For university presidents, the start of another academic year usually means lots of public appearances, photo ops and bonding with tuition-paying underclassmen.
“I feel like a politician campaigning for office,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh, standing outside the College Park student union on the first day of classes last week. “I've been shaking so many hands.”
Loh, who became president in November, said the back-to-school rush was an opportunity to meet some of the thousands of students he leads and show that “someone cares about them.”
With tuition higher than ever, many students and their hovering parents expect the president to be accessible and personable. Just a generation ago, these leaders could hide behind a closed office door and a secretary who books appointments. Today, the ear of the president is often just an angry e-mail, tweet or Facebook post away.
In the last few weeks, Loh has presided over a pep rally, bagged textbooks, attended receptions, greeted students on the first day of classes and posed for lots of photos, some of which popped up on Facebook.
Loh also participated it what is now practically a required presidential duty on most campuses: Help freshmen move into the dorms.
I’m having difficulty finding a president who did not partake in this ritual in some way. After all, nothing says, “Hey, I’m not a scary figurehead, I’m your president,” quite like a smiling baby boomer in a brightly-colored T-shirt who is willing to haul your television up four flights of stairs in the August heat. What parent is going to grumble about student fee increases with that sort of service?
At the University of Kentucky, President Eli Capilouto joined star football players in helping regular students get situated.
At the University of Pennsylvania, President Amy Gutmann visited the dorms and met new students and their families.
At George Washington University, President Steven Knapp and his wife helped students haul their stuff into the dorms, along with the provost and dean of students.
And at Catholic University, President John Garvey took the physical aspect of move-in one step farther. Not only did he volunteer as a mover, Garvey also organized a game of knock-out with students on a new outdoor basketball court.
Garvey made it through a few rounds but was knocked out by a senior from Florida. A senior politics major from Pennsylvania eventually won the tournament.
His prize: an iPad2. Oh, and a photo with the president.
Make sure to check out our photo gallery of presidents welcoming students to campus. Do you have a photo from a presidential appearance on campus? You can upload pics to the gallery by logging into the Web site.