So ex-Illinois State University President Timothy Flanagan has pleaded not guilty to accusations of "screaming, inches from the face, flailing his arms in a violent manner" at a university employee who was working on the lawn of his university-owned home — an exchange police reports indicate was "witnessed by another employee who was working inside the president’s home.”
And now we are left to mull at least two things:
- Huh? A highly educated, highly accredited man whose job is to make ends meet in tough financial times and be the face of an esteemed university gets into an argument over yard work and becomes so angry, it leads to a police complaint?
- Or, if you are more of a cynic: A "free" house, with "free" services, and "servants" in and out? Hey, how do I get a job like that?!?
Yet, there are two sides, as always.
As remarks a letter writer to this paper: “The (incident) sounds awful but I feel sorry for everyone here — it’s not always easy living in a home that’s your private residence but is run by someone else, with tasks being carried out on a schedule that is not yours. It gets even worse if you are not the one paying the help and if the one paying them is the same one paying you.”
Good points indeed and arguments many of the rest of us probably don't think much about.
So we asked a guy who should know about the inner doings of ISU's presidential house, the same man who was so highly revered before he stepped down a year ago — Al Bowman, ISU's president before Flanagan, who lived in the house eight years with his wife, Linda, and their two teen daughters.
“The reality of living in the president’s home,” says Bowman, “is that there is very little privacy. For our family, we didn’t see that as a loss. But I’m sure it would be difficult for some people to live in what is essentially a public space.”
A university “caretaker” arrives each day at 8 a.m. That person is there all day, said Bowman.
When there is an evening event — and Bowman says those are common — crews lug living room furniture to other areas of the home and set up tables and chairs for dining. That’s followed by floral personnel, and more maintenance. Then a catering crew takes over the kitchen to prepare, serve and clean up — and they're not gone before at least 11 p.m.
On other days, says Bowman, a grounds crew can be taking care of the yard. Still another employee tends to flowers and other landscaping details.
It can, he says, be a hectic pace.
Yet, says Bowman, “Living there was absolutely delightful and something I’ll never forget. Since the primary purpose of the home is to provide an inviting space for entertaining, it is spacious and inviting. The surrounding green space provides a beautiful backdrop for both guests and the president and his family. University staff are very good at what they do, and for us, they literally became part of our extended family. After living there for 10 years, it simply felt like a pair of comfortable slippers.”
Then, of course, Flanagan moved in and within months what is now unfortunately becoming his epitaph: his early December confrontation with a grounds superintendent, an action Bowman diplomatically sidesteps but adds, "University presidents are stewards of one of society’s oldest institutions and they are expected to behave with grace and dignity."
Which reminds us of another story of high stress that didn't get any press at all.
It involves Richard "Dick" Wilson, now in his 10th year as president at Illinois Wesleyan University.
He also has a home supplied by his university. Although not tax-supported — IWU is a private school — Wilson and his family enjoy many of the same amenities available at ISU.
The physical plant staff maintains his house, the yard and landscaping, along with snow removal, just as they do for all campus buildings. Also, the university hires someone to clean the house twice a month.
Not long after Flanagan was news for the wrong reasons, the Wilsons were traveling and returned to find the driveway plowed, but deep trouble elsewhere.
Their home's pipes had frozen and burst, spewing water everywhere.
Wilson naturally was upset. He called the physical plant and a crew came over to fix the problem.
Then suddenly, in the fury of the moment, there were words exchanged; tempers flared; arms waggled — just kidding.
Instead, Wilson got into old work clothes, rolled up his sleeves and spent considerable time himself helping to clean up the mess in his home.
Later that night, he ordered pizza for everyone and ate alongside everyone else. The pizza guy who delivered the pies smiled at the door and said, “I always wondered if anyone really lived in this house.”
And even if at a bad time, at a highly harried moment bubbling with stress, a good time was had by all.
And grace and dignity reigned.
Flick is at email@example.com