Print Columns   |   Web Chats   |   Blog Archives   |  

10 Reasons Why Tony Williams Might Be AU's Next President

Mayor Anthony Williams is a short-timer now and some D.C. residents have started to wonder whether he, as did Sharon Pratt Kelly before him, will forsake Washington and start a new life somewhere else.

Despite numerous pledges to buy a house in the District, Williams never did move out of his Watergate-area rental. He seems to spend most of his time gallivanting around the globe. And he's hardly ever seen even at the site of his most historic and controversial achievement, the home games of the Washington Nationals.

Will Tony stick around town? And if he does, what will he do? The rumor for many months has been that American University is more than a little interested in hiring Williams as its next president. The last couple haven't exactly worked out terribly well.

Herewith, 10 reasons why AU would--heck, let's just say it: should--make the move:

1. Williams is a turnaround artist, a numbers guy who took the city from the financial sub-basement to a point where it is a respectable business destination with a pretty classy bond rating. A university that doesn't have a big endowment and has suffered some big PR setbacks could use someone with Williams' head for finances.

2. More overseas junkets! Gotta keep that frequent flier account cooking.

3. Williams is a builder at heart, with a successful track record for transforming a city that was once poison to developers. AU is sitting on tons of available space, including vast, open parking lots on Nebraska Avenue.

4. He'd finally have a house of his own in the District. The AU prexy job comes with house.

5. Williams has connections in city government. To transform the AU campus, using those parking lots and connecting to the main campus across busy Nebraska Avenue, the university needs to think beneath the surface--a tunnel under Nebraska that would allow AU to have a seamless campus across the avenue. A tunnel would ease neighbors' concerns about congestion by relieving much of the traffic now clogging the Ward Circle intersection. You'd need an ex-mayor to get a big change like that through the process. Condos, anyone?

6. The man would do wonders for the AU baseball program. Can you spell ballpark?

7. Bowtie look feeds AU's dreams of Ivy League stature. Yale degree doesn't hurt either.

8. Students, unlike voters, are already accustomed to being ignored.

9. Williams is funny, charming and persuasive in small group settings and would likely be effective with faculty, alumni and other university constituencies--as long as he doesn't have to do ribbon-cuttings. His sense of humor, which too often slipped by many D.C. residents, is well-pitched to an academic community.

10. American could hardly do worse than the last boss, Ben Ladner, who used the university's money on gifts for his children, personal travel and a French-trained chef to gin up lavish banquets for the prez and his guests, or Richard Berendzen, president in the 1980s, who got his jollies by making sexually oriented phone calls to strangers. He may not be the greatest politician of our era, but Tony Williams is an honest guy.

By Marc Fisher |  September 15, 2006; 7:43 AM ET
Previous: You Be the Pundit Contest Winner! | Next: This Blog Endorsed by Ronald Reagan!


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Did you go to the last Hexagon revue? Seriously. This idea was the topic of a soft-shoe song-and-dance number by actors playing Mayor Williams and AU Prez Ladner in the charitry troupe's satirical show back in March. They even raised some of the same reasons in your list in their song.

Posted by: Gregg Wiggins | September 15, 2006 8:53 AM

There is no AU baseball team ... so maybe he'd be good at recruiting a team for the university, and THEN building the ballpark?!

Posted by: ok | September 15, 2006 9:01 AM

Marc: I'm an AU alum of long ago and I find your idea strangely intriguing, although I know it's being partially played for laughs. However, I seriously question the idea of developing the surface lot at Nebraska and New Mexico--unless the university builds underground parking on the site, which would cost a fortune and be a massive disruption operationally and to the neighborhood.

Posted by: Jack | September 15, 2006 9:12 AM

current AU grad student here: HIRE HIM! goodness knows he can't be any worse than our last one!

Posted by: Robin | September 15, 2006 9:47 AM

If AU doesn't hir him they are morons. Although I don't know about his fundraising prowess, his personality and demeanor are perfect in a university setting.

Posted by: AUedumacated | September 15, 2006 9:58 AM

"American could hardly do worse than the last boss, Ben Ladner, who used the university's money on gifts for his children, personal travel and a French-trained chef to gin up lavish banquets for the prez"

You're forgetting that he completely turned around AU in the 90's and made it a far better school than it was.

Posted by: AU | September 15, 2006 10:37 AM

Ditto the comments about the parking lots. Yes AU sits on a lot of open space...but its a suburban school. We WANT open space. And plentiful parking.

--A commuter

Posted by: AH | September 15, 2006 11:03 AM

How is AU a suburban school? I realize that Spring Valley isn't exactly the Penn Quarter, but AU is still within city limits.

Posted by: WD40 | September 15, 2006 11:21 AM

I think Mayor Williams would be an excellent President at American University. I am not a big fan of his, and I never voted for him, but the man is very smart and intelligent.

