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Head Cheerleader : CSU San Marcos’ First President Appears to Have Majored in Enthusiasm

Times Staff Writer

You spend a day with Bill Stacy and you get the feeling that starting a new university can’t be all that tough. Stacy kind of gee-whizzes his way through the challenge like a kid at the beach building a sandcastle. There are a few frustrations along the way, but on balance, gosh, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

“Wow, that’s just great. Fantastic,” he proclaims after getting an update from architects on what the first phase of the new state university campus at San Marcos will look like.

“Dag-gum” is his response to bad news, such as when he got word that a renowned Latino professor he had lobbied especially hard was unwilling to leave El Paso for San Marcos. “That really puts me in a bad mood.”

But it doesn’t show, and an hour later he’s head cheerleader while taping an interview for a Sunday morning KNSD-TV (Channel 39) newscast. Yep, this will be a world-class institution. Yep, he’s confident he’ll win the legislative support he needs to bankroll higher education in North County.

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In no time at all, he says, his San Marcos campus will have a role to play on the Pacific Rim. Yes, this will be a high-tech campus for the 21st Century, but it will be steeped in the basic values of old-fashioned teaching, so his students will be able to “read, write and cipher.”

More Victories Than Losses

Throughout the day, Stacy shows he has cut his ties as president of a state university in Missouri where he had spent virtually all of his career and that now, as founding president of California State University, San Marcos, he has become North County’s newest booster.

By 10 p.m. on this particular Friday, the 51-year-old Stacy is headed home to San Marcos for a late dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes and tomato dumplings, confident that he has chalked up more victories than losses over the past 13 hours.

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- He wooed a black English professor from California State University, Bakersfield, to be one of his 12 core faculty members, and, although the man and his wife will make a return visit to San Marcos before they reach a decision, Stacy thinks he’s won him over.

- He submitted his nominations for members of the accreditation team sponsored by the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, which will give its stamp of approval to the university’s academic plan, and is delighted by the other names on the list.

- He lunched with the San Marcos schools superintendent, combining shop talk with golf talk, and got himself invited to a meeting of superintendents from throughout the county so he can make still more contacts.

- He met a retired San Marcos businessman who offered to be a sort of trouble-shooter for Stacy, gratis, as a professional courtesy, so that the new man in town won’t step on any land mines. Stacy accepted. Then they shared assessments of San Marcos Mayor Lee Thibadeau. The businessman is skeptical of the mayor. “I like him,”

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Stacy countered. “If a man keeps everything right here"--Stacy puts his hands to his chest--"and doesn’t risk anything, he won’t get anywhere.”

- His secretary, who came from a temporary employment agency, announced at 5 p.m. as she was walking out the door that she wouldn’t be back. She quit over a personality clash with another worker in the small office, and Stacy said he can hardly wait to hire his own permanent, hand-picked staff.

Here is a man who is trying to create California’s 20th state university--and the first new one in more than 20 years--and, dag-gummit, his temporary secretary quits in a huff.

Well, it’s the weekend. He’ll mow the grass and play tourist--how about those art festivals in Laguna Beach?--and get back to the sandcastle on Monday.

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Stacy’s credentials for the job are by now well-chronicled. He was chosen from 187 candidates for the presidency of Cal State San Marcos. He spent the past 10 years as president of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, where his praises were sung as a man for all seasons.

Stacy decided it was time for change, a new challenge. He was asked by CSU trustees to show up in San Marcos by the end of July. He came at the end of June, and set up his office: the pictures of his grandchildren, the color photograph of him shaking President Reagan’s hand and the half-size bust of Harry S. Truman with the inscription “The Buck Stops Here.”

“The excitement to start was greater than the nostalgia to stay at Cape Girardeau any longer,” Stacy said. “That campus is 130 years old and there’s still a lot to do there. No one ever gets the job done. Even after 130 years, there were still things to do, new buildings to construct.

A Psychic Reward

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“And no one will be able to do all that’s needed to do here in just 5 or 10 or 20 years. But there’s a psychic reward in being at the beginning of something, and I was anxious to start.”

The local reception for Stacy was guarded and dubious at first, but community leaders are warming up to him. The first weekend Stacy spent in San Marcos--house hunting--there wasn’t so much as a cocktail reception or back-yard barbecue for him. Stacy shrugs it off, no thought of being insulted. Since then he has met with some of the skeptics, “and I’m feeling real good about everybody I’ve met,” he announces.

