Please register or login to continue

Register Login

The Great Dean Handicap
The Great Dean Handicap

The Great Dean Handicap

wltullarwltullar

The Great Dean Handicap

William L. Tullar

I was headed down the hall in somewhat of a hurry when George Flanigan poked his head out of his office door. "Hey", he said. "Step in here a minute." Trying not to be impolite, I explained that I was on my way to a class and already a minute or two late. "Not to worry," he said. "You can always go to class. I'm going to let you in on the ground floor of something big. You can't get that every day."

Flanigan is a finance guy. Very large person. About 6' 7" tall and somewhere around 260. Late 40's and going bald. Usually wears glasses. He's not the kind of person you can ignore easily, and anyway I thought that maybe he had some juicy stock tip. We business professors have a fair amount of sporting blood. I thought that he might have a market tip that would earn a couple thousand in a few weeks.

"My friend," he said. "I'm going to let you in on the syndicate. You can get right in on the ground floor."

"Ground floor of what?" I objected. "George, I've got to get to class."

"Ground floor of the great dean handicap," he snorted. "I'm offering you the opportunity to help make the book on this."

Our dean had recently resigned to take a position at one of those prestigious New England Schools, and we currently had an acting dean running our business school. The acting was Paul Meeks. Used to be the associate dean. Short guy, maybe 5'5". Glasses and balding. Nice fellow. Pleasant, of course. But unspectacular. There was a dean search committee working, and we knew that they would turn their top five recommendations into the provost and the chancellor, and the administrators would pick the new dean while we watched. Actually, the way the process was supposed to work was they would pick the new dean based on faculty input. But everyone knew, they picked the one they wanted.

"George, old sock," I said like a remonstrating father, "Someone needs to tell you that bookmaking is illegal. If you get caught doing it, you might just lose your job. I know that tenure has gone to your head and that you enjoy lying sideways in the public trough, but making a book on this could get you fired."

"Maybe," he said. "But there are 83 faculty members and another 17 staffers in this school who would just love to get in on this action. How would you make Meeks? I'd think he should go off at about 50 to 8."

"I'm leaving now, George. And I hope by the time I come back by your office, you will have forgotten all this silly stuff about making the book." With that I picked up my books, lecture notes, and flash drive with my powerpoints, and lit out for my class on the run. The class was basically uneventful, the students were unprepared, and I had to let them read the cases during class before we discussed them.

As I came by Flanigan's office with a couple of students in tow who wanted to beg for extra points on a test they had gotten back last week, Flanigan stuck his head out the door: "I think Meeks might go out at 8 to 1. I just heard that they spent over thirty thousand bucks on a headhunter for the dean's job. You don't spend that kind of cash if you're really thinking hard about the inside guy. But 8 to 1 is certainly high enough to attract some money."

"Yeah, yeah, George." I said as I walked by, but I didn't slow down and went on to my office. Throwing myself into my leather office chair, I went into my best pensive, solomonic pose while I did a little cut and thrust with the students over the fine points of the test questions. I went through each student's plea, question by question until they were satisfied or too tired to continue. Just as I was sitting down to start my undergraduate curriculum committee newsletter, George stuck his head in my office.

"Hey, it looks like they're really serious about this thing. It says here that they've already scheduled four faculty interview opportunities."

I have to admit it. At that point the bug was beginning to bite me too: "Oh yeah?" I said. Together we pored over the mimeographed announcement. The interview opportunities allow about as much spontaneous interaction as a white house photo op, but we usually think it's bad form not to be seen there.

"It says here," George continued, "that the credentials of all five candidates, Meeks and the four others, are available over in the Provost's office." A twinkle lit his eye. "And I better hurry on over there to get first look at the information and handicap the other four horses." With that he strode out leaving me sitting there in my chair wondering.

I saw George the first thing the next morning as I came into my office. "Did you get your horses handicapped?" I asked sipping on a cup of the department's high test coffee. I noticed the ring on my cup was getting indelibly etched into its surface, and I remember thinking, "Man, this stuff probably etches your stomach about like that too."

"You bet," he smiled. "Do you wanna see?"

"I'd like a look," I answered, trying hard to maintain the appearance of being only vaguely interested. I focused hard on the coffee in the cup. George passed me the photocopies of each resume. "Well, here they are. It's an interesting field. Here's William R. Benoit, Jr. He's an industrial engineer from Wisconsin. Been a department head in business administration at one of the satellite campuses, Osh Kosh, I think. Looks good on paper. Good research record. Good teaching evaluations. Department seems to like him."

"What do you make him?" I asked. My interest was now pretty hard to hide.

"I'd guess about 5 to 2. We'll have to look at him to see if he makes a good presentation. But you have to like his chances. But wait, there's an affirmative action candidate."

"You mean to tell me they found an African-American with all the qualifications who would be willing to come here? I would have thought that a Black business administration type who really is a potential dean could go to Stanford or Berkley or some place like that." I said.

"No," George insisted firmly. "This guy Banforth has got the Bona fides all right. And he's got a tie to this area. In fact, he grew up only a few miles from here and his parents still live in the area."

"In that case," I mused, "You've gotta like his chances. I mean as strong as they are around here about affirmative action, this guy's got to be a shoo in if he wants it. How did you make the odds on him?"

George rubbed what's left of his hair and stared out the window. "I've gotta believe that a serious Black candidate is going to be courted by a lot of other schools. Even if his parents live here, the big money doesn't. I don't like our chances of getting him. I think about 2 or 3 to 1."

"But George," I objected. "A local tie might be the very thing which motivates this guy. You have to know the psychology of the individual. You're just going on the national stuff. If you're going to make the book, you better get good inside info on this guy. Where is this Black guy now? Maybe we know someone there who can get us the straight skinny on what he's like and what might . . ."