Posted by: Black D.C. Resident | September 15, 2006 11:30 AM

That's a low blow at Berendzen. I took a class of his AFTER all the scandal, I think it was 1994. He's an excellent teacher and a fine person. He had issues, made some rotten choices, but he has paid for them.

Posted by: Alumni Steve | September 15, 2006 11:38 AM

I'm with Alumni Steve - trivializing Berendzen's psychological anguish and the resulting poor choices he made is low-brow. The University, the scientific community and the academic community respect him enough to have moved on after more than 16 years, I should hope people without any direct stake in those relationships can do the same.

As for Williams, or any other presidential candidate, if he can continue to bring the school's aethetic appeal in line with its academic reputation without balancing the costs on the backs of students and their families - as Ladner did - I'm all for him.

Posted by: Alumnus `97 | September 15, 2006 12:04 PM

I agree, Mr. Williams would make an excellent president of American University. A.U. needs some honesty and itegrity at the top.

Posted by: -JB- | September 15, 2006 12:24 PM

Ummm ... Northwest DC is not the suburbs.

Posted by: DS | September 15, 2006 1:13 PM

Other than the person who admitted their choice was based on wishful thinking, I am surprised that there were a few prognosticators who actually picked Cropp. It is one thing to want her to win; it is another to see her coming back from so far behind, combined with all the Fenty endorsements, positive articles, and huge get-out-the-vote operation.

Speaking of GOTV, at my precinct, there were always a sea of green Fenty supporters in front of the entrance, who were all well known, liked, and respected neighbors -- they seemed to know most of the people who came in to vote. Cropp had literally one very nice lady, sitting quietly on a chair, way, way off to the side.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 15, 2006 1:34 PM

Why does open space always have to be built up? Whats wrong with open space?

Posted by: hogboss | September 15, 2006 1:41 PM

HATE the idea of hiring Williams. While I appreciate what Williams did for the city, his business-first attitude will go over badly in an academic setting.

We've already seen what life can be like when one caters to the high rollers. It was called the Clinton years. And I say that as a long-time supporter of his.

Should academics really go to the high rollers too?

Posted by: AU Grad Student | September 15, 2006 1:44 PM

You forgot to mention his experience as an undergraduate RA. While at Harvard Law, Williams was a Freshman Proctor. Word is he wasn't particularly strict on dormitory deportment, which was appreciated by his charges.

Posted by: DC | September 15, 2006 1:49 PM

Intriguing idea that had never occurred to me. I doubt he could do worse than the past few predecessors!

Eliminating the parking lots on Nebraska, though, would be sheer insanity.

And I agree with the other posters about Berendzen. I never took any of his classes, but I always loved when he would set up a telescope outside Hurst and talk off the cuff about what we were seeing that particular evening.

Posted by: AU Class of '75 | September 15, 2006 1:55 PM

Horrible Idea. The pres has nothing to do with running the university, he's the hired fundraiser. I don't find Williams that charming to sell AU. He was smart enough to not be ridiculous. The directive of the control board era was clear, clear up your finances and become self sufficient. He did not create the economic boom that bailed the City out, and what tax dollars would AU collect. He would make good use the free housing though.

Posted by: robert g | September 15, 2006 2:04 PM

a little off topic but isn't it appalling the mayor of the City was a renter. I don't want to advocate landowner requirements, but he was the epitome of a transplant with no ties to the area and no vested interest in DC. Come on! He did not even qualify to be on the ballot as an incumbent. Where is all the alledged greatness coming from. Unlike Barry he can get another job outside politics, and probably has offers piling up. he's leaving DC and I say let the bama go!

Posted by: oknow101 | September 15, 2006 2:14 PM

Why AU? GW is looking for a president as well. Mayor Williams would be especially helpful in addressing GW's serious town-gown problems.

Posted by: Dave Ribar | September 15, 2006 2:30 PM

oknow101, you are right, you are way off topic. Why would you mention Marion Barry, a Crack Addict, into this conversation? As a black native Washingtonian, Marion Barry is a disgrace to black men, and all District residents. Although, I wasn't a big fan of Mayor Williams, the man is very intelligent. He has an excellent background in dealing with Finance and Accounting. I think, Mayor Williams is a good fit into any college setting.

Posted by: Black D.C. Resident | September 15, 2006 3:52 PM

While AU is in NW, it IS only about a mile to MD straight down MA Ave. And it feels like it's in the suburbs which is very nice.

Posted by: AU Alum | September 15, 2006 3:57 PM

Hire him. I heard him speak at the AU's Freshman Service Experience opening ceremony and it really changed my mind about him. He seems to have a passion for the city and service that would work well with AU. As a die-hard Republican its not easy for me to say this...but I think he might actually be good for the university. Either way, he's a hell of a lot more charismatic than Kerwin...that man is boring. Besides we all know how jet-set Williams is so he makes a perfect candidate to fly all over the world raising money for AU and its satellite schools. As for the Berendzen comments, he may have had problems, but he was an amazing professor after he got help.

