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College presidents taste life outside their offices
"I was worried that he was going to get pushed or trampled," said organizer Kyle Boyer, who graduated in May. "I was very skeptical about it, but he really, unprompted, took a very active role in the snowball fight. He really pumped people up."
The student newspaper commended Knapp for attending. A commenter on a Georgetown student blog wrote: "Steven Knapp sounds like an awesome guy. Would [Georgetown President John J.] DeGioia ever condescend to come to a snowball fight?"
"Students expect a kind of face-to-face interaction that wasn't around when I was an undergraduate," said Knapp, who attended Yale in the 1970s and rarely saw the university president. "There is this expectation that you will always be out there and always be available."
Said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, an association representing presidents: "If you wanted to speak to your college president a generation ago, you either waited for them to come out to their car at night, or you made an appointment and you saw them a week later."
The gestures that win students' hearts don't have to be grand, usually just genuine and unscripted, several presidents said.
Edward Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, deejayed at his 2008 inauguration party. Wesleyan University President Michael Roth played piano at an open-mic night.
President David Hodge of Miami University in Ohio formed an intramural broomball team.
University of California President Mark Yudof tweets several times a day, usually about higher education, but occasionally about celebrity deaths and parking problems.
Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons allowed nursing students to watch the birth of her twins.
Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow serves hot chocolate to students sledding down the president's lawn. He also offers to meet with every student treated for alcohol poisoning, since an undergraduate was found passed out on that lawn.
At Macalester College in Minnesota, students call President Brian C. Rosenberg "B-Ro." He isn't sure how it started, but he went with it. He also agreed to star in a university-produced Presidents' Day YouTube video that went viral in February (and, more importantly, got a positive shout-out from the student newspaper).
Getting along with students is sometimes overlooked during searches for presidents, Rosenberg said, but "it's something that's very important to determining the success of a presidency."