U prez finalists talk toilet paper

You’ve got to love those people on the Board of Regents. First they schedule the presidential candidate public forums for finals week, when most of us will be too busy or crazed to attend. Now we find out none of the regent-candidate interviews will be open to the public, as they have been in the past.
It’s pretty ingenious, really. There’s an Open Meeting Law that says regents can’t get together and conduct business without letting the public and press in on it, unless it’s to discuss litigation or a specific personnel problem. The presidential candidate interviews don’t fall within these exceptions.
But if only a few regents get together, they can claim it’s not an official meeting, so it doesn’t have to be public. And that’s what they’re doing in this case. Groups of three regents will meet behind closed doors with the individual candidates.
Regent Bryan Neel, vice chairman of the board, said they need the small group meetings because in larger settings a few people dominate and not everyone gets to ask the questions they want.
First of all, that doesn’t explain why the smaller interviews can’t be public. Second, are the regents mature adults or a bunch of kindergarteners? Can’t they just take turns asking questions in a dignified, fair way? Come on! What are they going to say to these people that they can’t say in front of us?
Anyway, in hopes of learning more about the three candidates, I faxed them a list of questions about things that probably (hopefully) haven’t been addressed in most news stories. Nothing at all serious, but their candor or lack thereof, I figured, would give us a clue to their personalities.
William V. Muse, president of Auburn University in Alabama, was kind enough to fax his answers back the next day. In fact, when I called his office to verify the fax’s origin, I found out from his secretary that Muse handwrote the answers himself.
Mark Yudof’s administrative assistant, Stephanie Cox, originally called me to say the provost at the University of Texas at Austin was “going to stick to the regents’ agenda and not answer any reporters’ questions.” That wasn’t too unexpected, as he hasn’t done any interviews. But then she called back saying Yudof had changed his mind and she gave me the answers.
Judith Ramaley, president of Portland State University, did not respond. Her secretary, Marg Lyseng, told me Ramaley “doesn’t think it’s appropriate” to answer questions prior to visiting the campus next week. Oh, for God’s sake, it’s not like I’m stealing the regents’ thunder; I kind of doubt any of these questions are on their list.
It should be noted that Ramaley is also on a short list of presidential candidates at the University of Vermont and was expected to be there Wednesday doing interviews. Heck, with a busy schedule like that, it’s no wonder she couldn’t take five minutes to respond to my silly questions. Incidentally, in my never-ending quest to be fair, I did call Ramaley’s office and left a message that Muse and Yudof had responded, but to no avail.
In any case, here are the questions and the responses of Muse and Yudof.
1. Do you have any nicknames that students can call you to make the comradery between president and student stronger? If not, do you have any suggestions for nicknames?
Muse: Folks call me “Bill,” but you can call me anytime.
Yudof: no answer.
2. How would you decorate your office? Formal furniture? Bean bag chairs? An aquarium?
Muse: Early Fargo.
Yudof: Comfortable furniture in an inviting environment.
3. What’s your policy on toilet paper? Do you support the current situation at the University in which only a few sheets are dispensed at one time, or do you think we should have better access to toilet paper?
Muse: Neither man nor woman can live by bread alone; they must have toilet paper.
Yudof: I’m undecided. There’s no way to paper over my decisional paralysis.
4. If an Institute of Technology professor and a College of Liberal Arts professor were both drowning, who would you try to save first?
Muse: It would depend on how cold the water was.
Yudof: The most effective teacher and scholar.
5. What’s your policy on tunnels? As you know, Minnesota is a chilly place and many students wish there was a warmer way to get from one class to another. What are your ideas?
Muse: I believe in tunnels, skywalks (including Luke), and/or any other way to stay out of the cold.
Yudof: I’m pro-tunnel. Consideration of a domed campus — first in the nation.
6. If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?
Muse: Either a Gopher or a Tiger. (Auburn’s mascot is a Tiger.)
Yudof: Penguin; it uses wings for swimming akin to the plight of academic administrators.
7. What’s your favorite color?
Muse: Pistachio.
Yudof: Green.
8. Who’s your favorite author? Why?
Muse: Willie Morris; he understands the importance of a “Sense of Place.”
Yudof: John Updike, Patrick O’Brien, Joan Didion and Mark Twain.
9. What kind of car do you drive? What color is it? What kind of station is the radio tuned to?
Muse: Buick; Blue; Country-Western when I’m driving alone, classical when my wife is in the car.
Yudof: 1992 Buick; Black; Oldies station.
10. If a genie granted you three wishes, what would they be?
Muse: A) To be there when I’m needed. B) To fulfill my potential. C) To make a difference.
Yudof: no answer.

And there you have it.
I, for one, am thoroughly impressed that they both took the time to answer and that they risked looking goofy in the paper. Never knock the importance of a good sense of humor.
As for the timing of candidate interviews, Neel said he never made the connection between the public forums and finals week.
“I can promise you it wasn’t deliberate,” he said.
He pointed out that we do have a student regent and that as far as he knew, she hadn’t voiced any concerns. Good point.
When I then talked to Regent Jessica Phillips, a student at the Morris campus, she said she hadn’t realized at first that the interviews coincided with finals. She did, however, have to reschedule her finals in order to come here for the interviews.
“I guess I’m aware that that’s a concern,” she said. “But it was not brought to my attention until recently. I am hoping students can still find a way to get involved in the process.”
Matt Musel, former president of the Minnesota Student Association and now the lone student on the 11-member presidential search committee, said the timing of the interviews wasn’t great, but they had no choice.
“It’s better than a week after finals, but it’s not as good as a week before,” he said, explaining that board chairman Thomas Reagan and Regent Hyon Kim were in Korea this week on a University goodwill mission. And, he said, if they waited until next month, another school might hire one of the candidates before we could offer him or her a job. This is, actually, a pretty good point.
So, if you’re interested in talking with the three candidates at Coffman Union next week, Ramaley will be there on Monday, Muse on Tuesday and Yudof on Wednesday. The forums will begin at 11 a.m in the Great Hall and last for an hour. You can also call the regents office at 625-6300 for more information — but don’t hold your breath.
— Kris Henry’s column appears in the Daily every Thursday. Her e-mail address is [email protected]