously, he held the position of chief research officer at George Washington University. Hirshman has degrees in economics and mathematics, as well as a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. Hirshman, 50, is the youngest finalist and the best-suited as far as continuing SDSU’s tradition of long-serving presidents. His major focus has been on building the support infrastructure needed to expand the school’s research program. His secondary focus has been protecting core educational activities, primarily humanities classes, from the heartless knife of budget cuts. To do so, Hirshman plans on offsetting the reductions in state funding with an increase in privately fundraised revenue.

Steven Leath 5-10
Steven Leath 5-10

Dr. Steven Leath is the vice president of research and sponsored programs for the University of North Carolina’s 16 campuses. He previously held the position of dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Science at UNC. Leath has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in plant science, as well as a Ph.D. in plant pathology. Similar to Hirshman, 53-year-old Leath could be the top dog at SDSU for a very long time. Similar to Hirshman, his primary focus is on expanding research at SDSU. He earned his research chops running UNC’s much larger research program. As a biologist, he’s uniquely in-tune with biological and scientific research, a valuable trait considering Southern California’s growing biotech industry. His secondary focus is the creation of a comprehensive program to guide students from admission through graduation.

Dr. Paul J. Zingg has been president at California State University Chico since 2004. Prior to Chico, Zingg served at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, first as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and then as provost and vice president for academic affairs. Zingg’s bachelor’s, master and Ph.D. are all in history. At 65, Zingg is just four years younger than Weber and is unlikely to match his potential predecessor’s 15-year tenure. As a candidate, Zingg’s focus has been on the financial challenges facing SDSU. He has expressed a commitment to increasing revenue from all possible sources, that means seeking greater state, federal and private revenue, potentially with higher tuition fees, to ensure financial stability. His secondary focus has been split between protecting humanities and expanding SDSU’s burgeoning research programs.

Paul Zingg 5-10
Paul Zingg 5-10

Greater emphasis on private, philanthropic donors; wants to regain public support once the economy recovers: “Public higher education cannot succeed without public funding.”
Leath: Increase private, philanthropic sources of revenue; show the state and community SDSU is valuable and deserves support; wants to keep SDSU’s tuition relatively inexpensive.
Zingg: Financial stability is most important: “We can make a case to students for (higher) fees, by … demonstrating to students the consequences of their fees.” Wants to increase private support and demand increased state support.

Strong supporter, athletics can bring in prestige and recognition, as well as “tangible benefits” such as fundraising opportunities.
Leath: For many students, athletics are an important part of college experience; it’s a way to talk to the community about SDSU.
Zingg: “I’m a jock.” Athletics are an important part of the community and the college experience.

Build infrastructure and support needed for research, even during budget cuts; has experience leading research program at GWU.
Leath: Research is necessary to help solve society’s problems, bring in revenue and the best possible faculty; has personal experience as being in charge of UNC’s $1.4 billion research program.
Zingg: Research is where CSU system must go, source of revenue and connections with community; no experience leading major research programs.

No presidential experience, No. 2 guy at a school smaller than SDSU but with comparable GPA requirements.
Leath: No presidential experience, administrative experience at system level, took part in government-sponsored executive training program at Harvard.
Zingg: President at CSU Chico, No. 2 guy at Cal Poly SLO, both smaller than SDSU but within the same CSU system.

Most mistakes occur when one person has too much power and acts precipitously; Hirshman is eager for open discussion with all involved parties.
Leath: Open to working with others; with so many bright people at SDSU, it would be irresponsible to act without consulting them.
Zingg: It would be irresponsible to act without consulting relevant organizations; Zingg is open to discussion.

Short-term commitment to maintaining the current bonus points system, long-term would be willing to revise.
Leath: Short-term plans to maintain system, more willing to compromise on program or potentially eliminate it.
Zingg: Would probably maintain the system. Chico has a system that is more preferential to locals than SDSU’s.

UMBC not unionized, but “union-friendly,” believes everyone is entitled to fair compensation; cautious about faculty expansion in short-term.
Leath: UNC not unionized, but union-friendly. Believes unions are a way to keep faculty happy; lower faculty-to-student ratio by hiring more professors.
Zingg: “Collective bargaining is a good idea, and it is the law in California.” He is friendly with the union chapter in Chico.

Diversity is a common theme in Hirshman’s tenure as provost; wants to identify and attract underrepresented minorities among students and faculty.
Leath: Continue on SDSU’s path, meet with underrepresented minorities personally and show them SDSU is a match for what they want and need.
Zingg: Continue SDSU’s path toward greater diversity; at Chico, Zingg helped create the Diversity Action Plan.

Employers want employees with critical thinking skills only humanities classes can provide; art on campus makes school stronger.
Leath: Humanities are important for creative thinking; research into arts and humanities are just as important and worthy of support as “hard sciences.”
Zingg: “Art is at the heart of what it means to be human,” humanities are the core “of what we are trying to accomplish.”


Clearly, Zingg is the best qualified candidate, and he will most likely be chosen to lead SDSU for the foreseeable future. The final decision will be announced by the CSU Board of Trustees later this week.

Zingg is an experienced captain capable of steering SDSU through these turbulent economic times, without rocking the boat on research or faculty relations. His focus on financial stability addresses the single largest threat to the school’s future with a strong dedication and clear strategy the other finalists lack. His time leading another university within the same system, thus facing similar problems, prepared Zingg to step in from day one. Of course, at his age, Zingg isn’t a long-term solution, but the economic strains are hopefully not so permanent either. Leath and Hirshman are both capable administrators who could help take the school to the next level in research and recognition, but what we need for the next five to 10 years isn’t monumental change. What we need is financial stability to ensure undergraduate education is left unscathed and research activities continue.

With Zingg as president, the changes will be subtle, but significant. Fundraising activities will probably increase, as will demands for more state and federal support. Tuition fees will increase, but that is inevitable with the CSU system facing a $500 million budget reduction. But at least Zingg was honest enough to acknowledge this during his speech without sugar coating the situation. Elsewhere, things will continue much like they are now. Research will keep growing at a steady pace; new leadership may possibly be able to reset relations with faculty to everyone’s benefit. Diversity programs to increase minority representation will stay on their current path, and athletics will continue receiving the support that has helped make the program as successful as it’s been this year.

With his clear plan and the experience to carry it out, Zingg is just what SDSU needs to ensure short-term stability and long-term success.

— Leonardo Castaneda is an economics and journalism freshman.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.