Posted by: Doug | September 15, 2006 4:10 PM

Dear Marc,

Your recomendation is a good one.
Williams could also use this University Position to seek other political opportunities in much the same was
Dwight Eisenhower did from Columbia University.
This will enhance the prestige of American University while they would benefit from a competant bureaucrat.
Peter Roach

Posted by: Peter Roach | September 15, 2006 5:10 PM

A surface parking lot is NOT open space, and although underground parking would look much better, AU makes too much off of that lot to give it up. Over $850/year doesn't sound like a suburban parking fee to me.

Posted by: AU'99 | September 15, 2006 5:23 PM

There's a history of former politicians leading universities. Senator Boren is the Chancellor of the University of Oklahoma, and Senator Trible in the President of Christopher Newport. Also, don't forget that Tractenberg will soon be departing as well. Maybe Williams could end up there, it is one of the best paying jobs in academia.

Posted by: GW Alum | September 15, 2006 5:28 PM

I disagree with the opinion that Mayor Williams is some type of fiscal genius. The stadium deal is a mess. The schools are falling apart. And, the second Williams smelled a surplus, he could not pass out the pork quickly enough. With Williams' leadership and "never saw a big development project I can say no to" attitude, AU would collapse in debt before anyone could blink an eye.
He also seems pretty ethically challenged. No other politician in this city is challenged enough to take trips paid for by lobbyists and special interests during the Abrahamhoff haze in which we currently find ourselves. AU it seems can do much better.

Posted by: Stan | September 15, 2006 5:56 PM


Open space equals money. It's as simple as that. Greed has enough power to turn that space into fat pockets and that is the shameful truth. Greed considers mowing grass as an expenditure. If Greed can turn that expenditure into profit, that's more income. That is the sad truth.

Posted by: Wanting less | September 15, 2006 9:00 PM

As a current AU student I'd be ok with Williams, not that my opinion really matters at all in this. It'd be nice if people stopped thinking solely about money and started thinking about education. AU needs to keep the little open space we've got. Sure we have a ton of more space than GW, but they're downtown. We are in the more residental/ more suburban like area of DC. The whole reason I picked this school over GW was because of the actual campus.

While the school may need to raise money we need a president that will make sure the right things get done. Accepting almost 300 extra people into the freshman class AND promising housing was a bit ridiculous (214 triples this year, last year we had 82). AU needs to stop looking at studaents as cash. We picked this school because it wasn't the large state university. We like the small classes and the 10 minutes it takes to walk around the entire campus.

Ladner did help in some departments- the Greenberg Theatre, Katzen (can you tell I'm a theatre major?). But what he did was horrible and I hate him. I'd even stick with Kerwin, at least I've actually seen this guy around and met him numerous times. I had never seen Ladner, ever. The crack at Berendzen was low. He made bad choices, but not ones as horrible as Ladner. Also he was a much beloved AFTER the scandal. Last year, in 2005/06 he was one of the most sought after professors. Two of my friends had him and absolutly loved him. It was practically a tragedy when he announced he was leaving.

As for #8, while I laughed, made me upset. Shouldnt my $40,000 a year give me some say? Accordng to you and American University, that answer is no.

While I have enjoyed my Undergraduate education at AU, there are a number of things I still wish for. Unfortunatly for me, it's too late. As a junior I'd be lucky to even be around for the crowning of a new prez. Because of AU's legendary buracracy and ridiculous and repulsive board of trustees (putting the word "trust" in their title is an oxymoron) perhaps the class of 2010 will see a president who will work for them and with them to achieve their dream- a worthwhile education.

Posted by: Amy, AU class of '08 | September 15, 2006 11:53 PM

Its a bad choice. Williams is very competent but he is not a people person, he's aloof, and he still can't look people straight in the eyes when he speaks to them. His personality and demeanor will just come off as cold and aloof on a college campus and hurt AU and the students further. They deserve someone who is interested in them! Find someone who does this kind of work well. Why not promote Claudio Grossman? He's a well respected human rights lawyer, Dean of the Law School, and he cares about his students and the university.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 18, 2006 10:10 AM

Marc - Your comments about Berendzen are disrespectful and, quite frankly, mean. It was a long time ago and the world has moved on. Please join them.

As for Ladner, he did a lot good, just couldn't control his expenses and nobody bothered to check. Blame to all involved but, ultimately, the right decisions were made (close out, reform, move on).

Williams might work but the real questions are whether he can raise money and expand AU's growing reputation. Note, he wouldn't be dealing with his regular group of constituents, so the idea presents some big unknowns. Otherwise, I like it.

Posted by: John | September 20, 2006 1:14 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company