Gary Rotstein's The Morning File: University needs a new prez? Think outside the box

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OK, 0-for-2 now in this guy's quest to become a major local university president, with one chance left.

Pitt went with some federal government guy who has no more experience running an institution of higher education than I do, which is a baffling sign of disrespect to a local resident.

Just as confounding, Penn State today will evidently approve a fellow who's been in charge of some college in Florida. Good luck with that -- he will over-react to Happy Valley's tough winters and shut the school down for a snow day every time there's more than 2 inches on the ground.

That leaves all my academic eggs in the West Virginia University basket. It's admittedly the least prestigious of the three, but it's a nice coincidence that the school colors are blue and gold -- I'm one of the few men who looks good in gold, and I a tad optimistically took advantage of the Men's Wearhouse buy-one-gold-suit-get-three-free sale since Pitt has the same colors.

A lot of candidates for such positions don't like their applications becoming public knowledge, as they're worried their present employers will be miffed that they want to leave. It also makes them look like losers when they're rejected.

No such concerns here -- in fact, I boasted to the search committees that I had good experience at handling public humiliation, figuring that would help since university presidents always seem to end up as part of some scandal, unless they're named Mark Nordenberg (but let's not count him out, with five months yet to go).

As even fuller disclosure, here are partial transcripts from my appearances before the search committees:

Q: What makes you qualified to be a university president?

A: I've got three kids in college now, so no one understands more about the nightmare of sorting through FAFSA applications, meal plan options, the parking on move-in day and getting your children to order used textbooks in advance instead of paying for new ones at the last minute.

Q: What would you do about tuition?

A: Make it voluntary -- the churches seem to survive fine on that formula.

Q: What about rampant drug and alcohol use among students?

A: Not in class -- never, ever, ever.

Q: Do you think the academic side of the university should rule the athletic program, or the other way around?

A: Could you clarify something for me before I answer -- what all is stocked in the refrigerator in the president's luxury box at the football stadium?

Q: How would you build the university's endowment beyond the bejillions of dollars we already have?

A: There is nothing I like better than wining and dining lonely, rich widows. I have memorized every episode of "Golden Girls."

Q: A lot of universities are upgrading their dormitories these days to make them more like swanky apartments. Do you approve?

A: They were like prison cells when I was in school, so why should anyone else have it any better? These soft kids today really singe my drawers. I would bring back corporal punishment, too.

Q: What?

A: Oh, wait, sorry, that's part of my platform for the school superintendent's position I'm interviewing for tomorrow.

Q: We here at Pitt are being pressured by the city to contribute to the city's budget. How would you handle that?

A: I'd tell them to drop the pressure or I'll move Pitt to a city in need of a major research institution that would better appreciate us, such as Buffalo. That ploy always seems to work well for the sports teams.

Q: We here at WVU are wondering if we made the right move relocating to the Big 12 Conference and traveling to Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas all the time to play against schools there. What would you do about that?

A: I would revamp the geography department from top to bottom to get better advice about that than you did the first time.

Q: We here at Penn State need a wide receiver with good speed and big hands. Would you be able to help out?

A: I'll certainly give it my best shot, if someone would just let me know how much you're willing to pay your student athletes here.

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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