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My View from South Hill

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Posted by Thomas Rochon at 2:26PM   |  Add a comment
Blaze on the green roof of the Park Center

Starting any new job can be daunting, but assuming the presidency of a college comes with its own distinct challenges. I didn’t want to walk into this job totally blind, so before I left my previous position as chief academic officer at the University of St. Thomas, I asked the university’s long-serving president, Father Dennis Dease, for a little presidential advice.

Father Dease told me to be ready for a significant increase in my sense of responsibility, with all that might entail, and he cited a fairly unnerving personal example. He had moved into the president’s house, across the street from campus, on the day before his presidency began. At five minutes past midnight, his eyes sprang open from a deep sleep and he realized that he was now in charge. If anything went wrong -- anything -- it would be his responsibility!  Suddenly very much awake, he ran to the window and looked across the street at the campus to be sure it was not on fire. Despite his fears, there was no blaze to be seen, and Father Dease was eventually able to get back to sleep.

My mentor’s luck was better than mine. My brand-new campus caught fire on July 2, one day after I became president.  An annual community fireworks display held on campus added a new kind of device this year, one that amounted to fireballs attached to parachutes.  That, combined with an unexpected shift in the wind, set fire to (among other things) the green roof on our brand new business building and a spectator’s car!  Not an auspicious start to a new presidency.

I have made a note to myself that my inauguration celebration, to be held next spring, will not include fireworks. Father Dease would approve.


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