"Good thought," George broke in. And he left abruptly. I was sitting there pondering the mimeographed sheet. You had to like this guy Banforth, but Benoit was also an attractive candidate. Meeks knew the school, had done the job for a while, and knew where all the bodies were buried. Local knowledge is worth something. And what about the other two. Well there was Welford Arlington Smith. He had a good academic record, Harvard MBA and a Michigan Ph.D. Started out setting his field on its ear with some hot research, but it looked as if this trailed off pretty substantially before he started into administration. Already an associate dean at a pretty good Northeastern school.

Given our top administration and their admiration for Harvard, you had to give this guy some chance. And then I noticed that the fifth candidate was a woman. I hadn't noticed that before because her first name was Michael, Michael Ann Senser. Ph.D. from Indiana. George had written in pencil on the sheet, "research light weight". But she had some solid journals on her record. However, I noticed that most of her articles were about "women's issues", and I wondered how that would play with the provost and chancellor, not to mention with the business school faculty.

Another affirmative action candidate. You had to like her chances too. So that was the field: one of them would win it all. But which one? Logically, you could make a case for any of the five.

I really didn't think at all about the whole thing again until I saw George's office door open about a week later. On his wall he had each candidate listed in big block letters and the morning line on each. By the look of the thickness of the sheaf of yellow paper on his desk, he had been doing a brisk business.

"George," I said. "There's some ominous news about this book of yours. Jim Steggles has taken a real interest in it, and I hear he's ready to put down some heavy money on a couple of candidates."

For the first time, George looked truly troubled. "Steggles, huh? You know he might try some dirty stuff if there's money on the line." Jim Steggles was a professor of economics who was more a professor of skullduggery. If there was an academic dirty trick that Steggles doesn't know, it hasn't been invented yet. Steggles is a very short fellow, with short graying hair and a big bald spot on top. While many of us felt malice toward him because of our past run-ins with him, none of us in business were likely to underestimate his intelligence or his ability.

"That's right," I said. "Steggles doesn't believe in any of this purity of the turf stuff. If there's any way he can do it, you can count on him taking active measures to make his candidate come home. You'd better think again about letting him make a bet. He'd put the fix on for a dean candidate he hated just to win the book."

"But if I don't, he'll probably threaten to expose the book. I've already taken 24 bets, and I don't want to have to give the money back. This is much better than a basketball pool. Holding the book on this looks like money in the bank to me."

I looked at George and shook my head slowly. "You really got yourself into this with both feet, George. But you know sure as anything, if Steggles is in this for money there'll be dirty work." With that I walked out of George's office. Jim Steggles was especially bad about bets and was rather famous about coming back with a double or nothing bet for bets he had already lost. Naturally, he won most of his double or nothing bets. There was the incident of the failed tenure. When one of our candidates from the management department was up for tenure, we were all sure that she would get tenure. Terry Mullaney, our department head, had bet Steggles 5 to 1 on a ten spot that she'd get tenure. Steggles took the bet, and subsequently there was an anonymous tip to the promotion and tenure committee that she'd been suspended from her undergraduate school for plagiarism and that a couple of her journal articles contained "suspicious passages" which resembled the work of others whom she hadn't acknowledged. An investigation of the charges proved that the undergraduate story was true. They never even really checked the articles. By then she was guilty by inference. You had to marvel at his ingenuity. How did he find out about her undergraduate problems? And how did he get the information into the promotion and tenure committee without telling them himself. He was a very formidable villain in the School of Business and Economics where economists and business types generally lead lives of uneasy coexistence.

Then too there was the time that Steggles bet Norm Johnston that his presentation to the Dean's council would be a terrible flop. Johnston, stung by the implicit criticism, bet Steggles $100 that he would receive ratings higher than Steggles had with his presentation. Someone slipped a large dose of laxatives in the coffee. Just as Johnston was coming to the main point of his presentation nature called the advisory board to various and sundry lavatories around the building. Johnston was humiliated, and concluded his presentation half an hour early. Everyone thought that Steggles doped the coffee, but he wasn’t even there. Johnston paid up. Having Steggles in the book with a substantial bet was an invitation to get ripped off. I was really busy most of the next week and didn't see George at all. I thought about getting a bet down on Meeks just because I liked him, and he was a sentimental favorite for me. But it was just a passing thought.

Then on a Wednesday, just before faculty meeting, George charged into my office breathlessly. "What's the current line?" I inquired, almost out of reflex politeness, since I was getting ready to make a presentation at the faculty meeting.

"The schedule's out." Benoit's first. Then this guy Senser. Then . . ."

"George, wake up and smell the Maxwell House. This guy Senser is a woman." I proclaimed triumphantly.

"Oh," he said. And he looked genuinely hurt. I thought that if the guy was studying these people to make book that he would at least know who was which. I mean really. Not knowing that this was a female candidate lowered my confidence in George's handicapping a lot. I think that was the moment when I was sure I ought to bet just because I thought the bookmaker was a little incompetent in his handicapping.

"Well," I said trying to pick back up the thread of the conversation. "Who's third?"

"Smith's third, then Banforth, then Meeks." He started to pace, and I could tell he was agitated. "I thought for sure that this guy Banforth was a cinch to go somewhere else. But here he is with the prime spot. Right before the home town boy who's getting a courtesy interview. I figure Banforth comes in here with an offer in hand maybe for 190 K and then he tells the chancellor he'll do it if the price is right. But the odds. I gave six to one on him and got seven takers. This could be bankruptcy."

"George, old sock, to use a racing term, you're jumping the gun. You don't know what the order means. It could just mean that that's when they could come to campus."

George looked at me with scorn in his glance. "You know it's fixed. You know the provost and chancellor already made up their minds. They just go through the motions. They've got their man all right. It's Banforth, and I'm going to lose my shirt. I never should have given six to one!" He turned to go.

"George," I said, brightening visibly. "I'll put up twenty on Meeks."

"On Meeks! On Meeks?! After all this, twenty on Meeks?"

"You heard me. Twenty on Meeks' nose. I say he comes home at a gallop down the stretch." I proffered the proper bank note.

