The Chancellor of the California State University System has rejected the two finalists for President of Cal Poly, telling the school committee to go back to the drawing board and try to find candidates more in keeping with the prestige of the position (a third final candidate withdrew from consideration when he found he made more money in his administrative job at the University of Cincinnati—a collegiate powerhouse famous throughout most of central Ohio).
It seems clear by Chancellor Reed’s actions he wants the search committee to look outside the box, to find someone with a national reputation, someone willing to take a pay cut to work for $300,000 a year (chump change, it appears, in executive circles). In other words, he’s looking for someone who has a need to prove themselves or recharge a faltering career. Yet that someone must have the status and charisma of an ex-movie star, or a morally discredited ex-Congressman, perhaps? It must be someone who can front for Cal Poly in these difficult financial times—a classy hustler or celebrity spokesmodel: somebody like Alex Trebek, but willing to take the short money.
My immediate thought was Englebert Humperdink—the aging crooner whose song “After the Lovin” neared the top of the charts in the late ’70s. He strikes me as exactly the right mix of careerist desperation and show biz “bling” capable of charming a room full of female donors right out of their pant suits. He’s tall, looks at bit like Warren Baker, needs the work, and he’s a snappy dresser.
If you are going to go for a has-been singer, then Weird Al Yankovich might seem the better choice—a Cal Poly alumnus—he would bring the same kind of hunger for money and lost fame, a desire to redeem himself, and celebrity name recognition (not to mention all the cool and funny costumes he’d wear!). But aside from a free concert now and then I doubt if he would have the fundraising appeal. He doesn’t have the game Humperdink does when it comes to wooing the ladies.
A better strategy might be to go directly for discredited politicians willing to work for a measly 300 grand. Someone like Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor whose recent problems with the law and loss on The Celebrity Apprentice makes him the perfect candidate: executive experience, no burdensome scholarly interests or intellectual values. He’s got name recognition, face recognition, and a willingness to do and/or say almost anything. He has pull in Republican circles, knows his way around a business luncheon, and he is clearly someone both Chancellor Reed and Governor Schwarzenegger can work with. Indeed, they probably already have.
But if Blagojevich is good, then John Madden might be even better. He turned the Raiders around, and he could do the same for Cal Poly. Madden is retired now and has some free time. He might work for $300,000 a year if we allow him a two-day work week and give him the go ahead to turn Cal Poly into a football school and change the colors to black and silver. You can imagine the prestige he’d bring to the university; the plain talk, the graphs, the “Just Win, Baby” T- shirts, the money! Chancellor Reed’s advanced academic degree is in Physical Education (a Ph.D, no less), so he might resonate with Madden’s academic expertise.
If Madden refuses, another local, Bo Derek, would be worth considering. Clearly a ten, Bo has been dating John Corbet (featured in Sex and the City 2) since 2004, so she is clearly ahead of the curve when it comes to important new cultural trends. Bo also runs in Republican circles, has the business and media contacts, and may be looking for a hobby. She could commute from Santa Barbara, ensure Cal Poly is mentioned from time to time on TMZ, and donate her entire salary to an animal shelter.
But if you are looking for a natural born publicist, then Flavor Fav might be the man. He needs the money, and he’s already an international figure. His only defect is he is not as respected in business circles and certainly doesn’t have the executive experience of former Congressman Larry “Wide Stance” Craig or former Governor Mark Sanford (who might prefer hiking Big Sur to the Appalachian Trial).
One of my friends suggested the job of running a university these days is too hard for any single individual and perhaps we should replace Baker with a committee. He suggested the Village People, who are also out of work. The construction worker would give a new face to our Construction Management Program, the Indian to Ethnic studies and sustainability, the G.I. to R.O.T.C., the cowboy to Meat Science, the policeman to Campus Security, and the biker to Industrial Technology and/or Mechanical Engineering. Think of the fundraising concerts and the changed public image. It is worth looking into.
Chancellor Reed is giving us an opportunity to redefine Cal Poly’s image—and with it the future of the university. I suspect we should listen to him and ignore the usual Ph.D.’s and academic “leaders” for the celebrity Republican connections that have worked so well for him and our governor. If anyone knows of a bored CEO of a meat packing plant with conservative contacts and an ethnic-sounding surname, or a right-wing talk-show host with a talent for fund raising and no academic credentials, please send his or her name to the presidential search committee. It’s about time for Poly to immerse itself completely into the corporate world.
Robert Inchausti is a Cal Poly faculty member. Send comments via the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.