Newly selected president faces challenges

Entering her presidency, Gayle Hutchinson faces challenges such as a divided campus. Photo courtesy of Chico State.

Entering her presidency, Gayle Hutchinson faces challenges such as a divided campus. Photo courtesy of Chico State.

On a rainy Wednesday morning, amidst hot coffee and donuts, students and faculty gathered to watch a live video feed of the board of trustees meeting in Long Beach. The viewing took place in the Associated Students offices in the BMU. As the assembled crowd waited for the video feed to start broadcasting, the question of the hour was: who will it be?

A collective cheer went up when it was announced that Gayle E. Hutchinson would be Paul J. Zingg’s successor. A shared sense of excitement filled the room, electrifying the air; here was a clear sign of the progress Chico State has striven for.

“She’s homegrown, she’s one of us, and she’s smart, she’s fair, she has an impeccable reputation on campus. She’s a great academician, and she’s also a great manager,” said Mary K. Wallmark, coordinator of Student Life and Leadership. “She’s everything we need in a new president, and I’m super excited that she’s returning to campus.”

In a phone interview on the day of the announcement, Hutchinson shared her feelings on being chosen.

“Being the first woman I think, is a sign of the times, and I also think there are a lot of great woman who are moving into leadership roles,” Hutchinson said. “And the responsibility all of us have is to the folks whom we serve and also to younger generations who may be coming up.”

Before becoming provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Cal State Channel Islands, Hutchinson began her career in higher education at Chico State as an assistant professor in the department of kinesiology. She taught in the classroom for 17 years earning tenure, promotion and the rank of full professor. During her years at Chico State she counted Zingg as a friend and mentor.

President Paul Zingg shared his thoughts on Gayle E. Hutchinson’s appointment. Photo credit: Ryan Corrall

“I’ve had the pleasure of supporting her for lots of things over the years, including a major national fellowship, educational leadership, and then supporting her for the deanship here in behavioral and social sciences, and then the provost at Channel Islands and now back here,” Zingg said. “About four years ago I said ‘Gayle, what you need to do is go away, be a successful provost and then come back as Chico State’s president.’”

Hutchinson is back, welcomed with all the excitement and enthusiasm of a returning hero. That said, she is becoming president at a turbulent time, when trust between the faculty and administration is at an all-time low. Negotiations for higher faculty salaries have failed, and the CFA is poised to go on strike on April 13. This will be the largest CSU strike in history. Despite the coming challenges, Hutchinson remains optimistic.

“Together, I want to work with everyone to unite the campus. I’m aware that there has been some concern about campus climate, and I want to really sit down with folks and unite campus, first and foremost,” Hutchinson said.

The question becomes: can she mend the rifts between administration and faculty members? Can she unite the campus and create a unified vision of Chico State? Her history with the university and her reputation may certainly set her up for a strong start.

“Gayle was my college dean here at Chico State for five years and developed a reputation for fairness and reasonableness,” said Micheal Coyle, an associate professor in the department of political science and the Chico State strike coordinator. “No doubt the $293,643 and 1K per month car allowance and 50K annual housing allowance represents the usual systemic social injustice that is highly problematic and entirely unacceptable. And we could have gotten some corporate fool or Chico outsider. We need to give her a fighting chance and work with her.”

With so many positive sentiments toward her, uniting Chico State seems like a more than reasonable goal for Hutchinson. The problem she will face is that as president she will still lack the authority and power to grant the faculty’s demands.

Furthermore, she will lack the autonomy to address their grievances with anything other than canned messages delivered to her from the board of trustees — who, being so far removed from Chico, lack the interpersonal understanding of the faculty’s concerns at Chico State.

“She has no choice. She reports to her boss, the board of trustees. Then, through the board of trustees to the chancellor. So the presidents are duty bound because of that to support that particular position,” Zingg said. “Now, obviously what we can do — and we do — is try to influence and argue for different approaches, or at least to try to get different awarenesses into the minds of the team that is actually doing the negotiating.”

There is danger in high expectations, and Hutchinson is approaching her new position with one hand tied behind her back. There is also hope. Hope that if the systematic problems that have led to the income disparity between faculty and administration are being masked by someone higher up the chain, that Hutchinson’s integrity will force her to blow the whistle.

Otherwise, the hope is that her voice will sway the team handling the collective bargaining process. One way or another, Hutchinson is being heralded as a champion of the people and expected to fulfill that role. Zingg offered his advice to Hutchinson as she moves into her new position:

“Two things: You’ll have to be the champion of the entire campus. You’re no longer the vice president for Student Affairs or Academic Affairs. You’re no longer the provost. You are now the president, and you have to really be visible, engaged and the champion of everybody. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Sometimes folks need to ease themselves into that understanding,” Zingg said. “And then secondly, you are instantly the face and the voice of the campus, for the community, for every external audience that exists.”

Zingg expressed his confidence in Hutchinson, in whatever situation she finds herself. He gave his assurances that Chico State is in good hands.

“The good news is Gayle is marvelous in any setting, and she is so honest, and people gravitate to her because of her positive energy and honesty that just flows from her enthusiasm,” Zingg said. “Again for the university primarily, but since she knows the community, the community as well. So she has all of the attributes that suggest she is going to do just fine.”

Eric Couderc McGuire can be reached at [email protected] or @ericcoudercmcg on Twitter.