"Okay." He snatched the twenty out of my hand. "Your funeral though." And he spun on his heel and left. Then suddenly, his face reappeared in my doorway. "I gave 7 to 2 on Benoit and I have only got one taker so far. And at that it was only a two dollar bet. I gave 3 to 2 on Senser, and I've only had a couple of takers, although one of them was for a hundred bucks!"

"I'd watch that last bet, George. It sounds like a Steggles bet. You'd best watch closely for dirty tricks. What odds did you give for Smith?"

"Nine to four, and there have only been two takers so far. The big bet was ten bucks."

It wasn't long before the first candidate, Benoit, came for his campus visit. I went to an informal coffee for him in the faculty lounge. He seemed nice enough when I talked to him, but somehow I couldn't see him convincing the chancellor and the provost. I figured that they were going to get a "kick ass and take names dean", and this guy just didn't strike me as the type. Then later that afternoon, he made a presentation at the Alumni House. It was a snore. This guy had a lock on the cure for insomnia. Old Finch, our senior citizen professor of management, let his head loll back during the talk. And he snored out loud before Andy Hailey poked him in the ribs. But the presentation was an absolute bomb. George came back shaking his head.

"Boy," he said. "He didn't even get out of the starting gate. That was unquestionably the worst presentation I've ever seen. I think we can scratch him right now. Too bad I didn't get many takers for Benoit."

"Don't be too sure, George." I said trying to keep up with him as he strode back toward the business building from the Alumni House. "You have to remember who's deciding among these five: it certainly isn't us! The chancellor and the provost will decide, and maybe they liked the presentation."

George looked thoughtful as he took off his glasses and polished them slowly on a none-too-clean handkerchief. "Maybe you're right, but I think that probably sends the odds way up. I'm sure I'll get to keep all the money bet on Benoit."

Michael Ann Senser made her visit the next week. She was a feminist with a deep voice and a very masculine air. I talked to her at the informal coffee, and she struck me as someone right out of the Hitler Youth League: Order your execution with a smile and go back to eating lunch. George and I went to her presentation together. I watched his body language as he sat through her "vision for the school" presentation. Hey, I watched everybody's body language. They were intimidated, believe me.

This woman was flat out tough. She didn't say anything threatening, but she didn't have to. She made believers out of all of us. If they were looking for an ass-kicker, she would surely fill the bill. That made George's 3 to 2 seem like a pretty good handicapping job.

As we toddled toward the Garden Street Grill for a much needed cold one, George was mostly silent and pensive. Finally, his face was wreathed in smiles: "You know what? I think Steggles is behind the money on Senser. And I think I can start spending that hundred already."

"Maybe," I opined. "But you know Steggles. If he's got money on this gal, he won't let it go this easy. He'll probably find some way to get them to hire her. Watch out George, there'll be dirty work."

George drank a moody beer and pushed his glass across the bar for another. "The way I see it, I can't lose now. My two short handicappers and Meeks are all that are left in the field. The book's going to turn me a couple of hundred anyway."

"To quote Yogi, George, it ain't over til it's over. Wait til you see the next two candidates. And anyway, just because you didn't like this woman is no reason to count her out. Don't forget the power of affirmative action around here."

We didn't have to wait long for the next candidate. The next Tuesday, Wellford Arlington Smith trickled into town. Obviously Ivy League. The clothes, the voice, the moves solid Ivy. I have to say I didn't like him at all at our first meeting. The thought of having him as my boss's boss sent me back to my desk to find the latest copy of my resume. "If this guy wins," I thought, "I'm outta here."

George came to see me at 2:30 an hour before Smith's seminar. "Bill," he said with a mischievous look in his eye. "I don't think we even need to go to this one today. I met this guy Smith this morning. He offended almost everyone. In fact, he may be the first equal opportunity offender we've had here. I can't believe the university paid thirty grand to dig up these three dead bodies."

"You might as well go George. You might just pick up a few more bets on Banforth and Meeks."

"No . . . well, maybe . . . well okay. I guess I might as well see what we're going to pass over."

George and I found prime seats in the front row, and we nodded and smiled to the candidate as we stepped around people. Smith was introduced, and he started his presentation. I have to say it was polished. This guy was really smooth. In fact, he might have been one of the best presenters I ever saw. He was witty. He had a real vision for our school. He had done his homework. He knew who published in what area. He knew names and faces. And he connected his research interests to several of those on the faculty. He promised if he came as dean he would do both research and teach at least one class a year so as not to lose touch with what the regular faculty do.

He smiled and shook hands with us as we left. He even called me by name. George said nothing as we walked back to the business building. As we reached the door, he opined: "This really makes it complicated. I thought this guy was a stiff. I had completely written him off."

"That just goes to show you George," I said. "Predicting one of these dean selections is a tricky business." Like him or not, Smith had done a very credible job in his presentation, and no one really knew what might be in the mind of the provost and chancellor. There had been rumors around our building that they thought the last dean was too soft and wasn't getting the kind of performance out of the faculty he should have. I never gave much credence to that kind of hall talk. That's the kind of talk that one usually hears, overly pessimistic and full of dire foreboding for the new administrator.

The next week our Black candidate was scheduled to show up. George was nervously pacing in my office as we discussed it.

"I gave too long odds on this guy," he said. "I should never have given 6 to 1. But I didn't think anyone would bet on him: everyone has affirmative action programs, and I was sure that someone would have snapped him up by now." We walked over to the conference center to meet the candidate and George's apprehension was palpable. Maybe this was the Steggles’ candidate. There was fifty bucks on this candidate, and at 6 to 1 that would be a tidy profit for someone.

Banforth turned out to be as good as his billing. He was tall and thin. He was very nicely dressed, and he spoke well. He remembered names and talked freely about research in a dozen different areas of business. His presentation was almost as good as Smith's. And he had impressed almost everyone he talked to favorably. He seemed so at ease in the place. He got a flurry of questions at the end of his presentation and even during the coffee in the morning. He was calm and serene, and for most all of the questions he had very credible answers. One thing was clear: this man had been through this exercise more than once before. His skills were just too good to be a first time candidate.

Now George was really worried. "I might end up paying out three hundred bucks on this guy," he whined.

