Help Wanted : 180 Nationwide Apply to Lead 1st New Cal State Campus in 20 Years

Times Staff Writer

It wasn't your typical help-wanted ad.

The job description called for someone who is visionary, creative, a leader, a team player, a salesman, a personnel administrator, a business manager, a financial planner, an effective communicator and an accomplished academician. Preference, as they say, will be given to those who can walk on water.

The ad ran once in a trade journal and, combined with a targeted direct mail campaign, helped generate 180 job applicants from throughout the United States. By June 13 one man or woman will be selected for the job that carries with it the title of president, San Marcos State University--on a campus in San Diego County that today is in the clearing stages from its previous existence as a chicken ranch.

On and around this person, a university will be built, the first new one in the California State University system in 20 years and, according to the American Assn. of State Colleges and Universities, the first one of its size and scope in 10 years in the United States.

After San Marcos, the next likely site for a Cal State campus is Ventura. Cal State trustees are expected to start condemnation proceedings on 465 acres on the Taylor Ranch near Ventura for a university center, which could be expanded into a full four-year campus.

That might be a long way down the road, but, if San Marcos's experience is indicative, competition for the president's job will be brisk.

50 Presidents Among Candidates

The names of the San Marcos candidates are not publicly disclosed, but among them are 50 current presidents of universities and colleges elsewhere. They come from private schools and public ones, including from the California State University system itself.

"It's the largest turnout, the largest showing of interest we've ever had for any of our presidencies," said Caesar Naples, vice chancellor for faculty and staff relations for the CSU system and the staff executive leading the search for the president.

"I'm impressed by the turnout but I'm not surprised," Naples said. "I can understand why almost anyone, from the East Coast to the West, north to south, large university or small, would be fascinated and captivated by the challenge of starting a new university. It would be the 20th campus in an outstanding public higher education system coupled with a wonderful location."

In addition to the ad that ran in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Naples sent letters about the San Marcos post to 1,400 college and university presidents and chancellors across the country, as well as 500-plus letters to heads of minority organizations involved in education, soliciting nominations for the job.

The 13-member search committee has since narrowed the list to 15 semifinalists based on the strength of their resumes and a reading of their one- and two-page cover letters.

Eleven of the 15 have already been personally interviewed by the search committee, which includes trustees, professors, alumni, a university staff employee and a student. The final four candidates will be interviewed May 24.

Field to Be Narrowed

After the interviews, the 15 will be narrowed to three to five finalists whose names will then become public and who will be taken to the San Marcos campus site early next month for further interviews and meetings with university and community leaders. During the same period, background checks will be conducted on their home campuses, where a more accurate picture of the candidate may develop.

Finally, on June 13, the finalists will be interviewed again by the full board of trustees in Long Beach.

University trustees are expected to make--and announce--their decision that same day.

There will be little negotiation between trustees and the applicant; starting salary will be about $106,000 a year, plus benefits.

"All 15 people we're interviewing now meet all the requirements. Obviously, they're different people with different strengths--some are stronger in one area than another," Naples said. "But we're in the fortunate position of not having to say, 'This particular person can't do X, but he does Y quite well.' In our situation, we have people who meet all the qualifications, and now it's a question of the fit, of who will be best for our needs.

'Finest Educators in Country'

"We're looking at the finest educators in the country," Naples said. "It's my job to be aware of all the presidential vacancies in the country, and to see who is available to fill them. I can tell you we're getting the lion's share of the best people in our search for San Marcos."

And who wouldn't want the job? An offer to go out and build a university is a once-in-a-career opportunity. Hire your deans. Recruit your core faculty. Design a curriculum. Attract the students. Build a marriage between campus and community. Create a reputation.

It would seem, then, that the best man or woman for the job is the trustees' for the picking.

Tom Day, president of San Diego State University, isn't so sure.

Day contends that the best person for the job will have to be convinced to take it. Anyone less cautious about stepping into the unknown should be viewed warily, he said.

"When you're looking for someone who is very good, as a general rule you're looking at someone who is doing well where he is, and who probably wants to stay there and is not desperate for a new job elsewhere," Day said.

'Don't Come Looking for You'

"You could post almost any job and get 100 to 150 candidates. There are groups of people who will apply for anything, and may not be qualified," he said. "When you're in private industry, when you look for a CEO, you usually have to persuade that person to come to you. They don't come looking for you.

"That shouldn't be any different with a university president," Day said. "The best people come from that small cadre who have to be persuaded they want your job more than they want their own."

Day was not asked to participate in the search for a president at San Marcos, although he might seem a logical choice, given that San Diego State planted the seed for the campus when it opened its North County Center in Vista in 1979 with 148 students.

Because of its success, and the population growth in the north county, the state Legislature agreed that a full-fledged university should be built, and the 300-acre site in San Marcos was purchased. The campus will open in the fall of 1992 with upper-division and graduate students, and in 1995 will open to freshmen and sophomores as well.

Opening Is 4th in 2 Years

The San Marcos presidency opening, Naples noted, is the fourth over the past two years within the CSU system, and through that repeated presidential search process his office has an extensive knowledge of who is, and isn't, on the job market.

Naples won't say whether the chancellor's office has attempted to recruit specific candidates for the presidency of San Marcos. But the office has done it in the past.

Day was a vice chancellor at the College Park campus of the University of Maryland when he took over as president of San Diego State in 1978. "I was perfectly happy there and wasn't looking around," he said. But a friend nominated him for the San Diego State presidency and he pursued it, partly because "I wanted to see San Diego. When it came to that stage of the interviews, I decided to fly out and look at the place."

Day said visiting the campus convinced him he wanted the job, because of "its spirit, the atmosphere, the campus life and a tremendous faculty that was very alive and interesting." Such sales points don't exist when trying to persuade a university executive to commit to a non-existent campus, he noted.

Being a founding president "is too chancy," Day said. It could be a very attractive job if you've got the state giving you money for buildings and operations and the chancellor's office is behind you and the board is behind you so when the inevitable foul-ups occur during the first few years, they don't turn from you.

"But it can be an absolute quagmire too," Day said. "The faculty can harass you if you don't hire this person or that. The funds can dry up."

Day said he is especially doubtful that the search committee will find a sitting president in his 50s who wants the job. "It's most unlikely that a really talented, good-working, sitting president of that age would want to start over again. You've already gotten the adulation of being called president. You won't get anything new in being president of a small, unknown institution that you haven't already gotten where you are. If an older president really wants it, I'd be worried about why."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
56°