Picnic at Bull Run

As I write, I am one week into my retirement from six years as assistant to the president of a Research I university. In many ways, this was a great job. To gain a perch on the heights of academic responsibility while being responsible for very little; to learn the ropes without having to pull strings; to meet persons with political power or money or both and not have to seek favors from them might be imaginable ambitions of a (cautious) young person interested in academic administration.

Like Washingtonians picnicking at the battle of Bull Run, to be satisfied as an assistant-to you need to prefer to be a spectator in battle, comfortable away from real action, prepared to retreat when threatened with harm. There are some not constitutionally suited to these jobs. Those who have problems with authority will find having no say-so to be frustrating. Writers may be among those unsuited to long term service as assistants to great persons. —Margaret Gutman KloskoPicnic at Bull Run (Inside Higher Ed)

A candid article about the atmosphere in which one professional writer was expected to work. The author worked for University of Virginia President John T. Casteen. Back around 1990, I had an internship in the public relations office at the University of Virginia, and while getting my Virginia MA I wrote for the Virginia Engineering Foundation (the fund-raising arm of the e-school). Casteen came on board roughly around that time. (The outgoing president gave our graduation speech — a fact that I understood and appreciated, though I couldn’t help feeling a little shortchanged. Hadn’t I seen this guy all over the place during my undergraduate career? Oh, well.)

For the press office, I wrote an article on Thomas Jefferson for inclusion in a press packet given to reporters who were covering a convention of U.S. state governors (attended by then-president Bush the Elder, former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, and a black-haired William Jefferson Clinton, who made absolutely no impression on me a at the time, but who I recognized with a gasp several years later when I was sorting through my photos from the event).

For the engineering school, I mostly wrote newsletter articles, but I helped write advertising copy, and I occasionally helped my boss write letters to donors. I even drafted a speech that the e-school president gave at the opening of a new building. (He used only about 40% of it, and the joke I wrote for him fell completely flat.)

I enjoyed the job and the people, and it was great having the experience and the position as a backup when I applied to PhD schools.