President Bunnell's Hiring Processes
Cashen's Corner by Prof. William R. Cashen '37
This article appeared in the summer 1970 issue of The Alaska Alumnus.
As most of you old-timers recall, I spent three of my four college years under the name and guise:
Editor of the Collegian. That is what my title was—after one year as a janitor. The sudden rise from a menial broom pusher to the role of a college spokesman occurred in May 1934 and this is how it happened.
One evening in March as I was leaning on my broom in the basement of Old Main and conversing with my broom-mate Pat O'Neill, President Bunnell came down the hall from the basement entry. He worked in his office almost every evening and would often stop and chat with us enroute.
This evening, though, he just nodded and started up the basement stairwell.
I looked at Pat and mumbled, "He's sore about something, and finding us loafing probably doesn't help much."
Just then the President stopped, took a step back down the stairs and called: "Oh, Bill, when you have time, would you mind stopping at the office?"
"Sure," I replied, "I'm just putting my things away. I'll be right up."
I turned to Pat and said, "Do you suppose he's going to fire me just because he caught us loafing on the job? It's almost quitting time, isn't it?"
"Well," Pat said, "if that was the reason, he'd have called me in, too."
"Maybe so," I said. "Well, wish me luck." I stowed away my broom, dustpan and other tools of the trade, washed my hands, combed my hair, took a few deep breaths in hopes of getting my pulse down to near normal, and presented myself at the president's door.
"Oh, come in, Bill."
He seemed pleasant enough as he sat there smoking a fresh cigar and signing a short stack of letters.
"Sit down. I'll be with you in a minute." I sat down.
He scratched his back-slanting signature on two or three more letters and then leaned back in his chair.
"Well, tell me," he said pleasantly, "just what are your plans—for the summer and next year."
I was caught off guard but managed to convey the idea that I planned to go back home to Douglas for the summer. And if I was able to find work and save enough money I would be back in September. I was lying a little bit. Actually I did not plan to return. College life was not the gay carefree "razzamataz" John Held Jr. depicted in College Humor, I had discovered, and I was making only C grades in most of my courses.
"Professor Southwick tells me that there are two boys in his freshman English class who know how to write a sentence."
"Oh," I replied, wondering what this information was leading to.
"Yes, that's what he tells me. And you are one of them. "
That was flattering, but it did flash through my mind that the others must be really stupid, considering the hundreds of red marks Ivar Skarland, the grader, had been slapping on my weekly themes.
"He tells me that you and Al Dickey are pretty good at putting capital letters at the beginning of each sentence and those little dots at the end; and that you both spell pretty well."
"Well, I'm pleased to know that," I said, still not knowing what all this flattery was leading to.
"Now I have two important jobs coming up for the next year—in fact they are open at commencement. You and Dickey are well qualified for these jobs. One of them is editor of the Collegian—Jim Pendleton is graduating this year—and the other is assistant postmaster. Frances Meals is graduating too."
I knew both of the present incumbents and was generally familiar with the duties involved in both jobs. If I were to continue in college, here indeed was opportunity knocking, not once, but twice. Of the two, I much preferred the Post Office job - but of course I didn't really plan to return.
"Now the reason I want to put freshmen in these jobs is because I don't want to spend the time and effort to find replacements every year. This way I won't have to worry about these jobs again for three years. "
There was good logic behind this line of reasoning and I hadn't the temerity to point out that he was presupposing: (a) that we would accept, (b) that we would not flunk out, (c) that we would prove satisfactory in our new positions. Also from the way he emphasized the three years he expected us to graduate in that time. I was about to say something non-committal when he concluded:
"I've decided that you should be editor of the Collegian and Dickey should be assistant postmaster."
I realized I was already in pretty deep water and I'd have to swim for safety pretty fast if I hoped to survive.
"I certainly appreciate the offer, Dr. Bunnell, and I'm really flattered; but, you see, I'm not interested in newspaper work. I'm in civil engineering and I plan to get a job this summer for some practical experience—hopefully on the Douglas Bridge."
I added a number of other reasons I couldn't accept; especially stressing how much I was needed at home and how much my family missed me and wanted me back.
Through all this the President sat back, nodding and smiling. He understood perfectly.
Too perfectly in fact. At his suggestion I wrote the family explaining the offer and then relaxed, awaiting word to decline the offer and come home. To my chagrin every one of them (mother, five brothers, one sister) wrote back telling me to accept the offer and stay put!
So three weeks after I so confidently declined the job I was back in the President's office, somewhat sheepishly explaining that if the offer was still open, I would like to accept it.
"Still open?" the President queried. "I don't understand. I told you three weeks ago I was appointing you to the job."
And so he had.
"Now," he said, "I suppose we should talk about the emoluments."
I figured he was talking about the pay so I said yes, I was interested in that.
"The emoluments will be commensurate with the services rendered."
"Fine," I said, "just what is that in dollars and cents?"
"A week? "
"I'll take it."
A quarter of a century later we had just acquired a new University president - our fourth. He called me to his office one day and said, "Bill, I want to appoint you Marshal of the University."
I had no idea what that was but President Wood very patiently explained the various duties and prerogatives of the office and said he thought I'd fill the bill very nicely.
"Now about the emoluments . . . " There was that word again; I hadn't heard it for 25 years, but I immediately became suspicious.
"Money can't buy the type of service you could render the University as marshal," the President continued. "One can't put a price tag on that sort of thing."
"No, I suppose not," I replied, beginning to get the hint. "The salary for being marshal is—zero?"
"I'll take it."
So for ten years I've served as marshal. But there is one great satisfaction that I get every year—and no other faculty member can make this statement: every year for 10 years, without fail, the President has informed me, in person, that he has doubled my salary!