"You'll still make money, George."

"Yeah, I guess. But not much."

"You should be willing to do this for the entertainment value alone, George." I said. "Think of all the fun you've had doing this."

George went off muttering to himself.

Last came Meeks. He got to present last by virtue of being the inside candidate. I don't think anyone gave him much of a chance. He had to do all the interviews just like the outside people. I have always found that supremely silly interviewing someone whom you know well just to preserve the similarity in form. His interviews went well. After all, he knew everyone and had something to say to everyone.

Meeks made his presentation on a Thursday afternoon in late February. His presentation of his vision for the school was okay. It was certainly nothing spectacular. He didn't have a polished monologue, and we all knew about his research already anyway. But it was an okay presentation.

On the way back over to the business building, George seemed positive and upbeat. "That twenty you bet on Meeks will spend very nicely." He said. "I told you not to waste your money on Meeks."

"Just remember the wisdom of Yogi, George." I said. "It ain't over til it's over."

And then, nothing. One week went by. George dropped by my office. He was distracted to say the least. "The only thing I can hope for," he said one day with finality, "is a hung jury."

"What does that mean?" I asked as I was grading cases and only half paying attention.

"It means that they'll declare the search over without result, and they'll open it again next year." He said thoughtfully.

"What!? Who would be dean then?" I put my pen down to consider further.

"Meeks, of course. They'll ask him to do it for another year."

"George," I said warming to the topic. "You can't possibly think that he would do it. Surely he'd tell them to stuff it. They tell him he can't be their long term dean, then they ask him to do them a favor for another year. You can't be serious."

"But I am," he asserted. "They did the same thing to Phyllis Riles in Health and Physical Education."

I remembered that they had in fact done that exact thing only two years ago. "Where does that leave you?" I asked.

"Out from under the whole mess. The search is voided, and everyone gets money back. We start over again next year."

"You mean I'd get that twenty back?"

"Of course. Your guy is the big loser, but we won't count that." George rubbed his head and brightened visibly.

"Don't ever count Meeks out until it's absolutely declared over," I said. "Remember Yogi."

"Was that Yogi Bear or Yogi Berra?" George asked with a smile broadening over his face. "At least you'll get your twenty bucks back which is more than you had any right to hope for from the beginning. I told you at the time it was ridiculous to bet on Meeks." And he strode out.

On Monday after the second week, Michael Ann Senser was seen at the airport by one of our graduate students. He had spoken to her but she affected not to notice him. When I got the report, I cringed. A second visit usually meant serious consideration. Then Wednesday of the second week, I was talking to one of the grad assistants from economics, and she told me that the rumor was going around economics that Senser was trying to get out of where she was currently employed just ahead of a breaking sex scandal. Apparently, the rumor had a strong base because I heard three times that day and twice on Thursday. This whole report had the aura of a Steggles intervention. I saw Jim and spoke to him briefly in the hall Thursday and he didn't mention anything about Senser. But then, even if he had started the story, he'd never have been clumsy enough to be connected with it.

But another week went by. The confines of Dewey Administration Building were strangely quiet on the subject of deans. On the Tuesday of the third week, the faculty was abuzz. Surely this meant that Michael Ann Senser was out. And it meant Meeks was out. Who would be named as interim. Surely he wouldn't take another year as acting? Then Wednesday afternoon we got word that a press conference was scheduled for Thursday at three thirty.

We all showed up at the meeting expecting to have the new dean named. Seated on the dais was none other than William Ransford Banforth, our African-American candidate. I have to say that even though I was mentally kissing that twenty goodbye, I heaved a big sigh of relief. I was sure that Banforth would be good for the school and do a good job. What I still couldn't figure out, though, was how we got him. I had pictured him going somewhere for big money, and I knew he wasn't going to get big money at our school.

The chancellor smiled broadly. He announced proudly that the new dean of the school of business and economics was Professor William Ransford Banforth. You could tell the chancellor was really pleased with himself that is, he thought it was his personal coup to bring in this dean. I looked across the room at George. He was beaming. One of his low handicappers had come home the winner. I knew he was counting the proceeds in his head. I guessed he stood to make five or six hundred dollars from this book. I went home from the ceremony feeling less settled and pleased than I would have liked.

The next morning I headed straight to George's office when I came to work. George was sitting at his desk with his yellow papers. "The best thing is that Gary Johns came down here three days ago and bet a hundred dollars on Meeks. I have to say I was very surprised. But I was glad to take his money."

"George, Gary Johns is Steggles' graduate assistant. Didn't that worry you any?" I asked.

"No, it didn't worry me at all because I didn't know that." He grinned an impish grin. "But even the great Steggles was wrong on this one." But as he said that his phone buzzed. George picked up the phone with a jaunty hello but then his face fell. "What? What!!? You can't mean that . . . How can they do that? . . . Listen . . . who . . . okay." He hung up. His face was ashen.

"What is it George?" I asked. His face looked as though someone in his family died. "It's . . . it's the dean." He stammered.

"What dean?"

"Our dean, of course. Banforth has withdrawn."

I was stunned. How could they handle this? What would the chancellor and provost do? Do the search again? Who would be dean in the interim? But then the departmental secretaries got a call from administration. The chancellor was going have an announcement at 3:30 in the Alumni House.

When we got to the Alumni House at about 3:20, the place was packed. All the local newspapers and TV stations had reporters there. This had all the earmarks of something really embarrassing if not an outright scandal. I saw Jim Steggles sitting in the second row beaming, and more unusual still, Paul Meeks was sitting up on the dais.

The chancellor was somber this time. "I regret to inform you that Professor Banforth has withdrawn his name from consideration. This has caused us some consternation, but due to the fact that we had so many fine candidates and the choice at the end was so close, I am pleased to announce this afternoon that Paul K. Meeks has accepted the position as dean of the school of business and economics."

I looked across the room at George who seemed to have gotten something suddenly stuck in his throat. As the crowd dispersed, I found George tottering toward the watering hole across the street. I caught George's eye: "I'll take that in cash, George, at your earliest convenience. Tens and twenties will be fine."

