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Latest friend request: Your college prez

Jenna Johnson

Dan deVise and I had lots of fun interviewing college presidents about the increasing pressure they face to be visible on campus and liked by students.

Many of the barriers separating a college's top-paid leaders from its tuition-paying students have disappeared in the past decade. E-mail, text messaging and social media give students unprecedented access to a chief executive, who can no longer hide behind a secretary and an office door.
Today, many students -- and their increasingly over-involved parents -- want a personal bond with the president. Instead of occupying the president's office, more students are stopping by to chat. They want to be friends -- and not just on Facebook.

In our reporting, we came across tons of examples of college presidents doing crazy, wacky or sentimental things to bond with students. Here are a bunch of extra examples we couldn't squeeze into the article:

President Thomas A. Kazee, University of Evansville
Kazee just became president this summer, so to introduce himself to students (and teach them how to pronounce his name) he decided to star in a YouTube video.


E. Gordon Gee, Ohio State University
Bow-tie-wearing Gee handed out cookies during move-in, sat down for several YouTube interviews with the student newspaper and regularly tweets (follow him, @presidentgee). He also has been known to crash for a night in the dorms and randomly pop into classes, according to a university article. And, according to a 2009 Time profile, a poll found that Gee is so popular that he could easily be elected governor in Ohio.

President David Hodge, Miami University in Ohio
Hodge started an intramural broomball team with other administrators called "Roudybush," named for the administration building, Roudebush Hall. He often plays against students, who aren't afraid to take him down (although they usually help him back up with a "Sorry, Mr. President"). Hodge also jogs with students through campus and sits in the student section when the Division 1 men's hockey team makes it to the Frozen Four.

President: Bill Destler, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)
To get more students to attend men's and women's home basketball games, Destler launched "The Orange Hair Challenge" -- if students and fans could pack the stands at men's and women's games, then he would dye his hair orange during halftime. Since the challenge started in 2008, the stands have yet to be completely full -- but Destler has dyed large chunks of his hair as a compromise.

President Neil Kerwin, American University in D.C.
Every year, Kerwin challenges the student government president to a free-throw contest during a men's basketball game. When Kerwin was a student at American in the 1960s and '70s, he tried out for the basketball team as a freshman but was cut -- still, every year, he beats the SG president. That is, until this year, when he lost for the first time to SG President Andy MacCracken.

President Graham Spanier, Penn State University
Occasionally, Spanier fills in for the Nittany Lion mascot. He also is a magician, performs with student groups, plays co-ed intramural racquetball and hosts a call-in public television and radio show called, "To the Best of My Knowledge." Plus, he plays the washboard with the "Deacons of Dixieland" and other bands. (You can read more in his university biography.)

Chancellor Biddy Martin, University of Wisconsin
For Valentine's Day this year, students created a rap song professing their love for Martin. It's called "My Biddy" and features references to snow days, freshmen convocation, the Big Ten and Martin's pet poodle, Oscar. It also includes lyrics like, "Now I am in class, and I'm thinking about your assets. Glasses. Ohh, I'm aghast." (Read the story behind the song in The Badger.)

For more on the story, see Dan's post on College Inc.

Is your college president making an effort to be friends with students (and not just on Facebook)? Tell me about it in an e-mail, johnsonj@washpost.com.

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for college students. So, make sure to bookmark http://washingtonpost.com/campus-overload. You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  |  July 12, 2010; 11:53 AM ET
Categories:  Student Government  | Tags: College presidents, Student Government  
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