“People really like being invited to the university president’s house. They really like the idea of walking through the front door and seeing the president standing there,” said former U-Md. president C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr. Current President Wallace D. Loh is out of town this week, and spokesmen for the university said last week that he is not involved with the project and can’t speak authoritatively about it.
Unlike most other facilities on campus, spending money on the president’s home easily attracts controversy: How much is too much to spend? How much luxury is allowed?
Here’s a glance into the homes of other local presidents ...
Noted visitors to the home have included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Tyler, along with every president from Woodrow Wilson to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Oh, and also Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Winston Churchill and Charles, the Prince of Wales.
Perhaps the most drama the house has seen was in 1781, during the final weeks of the American Revolution, when the president and his family were evicted from their home by General Cornwallis and his British forces.
University of Virginia: President Teresa A. Sullivan and her husband live in Carr’s Hill, a historic home that celebrated its centennial in 2009. The 11,647-square-foot house has 16 rooms and eight bathrooms and was designed by the same architect who redesigned the Rotunda after a fire in 1895.
The president is required to live in the home. The university pays for maintenance, operating expenses, grounds- and housekeeping and utilities, although it doesn’t put a dollar value on those expenses.
The university bought the property in 1974, continued the club tradition and hosted presidents Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton. The club closed in 1999, and the building was turned into GWU’s Alumni House. In 2008, it was turned into a president’s home for Knapp, who is the first president to have a permanent residence on the Foggy Bottom campus.
Johns Hopkins University: President Ron Daniels is required to live in the Nichols House on the Homewood campus, which is a short walk to his office. The house was built in the late 1950s, but presidents stopped living there in the 1970s and it was converted into administrative offices. In 1996, the university converted the building back into a president’s house and leaders are now required to live there. The house was renovated in 1996 and 2009, but the university does not disclose the budget of such projects.
About a year ago, Garvey allowed me to sit in on a lunch he held for students in his dining room, which used to be a chapel. The students were all dressed up and seemed nervous at first, although they became more talkative as the president showed them around the house, pointing out expensive works of art. At the end of lunch, Jeanne Garvey loaded the leftovers into zip-lock bags and urged the students to take everything back to the dorms.
Alan Hurwitz’s wife, Vicki, is working on a documentary about the house. A fun fact she has learned: When Gallaudet began admitting women in 1887, the upper floors of the home were used to house female students.
The college bought the home in 1944 for about $15,000, and today it is valued, along with its furnishings, at about $1.96 million. The front of the home is filled with antiques, while the back is modernized and more cozy.
Oh! And the home might have a ghost. In 1988, an alumnus wrote a history of the house and learned that in 1916, “a Jamaican maid left to return home because she said a ghost would not let her sleep in her room in the back attic. The ghost kept brushing her fingers across the maid's face.”
Georgetown University: President John J. DeGioia lives in a residence off-campus that is paid for by the university. The cost of the house was about $131,700 for fiscal 2009. DeGioia is the university’s first lay president in two centuries — previous presidents were Jesuits who lived with their fellow priests on campus.
Howard University: President Sidney A. Ribeau is contractually required to live in a university-owned home.
University of the District of Columbia: President Allen Sessoms lives in a university-owned house in Chevy Chase. The university bought the house in 1981 for a few hundred thousand dollars, and last year it was valued at $1.6 million. The house sat empty from 2006 to late 2008, and was renovated when Sessoms moved in.
Trinity Washington University: President Patricia A. McGuire lives in a home that she purchased in Hyattsville more than 20 years ago. She does all of her entertaining at Trinity, which she says “has all of the elegant rooms a president could ever want.”
“I’ve tried to convince my brother presidents that they could be happier with just parking cones and the gratitude of their faculties for eschewing fancier residences,” McGuire told me in an e-mail, “but this idea has not gained much traction.”
Frostburg State University: The university got rid of its president’s house in the 1970s and now provides its top leader with an allowance for a private home. The current president doesn’t host university events in that home.
Virginia Tech: President Charles W. Steger lives in The Grove, a Colonial Revival-style three-story home built in 1902. In the 1970s and ’80s, most presidents choose to live elsewhere. In 1987-88, the house was remodeled to again serve as the president’s home and was renamed The Grove. In 2000, the home was renovated and a garage built.
Marymount University: President Matthew D. Shank lives in the neighborhood next to campus in a home paid for by the university. University events are generally not held there.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland: The school has not had a presidential home on campus since the 1980s, but is in the process of planning to build one. The college gives President Joseph Urgo a housing allowance, and he purchased a home near campus.
University of Richmond: President Edward L. Ayers is required to live in the President’s Home, which was built in the early 1970s. For the past 40 years, presidents have hosted a backyard picnic for all first-year students, an alumni reunion reception and numerous other events. Ayers has also taught an introductory history class in his home.
UPDATED: This blog was updated on Jan. 10 to add that St. Mary’s College gives its president a housing allowance.
Where does your university president live? Have you ever visited? Please share your stories in the comments section below.