George simply sat there unblinking. He looked at me with scorn: "Surely you won't collect on a decision like that!"

I looked at him and smiled. "Tens and twenties, George. Tens and twenties.”

The Great Dean Handicap

William L. Tullar

I was headed down the hall in somewhat of a hurry when George Flanigan poked his head out of his office door. "Hey", he said. "Step in here a minute." Trying not to be impolite, I explained that I was on my way to a class and already a minute or two late. "Not to worry," he said. "You can always go to class. I'm going to let you in on the ground floor of something big. You can't get that every day."

Flanigan is a finance guy. Very large person. About 6' 7" tall and somewhere around 260. Late 40's and going bald. Usually wears glasses. He's not the kind of person you can ignore easily, and anyway I thought that maybe he had some juicy stock tip. We business professors have a fair amount of sporting blood. I thought that he might have a market tip that would earn a couple thousand in a few weeks.

"My friend," he said. "I'm going to let you in on the syndicate. You can get right in on the ground floor."

"Ground floor of what?" I objected. "George, I've got to get to class."

"Ground floor of the great dean handicap," he snorted. "I'm offering you the opportunity to help make the book on this."

Our dean had recently resigned to take a position at one of those prestigious New England Schools, and we currently had an acting dean running our business school. The acting was Paul Meeks. Used to be the associate dean. Short guy, maybe 5'5". Glasses and balding. Nice fellow. Pleasant, of course. But unspectacular. There was a dean search committee working, and we knew that they would turn their top five recommendations into the provost and the chancellor, and the administrators would pick the new dean while we watched. Actually, the way the process was supposed to work was they would pick the new dean based on faculty input. But everyone knew, they picked the one they wanted.

"George, old sock," I said like a remonstrating father, "Someone needs to tell you that bookmaking is illegal. If you get caught doing it, you might just lose your job. I know that tenure has gone to your head and that you enjoy lying sideways in the public trough, but making a book on this could get you fired."

"Maybe," he said. "But there are 83 faculty members and another 17 staffers in this school who would just love to get in on this action. How would you make Meeks? I'd think he should go off at about 50 to 8."

"I'm leaving now, George. And I hope by the time I come back by your office, you will have forgotten all this silly stuff about making the book." With that I picked up my books, lecture notes, and flash drive with my powerpoints, and lit out for my class on the run. The class was basically uneventful, the students were unprepared, and I had to let them read the cases during class before we discussed them.

As I came by Flanigan's office with a couple of students in tow who wanted to beg for extra points on a test they had gotten back last week, Flanigan stuck his head out the door: "I think Meeks might go out at 8 to 1. I just heard that they spent over thirty thousand bucks on a headhunter for the dean's job. You don't spend that kind of cash if you're really thinking hard about the inside guy. But 8 to 1 is certainly high enough to attract some money."

"Yeah, yeah, George." I said as I walked by, but I didn't slow down and went on to my office. Throwing myself into my leather office chair, I went into my best pensive, solomonic pose while I did a little cut and thrust with the students over the fine points of the test questions. I went through each student's plea, question by question until they were satisfied or too tired to continue. Just as I was sitting down to start my undergraduate curriculum committee newsletter, George stuck his head in my office.

"Hey, it looks like they're really serious about this thing. It says here that they've already scheduled four faculty interview opportunities."

I have to admit it. At that point the bug was beginning to bite me too: "Oh yeah?" I said. Together we pored over the mimeographed announcement. The interview opportunities allow about as much spontaneous interaction as a white house photo op, but we usually think it's bad form not to be seen there.

"It says here," George continued, "that the credentials of all five candidates, Meeks and the four others, are available over in the Provost's office." A twinkle lit his eye. "And I better hurry on over there to get first look at the information and handicap the other four horses." With that he strode out leaving me sitting there in my chair wondering.

I saw George the first thing the next morning as I came into my office. "Did you get your horses handicapped?" I asked sipping on a cup of the department's high test coffee. I noticed the ring on my cup was getting indelibly etched into its surface, and I remember thinking, "Man, this stuff probably etches your stomach about like that too."

"You bet," he smiled. "Do you wanna see?"

"I'd like a look," I answered, trying hard to maintain the appearance of being only vaguely interested. I focused hard on the coffee in the cup. George passed me the photocopies of each resume. "Well, here they are. It's an interesting field. Here's William R. Benoit, Jr. He's an industrial engineer from Wisconsin. Been a department head in business administration at one of the satellite campuses, Osh Kosh, I think. Looks good on paper. Good research record. Good teaching evaluations. Department seems to like him."

"What do you make him?" I asked. My interest was now pretty hard to hide.

"I'd guess about 5 to 2. We'll have to look at him to see if he makes a good presentation. But you have to like his chances. But wait, there's an affirmative action candidate."

"You mean to tell me they found an African-American with all the qualifications who would be willing to come here? I would have thought that a Black business administration type who really is a potential dean could go to Stanford or Berkley or some place like that." I said.

"No," George insisted firmly. "This guy Banforth has got the Bona fides all right. And he's got a tie to this area. In fact, he grew up only a few miles from here and his parents still live in the area."

"In that case," I mused, "You've gotta like his chances. I mean as strong as they are around here about affirmative action, this guy's got to be a shoo in if he wants it. How did you make the odds on him?"

George rubbed what's left of his hair and stared out the window. "I've gotta believe that a serious Black candidate is going to be courted by a lot of other schools. Even if his parents live here, the big money doesn't. I don't like our chances of getting him. I think about 2 or 3 to 1."

"But George," I objected. "A local tie might be the very thing which motivates this guy. You have to know the psychology of the individual. You're just going on the national stuff. If you're going to make the book, you better get good inside info on this guy. Where is this Black guy now? Maybe we know someone there who can get us the straight skinny on what he's like and what might . . ."

"Good thought," George broke in. And he left abruptly. I was sitting there pondering the mimeographed sheet. You had to like this guy Banforth, but Benoit was also an attractive candidate. Meeks knew the school, had done the job for a while, and knew where all the bodies were buried. Local knowledge is worth something. And what about the other two. Well there was Welford Arlington Smith. He had a good academic record, Harvard MBA and a Michigan Ph.D. Started out setting his field on its ear with some hot research, but it looked as if this trailed off pretty substantially before he started into administration. Already an associate dean at a pretty good Northeastern school.

Given our top administration and their admiration for Harvard, you had to give this guy some chance. And then I noticed that the fifth candidate was a woman. I hadn't noticed that before because her first name was Michael, Michael Ann Senser. Ph.D. from Indiana. George had written in pencil on the sheet, "research light weight". But she had some solid journals on her record. However, I noticed that most of her articles were about "women's issues", and I wondered how that would play with the provost and chancellor, not to mention with the business school faculty.

Another affirmative action candidate. You had to like her chances too. So that was the field: one of them would win it all. But which one? Logically, you could make a case for any of the five.

I really didn't think at all about the whole thing again until I saw George's office door open about a week later. On his wall he had each candidate listed in big block letters and the morning line on each. By the look of the thickness of the sheaf of yellow paper on his desk, he had been doing a brisk business.

"George," I said. "There's some ominous news about this book of yours. Jim Steggles has taken a real interest in it, and I hear he's ready to put down some heavy money on a couple of candidates."

For the first time, George looked truly troubled. "Steggles, huh? You know he might try some dirty stuff if there's money on the line." Jim Steggles was a professor of economics who was more a professor of skullduggery. If there was an academic dirty trick that Steggles doesn't know, it hasn't been invented yet. Steggles is a very short fellow, with short graying hair and a big bald spot on top. While many of us felt malice toward him because of our past run-ins with him, none of us in business were likely to underestimate his intelligence or his ability.

"That's right," I said. "Steggles doesn't believe in any of this purity of the turf stuff. If there's any way he can do it, you can count on him taking active measures to make his candidate come home. You'd better think again about letting him make a bet. He'd put the fix on for a dean candidate he hated just to win the book."

"But if I don't, he'll probably threaten to expose the book. I've already taken 24 bets, and I don't want to have to give the money back. This is much better than a basketball pool. Holding the book on this looks like money in the bank to me."

I looked at George and shook my head slowly. "You really got yourself into this with both feet, George. But you know sure as anything, if Steggles is in this for money there'll be dirty work." With that I walked out of George's office. Jim Steggles was especially bad about bets and was rather famous about coming back with a double or nothing bet for bets he had already lost. Naturally, he won most of his double or nothing bets. There was the incident of the failed tenure. When one of our candidates from the management department was up for tenure, we were all sure that she would get tenure. Terry Mullaney, our department head, had bet Steggles 5 to 1 on a ten spot that she'd get tenure. Steggles took the bet, and subsequently there was an anonymous tip to the promotion and tenure committee that she'd been suspended from her undergraduate school for plagiarism and that a couple of her journal articles contained "suspicious passages" which resembled the work of others whom she hadn't acknowledged. An investigation of the charges proved that the undergraduate story was true. They never even really checked the articles. By then she was guilty by inference. You had to marvel at his ingenuity. How did he find out about her undergraduate problems? And how did he get the information into the promotion and tenure committee without telling them himself. He was a very formidable villain in the School of Business and Economics where economists and business types generally lead lives of uneasy coexistence.

Then too there was the time that Steggles bet Norm Johnston that his presentation to the Dean's council would be a terrible flop. Johnston, stung by the implicit criticism, bet Steggles $100 that he would receive ratings higher than Steggles had with his presentation. Someone slipped a large dose of laxatives in the coffee. Just as Johnston was coming to the main point of his presentation nature called the advisory board to various and sundry lavatories around the building. Johnston was humiliated, and concluded his presentation half an hour early. Everyone thought that Steggles doped the coffee, but he wasn’t even there. Johnston paid up. Having Steggles in the book with a substantial bet was an invitation to get ripped off. I was really busy most of the next week and didn't see George at all. I thought about getting a bet down on Meeks just because I liked him, and he was a sentimental favorite for me. But it was just a passing thought.

Then on a Wednesday, just before faculty meeting, George charged into my office breathlessly. "What's the current line?" I inquired, almost out of reflex politeness, since I was getting ready to make a presentation at the faculty meeting.

"The schedule's out." Benoit's first. Then this guy Senser. Then . . ."

"George, wake up and smell the Maxwell House. This guy Senser is a woman." I proclaimed triumphantly.

"Oh," he said. And he looked genuinely hurt. I thought that if the guy was studying these people to make book that he would at least know who was which. I mean really. Not knowing that this was a female candidate lowered my confidence in George's handicapping a lot. I think that was the moment when I was sure I ought to bet just because I thought the bookmaker was a little incompetent in his handicapping.

"Well," I said trying to pick back up the thread of the conversation. "Who's third?"

"Smith's third, then Banforth, then Meeks." He started to pace, and I could tell he was agitated. "I thought for sure that this guy Banforth was a cinch to go somewhere else. But here he is with the prime spot. Right before the home town boy who's getting a courtesy interview. I figure Banforth comes in here with an offer in hand maybe for 190 K and then he tells the chancellor he'll do it if the price is right. But the odds. I gave six to one on him and got seven takers. This could be bankruptcy."

"George, old sock, to use a racing term, you're jumping the gun. You don't know what the order means. It could just mean that that's when they could come to campus."

George looked at me with scorn in his glance. "You know it's fixed. You know the provost and chancellor already made up their minds. They just go through the motions. They've got their man all right. It's Banforth, and I'm going to lose my shirt. I never should have given six to one!" He turned to go.

"George," I said, brightening visibly. "I'll put up twenty on Meeks."

"On Meeks! On Meeks?! After all this, twenty on Meeks?"

"You heard me. Twenty on Meeks' nose. I say he comes home at a gallop down the stretch." I proffered the proper bank note.

