Archive for the ‘humor’ Category

funny face for Captain Jack Sparrow

The drama must be set for the children.   They are about to hear a very, very scary story.    Dim the lights low.     The story teller must be quite serious.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”  [The storyteller begins the story in a quiet, somber tone with much seriousness and gravity.]

“The sea rose up with all its might.”  [The storyteller’s tone raises a bit.   Hands and arms are used to indicate violent wave action.]

“On the deck the crew lay dead”.  [The storyteller conveys grave somberness and trepidation, and uses a shaking head to indicate sadness. Simultaneously, the storyteller turns his/her back to the children listening.]

“And the captain turned to me and said:” [The storyteller turns ominously back to the audience…]

HELLO“.  [The storyteller makes a funny, smiley face, says the word ‘hello’ in a squeaky, silly voice while simultaneously using one of his/her hands as the captain’s beard.   The intent is to make the children laugh.  Ha ha.]

This skit is in honor of great aunts everywhere who show love and affection to the children in their extended family.

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe




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Navy-LogoThere’s nothing like humor when it comes to university presidents.   One humorous story comes from the U.S. Naval Academy where the equivalent of the college president is the Superintendent who is is always an admiral in the Navy.  John Feinstein, sports columnist for the Washington Post, recounted a great story.

This story is set in 2002 when Vice Admiral John R. Ryan served as the academy’s superintendent.  It seems at the time that the Navy football team had not won a single football game the previous season and was looking for a new football coach.

An up and coming coach, Paul Johnson, interviewed for the head football at Navy.    Johnson, known for his innovative and highly effective triple option flexbone offense, was never short on self-confidence.  During Johnson’s interview for the head football coach position, negotiations between Johnson and Admiral Ryan had begun to stall.

“What it’s going to take, Coach?” Ryan asked when negotiations stalled. “What do I have to pay you to get you to coach my football team.”

Johnson gave Ryan a number and the Admiral was stunned.

“Young man,” he said. “I’m a three-star admiral in the United States Navy and I don’t make anywhere close to that kind of money.”

Johnson replied:

“Well, Admiral, I guess you got into the wrong business.”

Admiral Ryan paid Johnson the money, and Johnson went on to become one of Navy’s greatest football coaches.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Gordon-Gee-Ohio-State-2009-304Gordon Gee, President of Ohio State University, announced his retirement at age 69 after making a series of ‘humorous’ gaffs at the expense of  Roman Catholic priests, Notre Dame, the academic quality of schools in the Southeastern Conference, and the academic integrity of the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.   Clearly, there is no excuse for Gee’s weak attempts at humor and his resignation is in order.

It was noteworthy, however, that as recently as 2010, Time Magazine selected Gee as the top university president in the United States.  I have spent the past couple of days reading about Gee.   Here are some of my leadership findings:

1) “Being president of a major public university is the most political nonpolitical office around.  We’re campaigning on behalf of our mission.”  University leaders must make a point of being visible with their stakeholders.   Connect with your audience.   Clearly state the university’s mission.  Be enthusiastic.

2) Most university presidents are focused on internal issues — the tug-of-war among faculty, students and alums — and they don’t have the bandwidth to see how extensive their influence should be.”   University leaders must expand their influence.   The university is a force for positive change.

3)  No elected official more carefully orchestrates a calendar. A typical planning session finds Gee hatching plans to stroke every conceivable constituency in the course of a single week.   Carefully plan your calendar.  Maximize your interaction with stakeholders.

4) We make no apologies for working to ensure that our graduates have the skills needed to thrive. Learning to think critically need not conflict with learning to work productively.”    Stand up for what you believe in.   Offer the win/win.

5) “Through it all, one thing was abundantly clear to me. At this moment, we at Ohio State have great privilege, great responsibility, and great opportunity. I will explain each of those in turn.”      I believe that any university leader must express its mission and values through the lens of privilege, responsibility and opportunity.   Sign me up.

Perhaps Gordon Gee’s tenure as university president is over.   He served as president of West Virginia University, University of Colorado, Brown University, Vanderbilt University and Ohio State University (twice).   On one hand, there is much to learn about university leadership from this man.  On the other hand, there is a cautionary tale here about one’s ego.

Be bold.   Have a grand vision.   Think with precision.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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3rd Grade Wisdom

Simple-things-e1306334255254-455x281“I’m thankful for bumps on the road because it means that there is a road in the first place.”

my son – third grade

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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erskine-bowles-hmed-9a.grid-5x2Erskine Bowles,  perhaps best known for his work in 2010  as co-chairman (with Alan Simpson) of President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission, served as President of the University of North Carolina system from 2005 – 2010.  Despite his long business and political resume, scandals on several of the system’s sixteen campuses made Mr. Bowles’s tenure sometimes tumultuous.

Bowles certainly has a great sense of humor.  Recently Bowles was heard describing his past as a university president:

“It’s like being CEO of a cemetery. You’ve got lots of people underneath you but ain’t nobody listening.”


from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Try as I might, university humor is often in short supply.  When I do find attempts at university humor, it is typically “Dibertesque” in nature – poking fun at the ineptness of higher education.   Occasionally, I do find academics who are able to provide insight into the true inner workings of higher education administration.   One such humorous statement comes from Clark Kerr, the first chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley and twelfth president of the University of California.

After the election in fall 1966 which brought Ronald Reagan to California’s governorship, membership on the Board of Regents shifted to the right, and on January 20, 1967, Kerr was abruptly dismissed.   At the time he stated, ”I left the presidency just as I had entered it — fired with enthusiasm.” 

Another witty observation from Kerr came as he reflected on the appropriate way to describe “the university”.   Kerr referred to Robert Hutchins (University of Chicago) and then provided a California perspective. “Hutchins once described the modern university as a series of separate schools and departments held together by a central heating system.  In an area where heating is less important and the automobile more (California), I have sometimes thought of it as a series of individual faculty entrepreneurs held together by a common grievance over parking.”  (Source: Kerr, Clark, The Uses of the University, 5th edition. 1963; Harvard University Press, 2001)

Bravo, Dr. Kerr!

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Dwight DavidIkeEisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. During World War II he was a five-star general in the United States Army, and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.   An often overlooked fact is that Ike served as President of Columbia University from 1948 to 1953.

The following story, told by Dr. Tony Alessandra, highlights some of the humility (and humor) that accompanies the role of academic administrator.

At that time, there was a Professor at Columbia named Isidore Rabi, who had worked on the development of the atomic bomb and who subsequently won the Nobel Prize. At a faculty ceremony in honor of the professor’s achievement, Eisenhower made a brief speech. It included a remark about how it was always good to see an employee of the university get recognized. At that point, Professor Rabi interrupted him and said, “Excuse me, sir, but the faculty are not employees of the university. The faculty are the university!” 

I have to agree with Dr. Rabi on this one.   I try never to forget that the “heart and soul” of the university is its faculty!
– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe
[note: for a list of famous university presidents, including Dwight Eisenhower, see the blog post “List of Famous University Presidents (United States)“.]
[note: for more on the life of Isidor Isaac Rabi, see the “Isidor Rabi Living Legacies article” in the Columbia University Magazine, Summer 2001.]

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