Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

College President Samples Dorm Life Yes, Students Still Enjoy Pizza Parties, He Discovers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

College President Samples Dorm Life Yes, Students Still Enjoy Pizza Parties, He Discovers

Article excerpt

Suppose you're a new college president. Your wife is out of town visiting one of your children, both of whom are away attending other colleges.

What do you do in their absence?

James M. Dennis, the new president of McKendree College at Lebanon, had a novel idea when faced with that question this week. He moved into a men's dormitory to experience the college from a student's point of view.

"Is this the craziest thing you've ever heard anybody in my job do?" Dennis asked with a laugh.

"I feel almost like a freshman in some ways - a little bit apprehensive, and thinking, `Are they going to accept me?' "

Thus far, it appears Dennis needn't have worried.

Scott Wilson, a senior who this week is Dennis' resident adviser in Walton Hall, said the president was doing his best at being one of the guys.

"I was very surprised," Wilson said. "I guess it was a shock at first, but he's fit in very well."

Dennis, who had told no students he was coming to the dorm for a week to 10 days, was invited to join in a pizza party on Sunday night, his first night in Walton Hall. Another party was planned for later in the week.

"Are you going to chip in for pizza again?" a young man asked Dennis after one of the classes that Dennis is attending with students this week.

"Why not?" Dennis replied. "It's my turn to buy."

Dennis, 50, became McKendree's president on July 1. He said he believed the best way to really get to know students and their concerns is to live like them for a while. And he noted that he remembered enough from his undergraduate days at Occidental College in Los Angeles so that he wasn't totally surprised.

"I don't think dorms and their residents have changed too dramatically on any college campuses," he said. "I'm very at home with students. . . . I think if you don't like students or aren't comfortable with them, then you probably shouldn't be in higher education."

Dennis said he knew of no other college presidents who had moved in with students.

Even so, he said it came as a natural idea to him when his wife, Leslie, decided to visit their son Brian, a sophomore and football player at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. …

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