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The Northerner

Find out what ‘the man’ had to say

Regan Coomer

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Who’s caught a Stones concert, traveled to Istanbul, wants Elton John to visit campus and never misses an episode of “Law and Order?”

If you’re not guessing lucky, we’ll fill you in: It’s our very own President James Votruba.

A Northerner editor sat down with Votruba to get the scoop on what our No. 1 administrator does when he’s not behind the top man’s desk.

What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?

The Rolling Stones, Michigan State, mid-’90s, football stadium, full moon, Mick Jagger prancing around for two hours.

A book that changed your life?

I’ve had so many books that have changed my life. One of the books is a book called “Synchronicity” by Joseph Jaworski. It’s a book on the inner path of leadership. He draws on writers from around the world who have thought deeply about the role of leaders in life. He quotes a Chinese writer who said that leadership is as much about who you are as what you do. I read a lot of biographies. I read a lot of books on Lincoln. I’ve read just about every book on Lincoln. I don’t read novels generally, I’m more inclined to read nonfiction than fiction.

Favorite musical artist of all time?

Eva Cassidy is a country/western and blues singer. She did a CD entitled “Songbird” that’s my favorite. I have it on my MP3, and I listen to that when I’m exercising, oftentimes when I’m out running. I also like classical music. I like Mozart. I like Brahms. I listen to Elton John. Elton John is one of my favorites. In fact, I’d like to see Elton John open our new special events center, the Bank of Kentucky Center.

Favorite TV show?

Oh, “Law and Order.” Big time. (Emphatically) “Law and Order.” I love L’O. Rachel (Votruba’s wife) and I watch TV in the evening oftentimes just to relax. Rachel is a needle-pointer, and we’ll sit on the sofa together and she’ll needlepoint and I’ll be going through paperwork for the next day for work and we’ll watch L’O. L’O is probably my favorite. Sometimes we just flip around and look for it.

Last movie you saw?

“The Painted Veil.” What movie did we really like? (Asking his wife Rachel on the phone) What was the one that mimicked Diana Ross and the Supremes? “Dreamgirls.”

Person you’d most like to meet?

Might be Lincoln. I don’t know if I can pick out a single person. I think probably Gandhi would be one, Lincoln might be another. Most of the people that I would have like to have met I’ve read about. The people who I enjoy focusing on are people who have been kind of value-based and vision-driven people. People who have had an impact in their lives on things that are important to me.

Favorite campus hangout?

I like to be in the cafeteria. I eat lunch over there. Not as frequently as I’d like, but I’ll have lunch with students or with faculty and staff, that’s always fun because it gives me a sense of what’s going on on campus from their prospective. I tell ya, I really enjoy this campus. Being on campus keeps me in touch with what we’re all about. You can sit up here in this office and students become numbers, or faculty and staff become numbers. Because I deal with a lot of numbers. Anything that keeps you in touch with the people you’re trying to serve and being out around campus is fun. Another place I love is the library. I love the library. And I’ll tell ya, libraries all smell alike. And it’s a wonderful smell. I don’t know if it’s the cleaning, or if it’s the books, or various products used to manufacture books, but some of the happiest days of my life have been spent back in the stacks. Alone with my thoughts, and the thoughts of others.

What is your coffee order?

I don’t drink coffee. I’ve taken great pride in that until several years ago when somebody reminded me that I still get my caffeine. I get it from Diet Pepsi. I drink Diet Pepsi. I tried coffee when I was in college, and I couldn’t figure it out. About 25 years later I tried it again because all these boutique coffees were coming out, and I thought, ‘OK, I owe it to myself to try coffee again.’ And I tried a latte. Still couldn’t understand it.

What’s your take on the metal box?

(Laughs) I don’t think about the metal box much. I think it’s become, over the years, an important kind of icon on the campus, people joke about it. Of course, it’s a serious piece of art, and it’s a very valuable piece of art. But, it’s also a piece of art that’s the object of a lot of humor. People make jokes about it and probably go hide out in it for all I know. I think it’s fun to have it in the center of campus, and it’s fun to have something like that that people can kind of read into it, they can make it whatever we choose.

What part of your job do you like the best?

Interacting with students, interacting with faculty. As time permits, going to lectures. The thing I enjoy most is interacting with faculty and staff and students. It’s what we’re all about here. And this year has given me the opportunity to do it a lot because of the Visions, Values and Voices process. It’s forced me to carve out large blocks of time to interact with students.

Best travel destination?

I have lots of favorite travel destinations. When I graduated as an undergraduate, I took off with a backpack for about three months in Europe and the Middle East. I had spent a good bit of my undergraduate years studying in the humanities, so I was like a kid in a toyshop. I went all over Europe, I ended up in Greece, and then I thought, ‘I’m so close to Israel, I’ll go to Israel.’ When I got to Israel I thought, ‘I’m so close to Istanbul and The Blue Mosque,’ I ended up there, so I just kept going. I went to Jordan, I went to Jerusalem. I was in Israel about six months after the Six-Day War. I’ve traveled a lot. It was a period of great discovery for me as a young man.

What would be an ideal date with your wife?

A quiet dinner where no one knows us. No one comes up and says hello. Rachel and I get away probably every couple of months for a long weekend, and oftentimes we’ll take off and go to Park City, Utah. We’re both skiers. We love to ski. As much as anything, it gives us a chance to be by ourselves. It’s not so much what we do, but the fact we’re doing it together, and we’re doing it outside the world of my work. My role in the university makes my life quite a public one. One of the advantages of getting out of town is I can just be me and not be president of NKU. The perfect date for Rachel and me is to get out of town for a long weekend and just enjoy each other. We enjoy so many of the same things. We’re skiers. We’re hikers, we’re bikers. But most of all we just enjoying sharing each other’s life and each other’s company.

What do you like best about being a grandfather?

(Laughs) Oh my goodness, there’s so many wonderful things. The best thing about being a grandfather is not having to be their parent. I don’t have to say no. I don’t have to discipline them. We have five grandsons and a step-granddaughter and they range from age 13 to a year and a half. And the best thing about being with them is that you can spoil them, indulge them and then send them home.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to?

There isn’t a day that I don’t look forward to. I continue to look forward to coming to work, and the building that we’re doing at the university. I don’t mean just the buildings. This is a time of enormous growth and development at the university, and it’s so much fun to be a part of it. What I do in my profession is not work. Work is what you to do to guarantee your financial security. This work has a deeper, more intrinsic meaning. And I look forward to it. I’ve been doing it now for 10 years. This is my 10th anniversary here. In many respects, it seems like the blink of an eye. I look forward to how all this is going to turn
out. There will come a day, when I’m no longer president, of course, and my hope is I’ll live long enough to see how all this develops because this is a great place.

But I do look forward to a time when I’ll have greater freedom. My wife and I talk more these days about life after the presidency. This job is very consuming, and as I said I love to do it, but it is consuming, and it takes a lot of weekends and a lot of evenings and involves you with an awful lot of people. I want my career to go full cycle, and finish where I started, which is in the classroom, working with students, working with other faculty, and working to support presidents of other institutions that are facing challenges. I’ll probably do consulting and that kind of thing. I look forward to more time with my grandchildren.

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The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.
Find out what ‘the man’ had to say