Friends in High Places

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Apparently the new trend in academic administration is for college presidents to try to be your buddies, or something. According to an article by Jenna Johnson and Daniel de Vise in the Washington Post:

A generation ago, it was typical for college presidents to be stuffy and hard-to-approach chief executives, the type who inspired the Dean Wormer character in “Animal House.”

Many of the barriers separating a college’s top-paid leaders from its tuition-paying students have disappeared in the past decade. E-mail, text messaging and social media give students unprecedented access to a chief executive, who can no longer hide behind a secretary and an office door. In an effort to be more cool, presidents across the United States are starring in YouTube videos, serving hot dogs, starting blogs, hosting parties and eating with the masses in dorms.

While some presidents’ efforts are impressive, most just seem a little, um, weird. When Tracy Fitzsimmons, the president of Shenandoah University, gave birth to twins a few years ago, she invited nursing students to watch the delivery. Students at Macalester College call their president B-Ro.

This whole presidents-becoming-cool-dudes trend is obviously sort of fake. A lot of academic administrators actually are “stuffy and hard-to-approach” chief executives. That’s how they got their jobs. College presidents are, almost by definition, not cool.

But for some reason students and their parents now expect academic chief administrators be kind of fun, or at least be occasionally informal. Another change is that many college presidents are baby-boomers who themselves went to college in the 1960s. These are precisely the sort of people who learned to distrust the trappings of authority.

This can only go so far, however. When in June a Princeton student attempted to “ice” the school’s president, 64-year-old molecular biologist Shirley Tilghman, the president refused. No, Tilghman would not be bending down on one knee and chugging a Smirnoff Ice, despite the clear rules of a game chiefly popular among male college students. She decided, apparently, that some things were more important than being cool. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer