Monday, December 04, 2006

Privett Feature

“You would be an idiot to not know how to work the system,” said the silver haired priest, explaining why having single sex dorms wouldn’t limit the possibility of promiscuity.
Father Privett, 63, President of USF, is as down to earth as he is spiritual. He drives a Mini-Cooper; he says he watches no TV, gains no salary, and knows there will always be a place for Jesuit tradition.
On November 20, USF’s Journalism One class meets with Privett for a State of USF press conference and answers questions ranging from football possibilities to USF republicans.
The conference starts, the floor is open... silence. With sideburns creeping down his cheeks, Privett smiles at the room and gives the students an unspoken ok to ask some tough questions any questions. Still though, there is hesitation. What are they waiting for? Eyes wander and glances are tossed back and forth across the table. One student, a girl in green, almost goes for it but then retreats. Who will ask it?
Finally, the ice is broken. The opening question stumbles awkwardly out onto the table, reminiscent of a newborn colt, making itself vulnerable for the first time. The student reporter whom asks it also sits closest to Privett, on his left, making him the most courageous person in the room. Like a group of chefs waiting for a patron’s approval, the beginning reporting class stares silently at the President. The next few seconds feel like minutes amongst the young reporters. Then, almost anticlimactically, Privett calmly nods and answers accordingly.
One can tell Privett, has previously answered 90 percent of the questions the reporting students ask him, but he still gives the students respect and eye contact, purveying that he is a man of the masses and not just a figure perched high atop Lone Mountain.
The LM room we are in, inside the Rossi Wing, reflects the grandeur of the President. It is clean and unmistakably Catholic—two Jesuit paintings hang from the far wall. The conference table inside is long and oak with 14 black chairs surrounding the perimeter—students fill all but the three in the back. Privett is at the head with a glass wall to his right, a view of the city to his left and oak panels covering for what looks to a flat screen TV to his back.
The next question comes from the glass side of the room, avoiding the dreaded domino effect where one question follows the previous down the line and around the table.
Privett adjusts his wire frame glasses and takes the question to heart then laughs out loud. "Hell will freeze over before football comes back to USF," Privett says, humorously demolishing any lingering rumors or doubts. Privett, wearing a woolen blue sport coat, says only 13 schools in the country profit off of football and a new program carries $five-million in starter fees, two statistics that don't match up with his view of USF.
Looking to the back of the room, the three empty chairs are filled with the final three students in the class. Were they late because they needed their coffee fix or because they were lost in the labyrinth of hallways the Rossi Wing is?
Privett, in answering the questions, tells of his view for USF as one that has the university continually increasing its value. Whether that is hiring staff that best fits the university mission, rather than on their political ideology or informing students that it is not normal for a college student to drink every night.
Away from his words, Privett's hands tell tales of their own. They circle the table top in front of him—as he describes that he has no influence in USF's food contract with Bon Appetit–like jets hovering above an imaginary airport, waiting for the SF fog to clear so they can land.
When he explains why he would sell KUSF if he thought it no longer fit within the University's Mission, his hands distance themselves as they move away from his body, playing the parts of two sailboats racing in the San Francisco Bay.
Later, when he talks about the new Cabaret Theater Company in relation to Crossroads, his finger tips touch and his palms are apart, creating the outline of an ancient Native American Ohlone tee pee that could have stood on the Hill long before the erection of USF. Yes, his hands have many stories to tell, but so does he.
Privett is a maverick Jesuit President who isn’t afraid of going against the mold. He says he is unwilling to make USF abroad programs mere “American colonies” in other countries like Gonzaga has done with its Venice program. Instead, he operates at a higher level. He wishes to stray USF students away from the McDonald’s experience many students receive when they cross entire oceans, and instead immerse them in cultures that offer students an experience 180 degrees from a Big Mac and fries.
The first time Father Privett traveled out of the US, to El Salvador, the village he stayed in was bombed and strafed multiple times. After more time in the country he realized the US government wasn’t offering the aid they said they were and he learned that you must question and challenge established hegemony.
This is to be his most energetic point—acknowledging that the students themselves will decide what they do, not him. Specifically, as consumers fighting their own battle against Bon Appetit, as revolutionaries negotiating their own balance between the innovations of the internet and the intimacy of real contact, or their decision on the role science in religion and how they should intertwine.
Towards the end of the conference, J. Michael Robertson, Professor of the J1 class, opens the floor to some tuff questions. We can see a flare ignite in Privett’s eyes. What will happen next?
Hilarity, that’s what. The first question out of the gate falters and hits the table in a thud. The next question is seemingly ambushed. A representative of the USF Republicans, also a J1 student, asks the question about Republicans. Privett gives a sneering smile and replies, “As President they are welcome. As a person, they are kooks.” Here we can see the playful side of Privett. Next question.
One more and Privett is about tuckered out from the barrage of variance the students threw at him in the form of their questions. With arms crossed, he says thank you and goodbye.
As the class walks out, one more question comes to mind—how much would he sell his Mini-Cooper for?

No comments: