Barry Munitz is cramming, like one of his 336,000 students the night before a final exam. It's 4 in the morning and the chancellor of the 23-campus California State University system sits on a still-made bed in a drab hotel room in east Texas, studying the future of higher education. If the 55-year-old Munitz has a credo, a single organizing principle, it is this: You can never, ever be too prepared. So here he sits amid piles of notes and quotes and statistics and reports, reading and rereading, committing details to his memory, getting ready for his day. * During the next 22 hours, Munitz--natty in navy blazer, paisley tie and striped shirt set off by monogrammed French cuffs--will give four speeches and race through three working meals, advising 200 college leaders how to make their institutions better. He will drive 120 miles and fly 400 more, from Houston to Oklahoma City, touching down just in time for yet another lengthy meeting about his favorite topic: How to make higher education more accountable to the public. * Throughout the day, he calls people by their first names and compliments them on their questions. He quotes poet William Butler Yeats, rock star Bob Seger and IBM chairman Lou Gerstner. Speaking without notes and unaccompanied by handlers, he is charming, even entertaining, and he never flags--staying alert, articulate, on message. * "I'm going to use words like 'manage' and 'consumer' and 'product' that strike terror into the hearts of academics," he warns his audiences. "There are dangerous things happening in higher education nationally, one of them being this growing disconnect between why people send us money and how we spend it. We need to be a model for closing that gap."
In both Texas and Oklahoma, Munitz is greeted as a celebrity. "A higher-education blueblood," one college president calls him, while the chancellor of Oklahoma's Board of Regents dubs Munitz "one of the handful of individuals who help shape the contours of higher education nationally." When his last meeting ends at 10 p.m., Munitz plops down on yet another hotel bed. He stays on the phone for the next four hours, returning two dozen calls to colleagues back home in California. Only at 2:30 a.m. does he doze--but with the lights on and fully clothed. He is up again at 5 a.m. for a conference call with education leaders in Washington.
Barry Munitz is not what anyone expects when they think of a college administrator. Instead of a bookish pallor, he has a bronze finish, interrupted only at the temples where his sunglasses block the rays. Instead of a tweedy jacket and a dignified timepiece, he wears colors--a dark-purple dress shirt one day, a cranberry turtleneck the next--and a huge $18 wristwatch. Instead of a sedan, he drives an eggplant-colored Camaro, license plate "CSU CEO."
His resume is similarly unconventional. For two years, he was a literature and drama professor at UC Berkeley. But he moved so swiftly into administration that he never got tenure and never served as a department head or a dean--jobs usually considered steppingstones to become a university president. Instead, he has something most educators don't: corporate experience and the wealth that comes with it. For the nine years before he came to Cal State in 1991, Munitz was a top executive at Maxxam Inc., a Fortune 200 holding company. When he took the $197,232-a-year chancellor's job, it meant more than a 50% cut in pay. Since becoming chancellor, he has donated the equivalent of two years' salary to the university.
Add to this Munitz's broad circle of friends. He's close to Leon E. Panetta--the departing White House chief of staff and possible contender for California governor in 1998--and chats occasionally with Bill Clinton himself. He's known former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley since they were both at Princeton, and if Gov. Pete Wilson hasn't checked in with Munitz recently, "he likes to know that one of [his staffers] has," says Joe Rodota, Wilson's point man on higher-education issues. "They really get along."
Munitz also stays in close touch with corporate and philanthropic leaders--developer Eli Broad, for example, and Harold Williams, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. And then there's Hollywood. There can't be many college administrators who were consulted whether "Fatal Attraction" needed a new ending. Paramount Studios head Sherry Lansing, among his closest confidantes, regularly seeks his advice. "There's nothing I wouldn't talk to him about," she says.