House hunting was reality’s slap in the face for Stacy and foretold the problem he would have in recruiting faculty to his campus--especially those who might come from the Midwest, where housing prices are significantly lower.

“I asked the Realtor to show me what I could get for $100,000.” He laughs now at what he was shown. “They wouldn’t do,” he understated. He ended up buying a 2,800-square-foot, 6-year-old home in San Marcos for $330,000--a home that will lend itself nicely to entertaining. Stacy will make about $105,000 a year as president of CSU San Marcos.

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He and his wife of two months, Sue, moved in two weeks ago--after the interior was repainted and new carpets were laid. The movers somehow misplaced the four 8-foot-tall posts of his king-size bed, but the Japanese screen and other mementos of travels to the Far East came through unscathed.

Next, Stacy went about hiring his initial staff. Richard Rush, who was the dean of San Diego State University’s North County center--the genesis of the San Marcos university--was hired by Stacy as his executive vice president.

Overseeing Design

Al Amado, who was associate vice president for physical planning and development for the new campus while on the payroll of SDSU, joined the payroll of the new university so he can continue to oversee the campus’ design and construction.

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Stacy’s third hire was Suzanne Green, on a year’s loan from Cal State Hayward to serve as the new university’s chief budget officer.

Stacy is recruiting his first dozen faculty members--he refers to them as some of the nation’s scholastic stars--who will spend a year discussing, debating and developing the university’s curriculum plans. Nearly 1,300 professors from around the nation applied for the posts, and the ones Stacy is choosing come from places such as Stanford, Pomona, the University of Illinois at Chicago and UC Irvine.

The reputable makeup of this so-called “core” faculty, and the results of their decisions around Stacy’s conference table, will go far in recruiting rank-and-file professors in the months and years ahead.

Stacy hopes by year’s end to have installed a staff of 40, ranging from a business manager and purchasing agent to the core faculty, from executive assistants and secretaries to an admissions staff. Next spring and summer, he will hire more professors; in 13 months, CSU San Marcos will enroll its first students: juniors and graduate students, but no seniors since the campus will not be able to offer bachelor’s degrees in time for their graduations. Students will attend classes in temporary classrooms in a business office complex alongside California 78, near a discount furniture showroom.

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In 1991-92, the school will be open to juniors and seniors; the first diplomas will be handed out in the spring of 1992.

From Egg Ranch to Italy

Construction of the campus’ first five buildings will begin early next year at the southern end of Twin Oaks Valley Road, and are scheduled to be ready for occupancy in the fall of 1992. The construction budget for that first phase is $47.5 million.

The campus will sit on 300 acres once used as a chicken-egg ranch and which architects will transform--to use their words--into something akin to an Italian hillside town: a compact, sloped campus friendlier to pedestrians than bicyclists, with simple buildings of concrete and stucco highlighted with arches and towers.

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On this day, Stacy gets a two-hour briefing on the campus construction, and he is delighted by what he sees: a student and faculty dining facility flowing out into outdoor gardens, an entry road lined by 400 trees that will one day tower 50 feet, lecture halls equipped with fiber-optics to take advantage of technology to come.

“This is magnificent, gentlemen, just magnificent,” Stacy says after the briefing. “Golly, this is going to be terrific.”

He likes Amado’s suggestion that 40 acres on campus that won’t be developed for 10 years be leased to flower growers, to add a splash of color to the campus’ gateway and provide some income as well. Lawyers will have to look into it, he says.

“We’ve got to make this campus a showplace,” Stacy exhorts. “This is the only place in America where this is happening--a new university being built. We want to make a statement.”

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Stacy is trying to figure out a way to hire the spouse of a core faculty candidate who says he can take the job only if his wife, herself a tenured professor, can get a job in San Diego County. Stacy can’t hire her as a core faculty member, but offers her a job as his assistant for faculty affairs. If she accepts, she’ll get the salary that was supposed to go, ambiguously, to a “campus planner.”

He hasn’t heard yet whether she accepted the offer.

He’s had successes in his recruiting efforts, and some disappointments--such as the esteemed business professor from USC who accepted Stacy’s job offer, then reneged when USC offered him a $40,000 bonus to stay in Los Angeles.

Stacy was the first in his family to go to college.

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He grew up in eastern Tennessee, the middle of three sons of farming parents.

“We were poor, but we never knew it,” he said. “I’d get jealous, hearing the kids at school talk about how they had cornflakes for breakfast, because all I was getting was bacon, ham, biscuits, gravy and fried chicken.”

