David Chicoine moves in, gets down to business with the budget

Jeremy Fugleberg

Jeremy Fugleberg

The bare office walls and a desk covered in neat stacks of paper told the story: there’s a new SDSU president in town.

The emptiness stands in stark contrast to the office of former Pres. Peggy Miller, which was filled with paintings, photos and mementos. A week into his presidency, one has to ask: where are the David Chicoine’s doo-dads?

“I haven’t had time,” he said. “Knick-knacks aren’t my thing anyway.”

He’s not kidding about his lack of time. Since the early morning of his first day at work, when he enjoyed an early cup of coffee in his new but empty home at Woodbine Cottage, Chicoine’s days have been packed solid.

Meetings with his advisory group. Remarks in front of a corn-growers group. An appearance at a Sioux Falls reception. And that’s just the first week. Up next? Prepping for the annual legislative presentation of the university’s budget.

But he’s got help.

“They’re going to train me,” he said, smiling. “But I look forward to that.”

A glutton for punishment? Not necessarily. An economist by training, Chicoine is no slouch when it comes to the numbers game. Born on an Elk Point farm and, along with his wife, a graduate from SDSU, Chicoine has focused on the tie between economic growth, farming and public policy.

He worked closely with the Illinois university system and the state government to craft new ideas on how to turn brainstormed ideas into moneymakers.

He’s been an administrator – most recently in a six-month stint as the interim vice president for academic affairs for the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Before that, he worked as a dean and as a department head.

Robert Easter now holds Chicoine’s old job as the dean of the agricultural, consumer and environmental sciences, and worked under him at several levels. It gave him a good look at how Chicoine works inside the system.

“His management style is to help you with resources and largely stay out of the way. He doesn’t micro-manage,” Easter said.

Chicoine dismissed out of hand speculation that he plans to combine any colleges, saying that he hasn’t even thought about it. And he said it’s far too early to discuss any staff shakeups.

“So far it’s just great. Great people,” he said, with a chuckle. “I don’t know enough about them to know that they’re exactly perfect, but so far it’s been pretty good.”

Chicoine said he wants to make sure he has good people in key positions, and then let those people do what they do best.

That willingness to let others run the ship is especially important since Chicoine said at least half of his time will be spent away from the office. His target? A big push to raise money from the four key sources: philanthropists, state funding, corporate relations and money from tuition and fees. To fund South Dakota’s flagship university, it’s going to take some work.

“You’ve got to keep pushing on that pedal as hard as you can,” he said.

That kind of push requires a special kind of mind – one that can promote a university without selling its soul. At the University of Illinois, Easter said he’s already feeling the loss of Chicoine’s insight.

“I miss him, in the sense that he has incredible insights politically in terms of seeing how interest groups form around a topic and seeing the right approach to helping them find a problem,” he said.

That keen political view might be critical in his relationship with the South Dakota Board of Regents and the state’s other public universities. “Creative tension” doesn’t have to be a bad thing, he said.

With so much of Chicoine’s time spent away from campus, access to him will no doubt be at a premium. Students should take comfort from how Chicoine worked with the students at the University of Illinois.

“He seemed very willing to listen to student ideas. You really did get the sense he was listening to you,” said Ryan Ruzic, the University of Illinois’ student body president for the last two years.

He noted that Chicoine’s job didn’t require a lot of contact with students, but “there weren’t any students that really hated him. At the same time he was never really the student’s favorite,” he said.

Along with the fundraising, Chicoine’s know-how dovetails with SDSU’s plans for expanded research and high-tech economic development.

Easter said Chicoine has a knack for turning raw ideas into economic gold.

“David always seemed to be the person who had ideas about how to make that happen,” he said.

There’s no doubt Chicoine’s days will be full. But for the newly-minted president these are days full of rewarding challenges.

“Every day I do something unique and different that I’ve not done before, and that’s exciting,” he said.

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