Traffic Cop or Scholar, CSULB Chief Tackles Anything

Times Staff Writer

A Chaucerian scholar became a traffic cop for a couple of hours this week.

And why not? One night a couple of weeks ago, he emptied waste baskets with custodians. Soon, he hopes to clip hedges with the gardeners and replace fuses with the electricians. As if that isn’t enough, he also plans to teach a class on Chaucer.

Curtis L. McCray holds none of those jobs for more than a few hours at a stretch. The only title that sticks is president of Cal State Long Beach.

He has become the George Plimpton of university presidents. On the opening day of the semester last week, he dashed from unsnarling lines of cars to an information booth where he could help direct students to class.


McCray said his stint directing traffic--both vehicular and human--drew surprised reactions from students, faculty and staff.

“There were a couple of double takes,” the new president admitted with a grin.

One puzzled student asked, “Are you the president?” from his car window, McCray said.

McCray, 50, said he was pretty adept at telling students how to find buildings on campus. But he said he was baffled by such first-day problems as a student who appeared desperate for a quick meal and another who was in a panic to sign up for classes.


McCray’s man-of-the-people campaign comes in stark contrast to the more aloof posture of his predecessor, Stephen Horn, who resigned and ran an unsuccessful race for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 42nd District in June. The former president of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville says he has time to roam the campus and mop floors with the janitors because, “I really don’t think presidents do anything.”

So far, the new president’s personal diplomacy appears to be winning him friends. And he isn’t bad as a traffic cop either.

“I’m impressed with the man. Nobody ever made that effort,” said campus Police Chief Brian Flynn.