His father died in 1941, and his mother and the boys moved to Jefferson City, Mo., where an uncle had bequeathed them a 240-acre farm. The land was not arable, however, and the family moved into town.

Stacy graduated from high school with good grades and was accomplished as a football and basketball player. He was courted by coaches from both sports. He selected Southeast Missouri State University and, figuring he’d gain weight to add to his lanky frame, chose football.

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He grew by half an inch to 6-foot-2 1/2, but didn’t add a pound. He was an all-conference offensive end on the football team and was its most improved player--"meaning I improved from being lousy to being OK.”

Role Models Were Teachers

In college, an English professor ignited Stacy’s passion for learning. “He sparked my intellectual curiosity. He lived a life of scholarship. Those are the kinds of people I want at this university.”

Stacy’s role models were teachers, so Stacy chose education as his career. He got a teaching credential, specializing in physical education and speech communications. “I wanted to give back to education all that it had given me,” he said.

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Stacy, adding to his academic pedigree with a master’s degree in education and a Ph.D. in speech, rose through the ranks, from high school English teacher to college professor at Southern Illinois University, before returning to his alma mater, Southeast Missouri, where he taught, was elevated to assistant to the university president, became dean of graduate studies and eventually assumed the presidency in 1979.

As Stacy’s career advanced, so grew his confidence.

“I don’t have any fears here,” he says of the challenge to build a university. “I like the fellow who said: ‘I didn’t lose the ballgame. I just ran out of innings.’ We’ve got lots of innings to play in San Marcos.

“I do have concerns, though. My primary concern is that we succeed in meshing a great faculty with the community’s desires for the university. The average person, I think, is a whole lot smarter than the world gives him credit for being. I want to be in tune with the community every step of the way, so we can enhance their technology, train their manpower and develop people who can penetrate the dimensions of humanness--people who have a sense of values and aesthetics.

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Bumps on Logs Need Not Apply

“We don’t want students who are going to sit like bumps on a log and say, ‘Pour education down my throat, I dare you.’ And we don’t want faculty who think students are a bother while they go about their professional life. I want a librarian who is more excited about being immersed in ideas than in having all the books on a shelf.”

Stacy assumes the university will offer programs in science, engineering, computer science, teaching, business, nursing and gerontology.

“Now we have to look at what areas we can specialize in--areas of curriculum that are not offered at other schools in the region, or are offered and are so popular that more need to be offered. Maybe we’ll get into nautical engineering. Maybe we’ll provide opera workshops. We’ll look hard at offering a program in cross-cultural education, or in scientific writing.

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“Every school gets into a (curriculum) rut. We don’t have one yet, but as soon as we get our faculty, it will start to put its foot down, and we’ll start getting in a rut. We don’t want to put our feet down too hard at first. An academic program should always be under construction.

“We won’t look for what’s customary and ordinary in education. We’re going to look at what’s on the frontier. We’ll ask the core faculty: ‘What did you come here to escape from? What did you do best, and what flaws did you identify at your old school that we can avoid here?’ We’ve got the opportunity to do the best that can be done in education.”

Stacy is having lunch with Mac Bernd, superintendent of the San Marcos Unified School District. They discuss how California has more rules, regulations and guidelines on education than Stacy encountered in Missouri.

“I’ve got nine black notebooks on a shelf filled with rules and regulations,” Stacy said. “I suppose it behooves me to sit down and read them, but I haven’t yet. So I guess I’ll just have fun like crazy until they catch me.”

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An hour later, Stacy is recruiting Solomon Iyasere, a distinguished Cal State Bakersfield English professor, to join the core faculty group. He’s pitching the weather. The homes. The ocean-front dining. The rural ambiance.

He takes Iyasere by his home and shows him the spa in the back yard. “This is where we’ll come,” he laughs, “when we get tired of sitting around the conference table.”

He makes Iyasere feel he’d be dag-gum lucky to come to San Diego County and to mix it up with 11 equally qualified professors as they build a university together. Stacy names some of the other charter faculty members, and Iyasere nods knowingly. “I’m very honored,” Iyasere offers. “I share your enthusiasm. It sounds like a distinguished group.” Stacy has the sure-shot response: “Well, I’m trying to get people around that table who are way better than I am.”

Then Stacy drives Iyasere to the campus site, distinguished now only by its weeds and preliminary rock removal, and bordered by a barbed-wire fence and no-trespassing signs.

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“Isn’t that a glorious sight?” Stacy says excitedly, like the first kid on the beach on a bright sunny morning with visions of sandcastles to be made. “There’s nothing there yet! We get to build it!”


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