"Okay." He snatched the twenty out of my hand. "Your funeral though." And he spun on his heel and left. Then suddenly, his face reappeared in my doorway. "I gave 7 to 2 on Benoit and I have only got one taker so far. And at that it was only a two dollar bet. I gave 3 to 2 on Senser, and I've only had a couple of takers, although one of them was for a hundred bucks!"

"I'd watch that last bet, George. It sounds like a Steggles bet. You'd best watch closely for dirty tricks. What odds did you give for Smith?"

"Nine to four, and there have only been two takers so far. The big bet was ten bucks."

It wasn't long before the first candidate, Benoit, came for his campus visit. I went to an informal coffee for him in the faculty lounge. He seemed nice enough when I talked to him, but somehow I couldn't see him convincing the chancellor and the provost. I figured that they were going to get a "kick ass and take names dean", and this guy just didn't strike me as the type. Then later that afternoon, he made a presentation at the Alumni House. It was a snore. This guy had a lock on the cure for insomnia. Old Finch, our senior citizen professor of management, let his head loll back during the talk. And he snored out loud before Andy Hailey poked him in the ribs. But the presentation was an absolute bomb. George came back shaking his head.

"Boy," he said. "He didn't even get out of the starting gate. That was unquestionably the worst presentation I've ever seen. I think we can scratch him right now. Too bad I didn't get many takers for Benoit."

"Don't be too sure, George." I said trying to keep up with him as he strode back toward the business building from the Alumni House. "You have to remember who's deciding among these five: it certainly isn't us! The chancellor and the provost will decide, and maybe they liked the presentation."

George looked thoughtful as he took off his glasses and polished them slowly on a none-too-clean handkerchief. "Maybe you're right, but I think that probably sends the odds way up. I'm sure I'll get to keep all the money bet on Benoit."

Michael Ann Senser made her visit the next week. She was a feminist with a deep voice and a very masculine air. I talked to her at the informal coffee, and she struck me as someone right out of the Hitler Youth League: Order your execution with a smile and go back to eating lunch. George and I went to her presentation together. I watched his body language as he sat through her "vision for the school" presentation. Hey, I watched everybody's body language. They were intimidated, believe me.

This woman was flat out tough. She didn't say anything threatening, but she didn't have to. She made believers out of all of us. If they were looking for an ass-kicker, she would surely fill the bill. That made George's 3 to 2 seem like a pretty good handicapping job.

As we toddled toward the Garden Street Grill for a much needed cold one, George was mostly silent and pensive. Finally, his face was wreathed in smiles: "You know what? I think Steggles is behind the money on Senser. And I think I can start spending that hundred already."

"Maybe," I opined. "But you know Steggles. If he's got money on this gal, he won't let it go this easy. He'll probably find some way to get them to hire her. Watch out George, there'll be dirty work."

George drank a moody beer and pushed his glass across the bar for another. "The way I see it, I can't lose now. My two short handicappers and Meeks are all that are left in the field. The book's going to turn me a couple of hundred anyway."

"To quote Yogi, George, it ain't over til it's over. Wait til you see the next two candidates. And anyway, just because you didn't like this woman is no reason to count her out. Don't forget the power of affirmative action around here."

We didn't have to wait long for the next candidate. The next Tuesday, Wellford Arlington Smith trickled into town. Obviously Ivy League. The clothes, the voice, the moves solid Ivy. I have to say I didn't like him at all at our first meeting. The thought of having him as my boss's boss sent me back to my desk to find the latest copy of my resume. "If this guy wins," I thought, "I'm outta here."

George came to see me at 2:30 an hour before Smith's seminar. "Bill," he said with a mischievous look in his eye. "I don't think we even need to go to this one today. I met this guy Smith this morning. He offended almost everyone. In fact, he may be the first equal opportunity offender we've had here. I can't believe the university paid thirty grand to dig up these three dead bodies."

"You might as well go George. You might just pick up a few more bets on Banforth and Meeks."

"No . . . well, maybe . . . well okay. I guess I might as well see what we're going to pass over."

George and I found prime seats in the front row, and we nodded and smiled to the candidate as we stepped around people. Smith was introduced, and he started his presentation. I have to say it was polished. This guy was really smooth. In fact, he might have been one of the best presenters I ever saw. He was witty. He had a real vision for our school. He had done his homework. He knew who published in what area. He knew names and faces. And he connected his research interests to several of those on the faculty. He promised if he came as dean he would do both research and teach at least one class a year so as not to lose touch with what the regular faculty do.

He smiled and shook hands with us as we left. He even called me by name. George said nothing as we walked back to the business building. As we reached the door, he opined: "This really makes it complicated. I thought this guy was a stiff. I had completely written him off."

"That just goes to show you George," I said. "Predicting one of these dean selections is a tricky business." Like him or not, Smith had done a very credible job in his presentation, and no one really knew what might be in the mind of the provost and chancellor. There had been rumors around our building that they thought the last dean was too soft and wasn't getting the kind of performance out of the faculty he should have. I never gave much credence to that kind of hall talk. That's the kind of talk that one usually hears, overly pessimistic and full of dire foreboding for the new administrator.

The next week our Black candidate was scheduled to show up. George was nervously pacing in my office as we discussed it.

"I gave too long odds on this guy," he said. "I should never have given 6 to 1. But I didn't think anyone would bet on him: everyone has affirmative action programs, and I was sure that someone would have snapped him up by now." We walked over to the conference center to meet the candidate and George's apprehension was palpable. Maybe this was the Steggles’ candidate. There was fifty bucks on this candidate, and at 6 to 1 that would be a tidy profit for someone.

Banforth turned out to be as good as his billing. He was tall and thin. He was very nicely dressed, and he spoke well. He remembered names and talked freely about research in a dozen different areas of business. His presentation was almost as good as Smith's. And he had impressed almost everyone he talked to favorably. He seemed so at ease in the place. He got a flurry of questions at the end of his presentation and even during the coffee in the morning. He was calm and serene, and for most all of the questions he had very credible answers. One thing was clear: this man had been through this exercise more than once before. His skills were just too good to be a first time candidate.

