Dr. Robert Zeigler’s retirement announcement evoked feelings of sadness, nostalgia and appreciation among faculty.
By Mandy Derfler, Neven Jones and Cassandra Rodriguez
President Robert Zeigler’s announcement today that he will retire after this semester was met with a loud and disappointed “aw” across a packed auditorium.
“I’m going to retire and enjoy doing something else for a while,” Zeigler said at the end of faculty and staff convocation in McAllister Fine Arts Center, adding his wife retired a couple years ago and he would like to spend time with her.
“I don’t know how much of that enjoyment is reciprocated, but we’ll find out,” he joked. “You may see me back!”
For several years, faculty and staff speculated on the 75-year-old Zeigler’s stamina, leading the Alamo Colleges’ largest college through tumultuous change.
Among them, the advent of the “culture of evidence”; rebranding of five unique colleges into one image; responsibility for Northeast Lakeview College as it struggles through accreditation; streamlining and centralizing of student services, such as advising, refunds and transcripts, and all the attendant errors and occasional embarrassment; a mass exodus in response to early retirement incentives; and the loss of a great deal of the college’s autonomy.
Zeigler’s announcement evoked a thundering 37-second standing ovation.
Employees gathered in small groups discussing the morning’s announcement and caught up after the winter break.
“It’s a surprise,” English Professor Liz Ann Báez Aguilar said. “I didn’t expect to hear him announce that he’s retiring this soon. I thought he would still be with us for several more years.”
What she will miss most about him, Aguilar said, is “his leadership and his giving of himself to others, making time out of his busy schedule to listen to others.”
Zeigler’s out-of-the-box approach will be something Jo Hilton, interpreting services manager, will miss. She said his level of support is unique in comparison to experiences in other colleges.
Psychology Professor Joseph Sullivan said Zeigler is one of the best presidents this college has had and it is sad to see him go. He hopes this college’s next president is personal and in touch with students as Zeigler is.
“He is an in-touch type of leader that we are going to miss,” Sullivan said.
Huddled together toward the back of the auditorium, five employees weighed in on Zeigler’s announcement.
“It’s really sad,” Usha Venkat, director of information technology, said. “I truly enjoyed working under Dr. Zeigler’s leadership.”
She added, “I am anxious about changes.”
Venkat hopes Zeigler’s shared governance leadership style continues with the new president “where people’s input is valued.”
English Professor Jane Focht-Hansen said she has worked with Zeigler since she started as a television tech in 1981. He was coordinator of telecourses at the time.
She said she was initially nervous to work with a “faculty suit,” but soon came to realize he was at this college for the same reason she was: to make sure students had their best advantage.
American Sign Language Professor Tom Cox agreed with Venkat’s views on shared governance, adding Zeigler has been a “great leader” for the college.
Zeigler hired Cox, whom he met at Texas Tech. “It’s going to be hard to see him go,” he said.
Mona Aldana-Ramirez, director of retention support services, said Zeigler’s leadership influence is embedded in this college.
“I think you’ll find his legacy in every corner,” she said.
As theater staff shooed loiterers out of the aisles, history Professor Jon Lee said, “It was nice to have one of us at Fletcher,” referring to Zeigler’s years as a history professor from 1971-1993. “It was nice to have him there when needed.”
From offices and classrooms across the college, other faculty and staff members echoed the sentiments.
“He was very supportive of faculty,” a quality Susan Paddock, math and computer science professor, said she will miss about Zeigler.
Paddock was impressed with the accessibility Zeigler gave students with open forums and weekly guest spots on the college’s student-run radio station, KSYM 90.1 FM.
She said she hopes the next president has the same commitment to maintaining the excellence of education this college provides.
Journalism Adjunct Jerry Townsend said he felt Zeigler didn’t make adjunct faculty a “front-burner topic” as the district pushes for a larger number of adjunct-taught sections
Townsend, who retired from full-time teaching journalism, returned and reinvigorated the college’s Adjunct Faculty Council. He said he would like to see a new president put an adjunct representative among top executives in the college.
“I believe pretty strongly that the support for adjuncts among top administration has not been as strong since the departure of Dr. Jessica Howard,” he said.
Howard served as a vice president with varying versions of the title 2008-2012 and left this college to become president of the Southeast Campus of Portland Community College.
Despite this, Townsend said Zeigler’s policy of inclusion has created positive developments for adjunct faculty.
He said before the policy, inclusion “had not been expressly stated or practiced.” Now adjuncts are involved in social and professional faculty events, including a spot on stage at graduation.
Townsend said Zeigler has done the same campuswide for students, faculty and staff.
“There’s a very inclusive sort of spirit here,” he said. “There’s never a sense of top down and that helps adjuncts for sure.”
Zeigler’s legacy at this college is “his total commitment to this school,” real estate Professor Johnnie Rosenauer said, adding Zeigler has been a great mentor and a supportive and encouraging leader.
“I didn’t expect it,” English Professor Alex Bernal said. “If he thinks it’s time, I guess it’s time, and the rest of us can’t be so selfish to say ‘why don’t you stay?’”
Bernal sees Zeigler as someone who loves this college.
“He was strongly affiliated with SAC, and he always tried to do what was best for SAC. He was very visionary; he was also able to work well with many diverse groups,” Bernal said. “He brought compromise when compromise was possible. He always compromised in good faith with faculty and with the district.”
While English chair, Bernal said he would tell an instructor wanting to retire to think about the decision for a couple of weeks before committing.
“I would have hoped that the board and the chancellor would have said, ‘Think about it, Bob. You’re an effective president. Think about it. Are you sure?’” Bernal said.