Sunday, July 02, 2000

Chalking it up, with experience

NKU's Boothe the latest ex-president to teach again

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Leon E. Boothe never abandoned the romantic myth common among academic administrators that they could always go back to teaching.

        “I'd like to really end up where I started,” the 62-year-old historian said recently. “In the classroom.”

(Michael E. Keating photos)
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        In August, the former president of Northern Kentucky University gets his wish with a vengeance: four sections of undergraduate survey courses in American history.

        Dr. Boothe's return to the classroom is in line with a great local tradition. Earlier presidents of NKU, the University of Cincinnati and Miami University did the same after reaching the pinnacle of their administrative careers.

        More recently, the president of Thomas More College announced he will return to more conventional priestly duties and, he hoped, the classroom.

        “It seems to be catching,” Dr. Boothe said.

        To a man, they're happy to return to their original callings. None trained to be a chief executive officer. They were scholars who wanted to induct new generations into the disciplines and enthusiasms.

        All tried to continue teaching when they became presidents and it proved difficult. Whether they are the last generation of teachers to succeed as CEOs is unclear.

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        As UC's former president Henry Winkler put it, “Heaven only knows” what demands new presidents will face.

        Similarly, Dr. Boothe, who led NKU from 1993 to 1996, isn't fazed by the kind of assignment usually reserved for the new kid: 35 students in each class and no teaching assistants to help grade essay exams.

        “I've never done anything with less than full vigor.”

        Dr. Boothe said the biggest change will involve his treatment of slavery. It will get a far more thorough exposition because of what he learned during three years as senior adviser to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

        Dr. Boothe said he used to weave slavery into other lectures but now it will become its own unit within his courses.

None of the Tristate's college presidents continues to teach courses for credit while holding executive posts. Those who tried it quit, citing time conflicts:
University of Cincinnati. Joseph Steger, doctorate/psychology, taught when he became president in 1984 but gave it up. He delivers lectures in psychology and management and an annual Lincoln presentation for the history department.
Northern Kentucky University. James C. Votruba, doctorate/higher education administration, team-taught a class on how to succeed in school since arriving in 1997. The coming semester will be an exception because of demands on his time.
Miami University. James Garland, doctorate/physics, has not taught since becoming president in 1996.
Xavier University. The Rev. James E. Hoff, S.J., doctorate/theology, has not taught since becoming president in 1991.
Thomas More College. The Rev. William F. Cleves, doctorate/philosophy, taught during the first five of his eight years as head of the school. Demands of a capital fund drive made that impossible in the past three years.
College of Mount St. Joseph. Sister Francis Marie Thrailkill, O.S.U., doctorate/educational administration. She has not taught since becoming president in 1987. She said she tried at another college where she was president but it didn't work.
        The Rev. William F. Cleves is giving up the presidency of Thomas More in Crestview Hills and returning to pastoral duties in the Diocese of Covington.

        “I hope to continue teaching,” he said, but that's up to his bishop.

        Unlike Father Cleves, UC's Dr. Winkler and Miami's Phillip Shriver, Dr. Boothe was unable to teach regularly during his 13 years as NKU president.

        Dr. Boothe initially tried team-teaching diplomatic history with former NKU president W. Frank Steely, but demands on Dr. Boothe's time shifted the burden to his colleague and Dr. Boothe never tried it again.

        Dr. Steely, now 75 and retired from the classroom after a quarter century teaching at NKU, was president from 1969 to 1975. He urges presidents and other administrators to teach at least one freshman course in their field each year.

        Leaving the classroom was a void that Dr. Boothe regretted. Until then, he taught virtually every term as he moved up academic hierarchies as an administrator.

        “It keeps your feet pretty much on solid ground,” he said, and teaching is something to which academic department heads, deans and provosts should aspire.

        Dr. Boothe said a faculty background still best suits a university president.

        History — the most common discipline from which presidents are drawn — helps executives understand long-term perspectives, he said. “History really helped me as an administrator. I never panicked in the short term.”

        Scientists are the second most common source of presidents, he added.

        Non-academics serving as university presidents “generally ... hasn't worked well” because of their unfamiliarity with workloads and freedom issues, he said.

        Drs. Winkler, Shriver, Boothe and Steely and Father Cleves hope they aren't among the last of a tradition of scholars who crowned classroom careers as university presidents and returned to teaching.

        “It kept me in touch with students,” Father Cleves recalled of the philosophy courses he taught for the first five years of his presidency. That intimacy “kept me grounded” and when he was making administrative decisions, “students were always on my mind.”

        Only the demands of a capital fund drive pulled him from the classroom, the 45-year-old priest said. One more year as president, “and after that, I'll be back in the classroom.”

        Dr. Winkler, 83, led the University of Cincinnati from 1977 to 1984. After a break, he returned to teach modern British history full time for a year.

        Now, he is preparing another book for publication, active in myriad scholarly enterprises and teaches in UC's non-credit Institute for Learning in Retirement.

        “I think of myself as a retired faculty member rather than as a retired president.”

        In the 1960s, when he was first lured into administration at Rutgers, Dr. Winkler recalled, “I never gave up teaching.” He came to UC with the “understanding” that he would continue to teach at least one course per term.

        “I insisted on teaching,” he said. “I love to teach. It keeps you active ... with a sense of why you're doing what you're doing.”

        Dr. Winkler said teaching should be part of the job description of every dean, provost and president and generally, it doesn't make sense to aspire to administration without having taught.

        “If the symbol of the institution isn't one of academic quality, then you're in real trouble.”

        Dr. Shriver was president of Miami University from 1965 to 1981 and taught continuously during those years.

        “That's why we got into this business,” he said. “I am happiest in those hours in the classroom. It's a daily reminder of that what happens in the classrooms is the essence of the university.”


        Dr. Leon Boothe, former Northern Kentucky University president, will begin teaching undergraduate history courses next month.


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