What Does Bro Do Anyway?
A former Colby president remembers a bright and earnest first-year student who showed up in the president's office on the third floor of Eustis during the first week of school. The young man made a lasting impression when he said, "I'd like to know more about what a college president does. And my first question is, is this a full-time job?"
By Gerry Boyle '78
| Photos by Fred Field
Published February 25, 2005
In my case, the process began with a brief discussion with Adams, who listened intently (he seems to have no other way) to the pitch and signed on. That led to a series of e-mails and phone calls from Adams's able administrative assistant and scheduler, Jackie Person, who sent along possible opportunities to see the president at work. The opportunities—days and weeks entirely blocked out by meetings, events, and travel—were continuous.
Here's one I accepted.
President Adams converses with Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson prior to Robinson's address on campus in November.
Illustration by Fred Field
Seven members of Colby's senior staff assemble in Adams's office in Eustis at 9 a.m. sharp on a Tuesday. The lighting is subdued; Adams sits in a wing chair, the others on chairs, on the couch. The incoming e-mail alert chimes on Adams's computer like something on a game show.
Adams and staff discuss an analysis of the latest U.S. News & World Report college rankings. Colby is 19th, where it generally hovers. Some staffers explain that some colleges have become very sophisticated about manipulating their data to try to boost rankings. "It ought to be the message to the trustees that we don't engage in silly games,— said Dean of Admissions Parker Beverage.
Adams concludes that if it continues to pay attention to its business, over time "a college gets the reputation it deserves.— The message: stay the course, and don't chase ratings.
From there the meeting moves to a report on the planned renovation of Cotter Union, the second phase of the repairs to the Miller Library tower, talk of a request from students who want to meet with trustees. "Who is asking?' Adams asks. A breakfast for trustees and students is scheduled in Dana.
Arnie Yasinski, administrative vice president and treasurer, reports on budget and finance. There is a surplus in the operating budget, he says. Adams wants to know "where the variances are.— Yasinski is bound for London the next week for negotiations relating to the closure of the London Center, part of the Colby-Bates-Bates consortium. Costs relate to terms of the lease, severance for employees. "You got a ballpark?— Adams asks. "You got a number in your head?— Yasinski does.
Discussion moves to possible trustee visits to other colleges, who would go where. Assignments are distributed. Adams reports that student leaders invited him to game night at the Blue Light Pub, which he attended and enjoyed. "The students were great,— he said. "I was bad at 'Taboo.'—
When Bill Cotter was asked how he spent his time as Colby president, he responded with a rough breakdown, complete with percentages of time devoted to each area.
President Adams poses for a photo with graduating class speaker Evan McGee '03
Faculty-related (hiring, relations, curriculum, promotion and tenure decisions) got 10 percent. Business with trustees and overseers (recruiting them, preparing for multiple meetings with them) got another 10 percent. Fund raising and alumni relations (meetings with individuals and foundations, travel) got 10-15 percent. The same amount of time was devoted to students (teaching a class, advising first-years, meeting with student leaders and individual students who call up and make an appointment). Slightly less time went to things like budget and personnel issues, committee chairing, capital campaign activities, and working on building projects. " . . .
[P]articipate in endless committee meetings until the building is occupied,— Cotter wrote.
". . . Had at least one project underway at all times.— And, he noted: the list "adds to slightly more than 100 percent.—
Having tagged along with Adams, I'm not surprised. In fact, there is a blurred quality to both my notes and my recollections that reflects the pace and variety of a college president's day, week, month.
A meeting about goings-on at the museum of art merges with Adams's matriculation address to the assembled Class of 2008. Before heading over to Lorimer Chapel, where the first-years were filing in two-by-two, like college students boarding the ark, Adams took 20 minutes to rehearse his speech privately in his office. In the talk, based on a single page of notes, he spoke of one of his favorite themes—civility, or the notion that we can discuss and disagree with mutual tolerance and respect. In the talk, Adams made a reference to the incivility of the presidential campaign. Afterwards, someone came up and complimented him on that, praising him for giving it to the Republicans. "I didn't mean it to sound partisan,— Adams said later, genuinely concerned. "Did you think it sounded partisan?—
It was a moment of hindsight in a flurry of days that seem to leave room for nothing but looking ahead. Addressing the faculty in Lovejoy 100. Mulling fund-raising strategies with development officers. Prepping for a reception for Tom Curley, president and CEO of The Associated Press. Discussing the fate of Waterville hospitals as a member of the MaineGeneral Medical Center board.