John Fallon, the new EMU president, starts work today. There was an article about him in the Sunday Ann Arbor News (login required… I think…) which was largely a fluff piece on what a great guy Fallon is. Among his other charms, he can shoot the three:
Fallon is athletic, trim and playful. At Potsdam [SUNY Potsdam, that is, where he was the president before coming here], he even dueled a local TV sportscaster in a 3-point shootout at half-time of a Potsdam game. Fallon won, earning the chance to do a live TV sportscast.
“He kept his poise and was funny,” said the sportscaster, Mel Busler of WWNY-TV in Watertown, who jokes that Fallon hustled him by warming up at a nearby gym.
Said Fallon: “I would refer to it as preparation, good sense and planning.”
In fact, as I type this, he’s talking on WEMU, which is our local public radio station (NPR, local news, jazz, and blues– check it out). A bit more of a fuzzy/honeymoon piece– Fallon even repeated a few lines from the newspaper article, including one about “taking the rear-view mirror off the university,” which is short-hand for “let’s not talk about the house anymore.”
He did say in this interview something like “The opportunity for education takes place between students and faculty. Period. The rest of us are here in support roles.” The right thing to say, but not as easy of a platitude to make real.
A couple of thoughts to add to all this:
- EMU has lots of problems– we’re poor and getting poorer because of decreased funding from the state, we have buildings that are literally falling apart around us, enrollment is down, etc., etc.– but, if you ask me, Fallon is walking into a tremendous job situation. The immediate past president, Craig Willis, was just a place holder, though he was a pretty good place holder. The real “past president” was the infamous Sam Kirkpatrick, who did a pretty good job of almost driving the place into the ground with stupid projects like the “University House.” So, with Kirkpatrick as a point of comparison, there’s really very little the new guy can do to screw up. It’s always easy to start a job when the person you are replacing didn’t do a very good job.
- The “word on the street” is that Fallon’s strengths are as a fund raiser and as creative developer of “revenue streams,” so to speak. As I understand it, one of the “revenue streams” Fallon started at SUNY-Potsdam is some kind of “health education facility.” I hope this doesn’t mean that EMU becomes even more “business-like” and I hope we don’t start going into some other “business” other than the one we’re in, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have someone who was able to raise money for the school. The previous three (well, two, since Willis doesn’t really count) couldn’t do that.
- I for one don’t want Fallon to completely ignore that rear-view mirror for at least two reasons. First, we always learn from our past, and Fallon could learn a lot about what not to do from studying Kirkpatrick and a bit of Bill Shelton, too. Second, I think there are still people working in the administration at EMU who had a part in the whole house mess, people who were able to walk away and keep their jobs. Fallon ought to worry about these people and make sure they really have changed the way they are doing business.
- I remain cautiously optimistic about Fallon. As I wrote back in March, a Google search of “‘John Fallon’ controversy” doesn’t return any meaningful results. That’s a good thing.