Now George was really worried. "I might end up paying out three hundred bucks on this guy," he whined.

"You'll still make money, George."

"Yeah, I guess. But not much."

"You should be willing to do this for the entertainment value alone, George." I said. "Think of all the fun you've had doing this."

George went off muttering to himself.

Last came Meeks. He got to present last by virtue of being the inside candidate. I don't think anyone gave him much of a chance. He had to do all the interviews just like the outside people. I have always found that supremely silly interviewing someone whom you know well just to preserve the similarity in form. His interviews went well. After all, he knew everyone and had something to say to everyone.

Meeks made his presentation on a Thursday afternoon in late February. His presentation of his vision for the school was okay. It was certainly nothing spectacular. He didn't have a polished monologue, and we all knew about his research already anyway. But it was an okay presentation.

On the way back over to the business building, George seemed positive and upbeat. "That twenty you bet on Meeks will spend very nicely." He said. "I told you not to waste your money on Meeks."

"Just remember the wisdom of Yogi, George." I said. "It ain't over til it's over."

And then, nothing. One week went by. George dropped by my office. He was distracted to say the least. "The only thing I can hope for," he said one day with finality, "is a hung jury."

"What does that mean?" I asked as I was grading cases and only half paying attention.

"It means that they'll declare the search over without result, and they'll open it again next year." He said thoughtfully.

"What!? Who would be dean then?" I put my pen down to consider further.

"Meeks, of course. They'll ask him to do it for another year."

"George," I said warming to the topic. "You can't possibly think that he would do it. Surely he'd tell them to stuff it. They tell him he can't be their long term dean, then they ask him to do them a favor for another year. You can't be serious."

"But I am," he asserted. "They did the same thing to Phyllis Riles in Health and Physical Education."

I remembered that they had in fact done that exact thing only two years ago. "Where does that leave you?" I asked.

"Out from under the whole mess. The search is voided, and everyone gets money back. We start over again next year."

"You mean I'd get that twenty back?"

"Of course. Your guy is the big loser, but we won't count that." George rubbed his head and brightened visibly.

"Don't ever count Meeks out until it's absolutely declared over," I said. "Remember Yogi."

"Was that Yogi Bear or Yogi Berra?" George asked with a smile broadening over his face. "At least you'll get your twenty bucks back which is more than you had any right to hope for from the beginning. I told you at the time it was ridiculous to bet on Meeks." And he strode out.

On Monday after the second week, Michael Ann Senser was seen at the airport by one of our graduate students. He had spoken to her but she affected not to notice him. When I got the report, I cringed. A second visit usually meant serious consideration. Then Wednesday of the second week, I was talking to one of the grad assistants from economics, and she told me that the rumor was going around economics that Senser was trying to get out of where she was currently employed just ahead of a breaking sex scandal. Apparently, the rumor had a strong base because I heard three times that day and twice on Thursday. This whole report had the aura of a Steggles intervention. I saw Jim and spoke to him briefly in the hall Thursday and he didn't mention anything about Senser. But then, even if he had started the story, he'd never have been clumsy enough to be connected with it.

But another week went by. The confines of Dewey Administration Building were strangely quiet on the subject of deans. On the Tuesday of the third week, the faculty was abuzz. Surely this meant that Michael Ann Senser was out. And it meant Meeks was out. Who would be named as interim. Surely he wouldn't take another year as acting? Then Wednesday afternoon we got word that a press conference was scheduled for Thursday at three thirty.

We all showed up at the meeting expecting to have the new dean named. Seated on the dais was none other than William Ransford Banforth, our African-American candidate. I have to say that even though I was mentally kissing that twenty goodbye, I heaved a big sigh of relief. I was sure that Banforth would be good for the school and do a good job. What I still couldn't figure out, though, was how we got him. I had pictured him going somewhere for big money, and I knew he wasn't going to get big money at our school.

The chancellor smiled broadly. He announced proudly that the new dean of the school of business and economics was Professor William Ransford Banforth. You could tell the chancellor was really pleased with himself that is, he thought it was his personal coup to bring in this dean. I looked across the room at George. He was beaming. One of his low handicappers had come home the winner. I knew he was counting the proceeds in his head. I guessed he stood to make five or six hundred dollars from this book. I went home from the ceremony feeling less settled and pleased than I would have liked.

The next morning I headed straight to George's office when I came to work. George was sitting at his desk with his yellow papers. "The best thing is that Gary Johns came down here three days ago and bet a hundred dollars on Meeks. I have to say I was very surprised. But I was glad to take his money."

"George, Gary Johns is Steggles' graduate assistant. Didn't that worry you any?" I asked.

"No, it didn't worry me at all because I didn't know that." He grinned an impish grin. "But even the great Steggles was wrong on this one." But as he said that his phone buzzed. George picked up the phone with a jaunty hello but then his face fell. "What? What!!? You can't mean that . . . How can they do that? . . . Listen . . . who . . . okay." He hung up. His face was ashen.

"What is it George?" I asked. His face looked as though someone in his family died. "It's . . . it's the dean." He stammered.

"What dean?"

"Our dean, of course. Banforth has withdrawn."

I was stunned. How could they handle this? What would the chancellor and provost do? Do the search again? Who would be dean in the interim? But then the departmental secretaries got a call from administration. The chancellor was going have an announcement at 3:30 in the Alumni House.

When we got to the Alumni House at about 3:20, the place was packed. All the local newspapers and TV stations had reporters there. This had all the earmarks of something really embarrassing if not an outright scandal. I saw Jim Steggles sitting in the second row beaming, and more unusual still, Paul Meeks was sitting up on the dais.

The chancellor was somber this time. "I regret to inform you that Professor Banf

Recommend Write a ReviewReport

Share Tweet Plus Reddit
About The Author
wltullar
wltullar
About This Story
Audience:
All Audiences
Posted:
4 Oct, 2016
Genre:
Comedy
Type:
Funny
Words:
10,978
Favorites:
0
Views:
450

Please login or register to report this story.

More Stories

Please login or register to review this story.