UCR Chancellor Goes Undercover

Courtesy of CBS

Can a university chancellor experience college life in the same manner as its students, staff and faculty? UC Riverside’s Timothy P. White answered this question by spending a day in the proverbial shoes of the people who make up his institution for CBS’ show “Undercover Boss.”

The show, which aired Sunday, May 1, featured White as “Pete Weston” — a chemistry professor, campus tour guide, library assistant and track coach.

Shedding his usual silver coiffure and clean-shaven face for a false moustache, glasses, fake teeth and a tiny purple earring, White-turned-Weston performed tasks such as reshelving books, teaching an organic chemistry class and timing student runners.

According to UCR’s Director of Media Relations Kris Lovekin, the most difficult task for the chancellor by far was walking backwards, which he did for hours during his time playing a campus tour guide.

“His legs hurt for days after he played tour guide,” Lovekin said. “It really is difficult to walk backward for that long while giving a tour.”

Stammering over scientific nomenclature, (“acetate” became “ah-se-tot”) the chancellor also grappled with the alphabet, (“Does ‘o’ come before ‘p’?” he asked himself as he put books back in the campus library.) and fumbled with the projector, but did not regard these slip-ups as the most significant part of his experience by any means.

It was seeing the gravity employees, faculty and students held at every level that left the greatest mark.

“I couldn’t be happier that I did [this],” Chancellor White said in a press release. “I agreed to do so because I saw an opportunity to immerse myself in the day-to-day work, joy and trials of the campus in a way that my position of Chancellor would otherwise prevent.”

“It afforded me the unobstructed opportunity to be part of the campus’ heartbeat,” he continued. “I was able to observe faculty and students walking slowly down the shaded walkways discussing research, and to see students enjoying a meal and a conversation with 3-4 peers.”

The show “Undercover Boss” allows those in power — typically CEOs, as the show primarily focused on for-profit businesses in its first two seasons — to experience a day in the life of their own workers.

One year ago, CBS approached UC Riverside to be featured as the first university on the show.

“I expect they selected us because we are a dynamic and diverse campus,” Lovekin said.

On a CNN interview in 2009, Chancellor White acknowledged this fact.

“We are by far most diverse, from a racial/ethnic and age point of view, than any of the UC campuses,” he said.

Could this be a worthwhile endeavor for our own campus and chancellor, Michael V. Drake?

Some say it might, for it would give a man in a very high-up position a chance to see what goes on in a campus as lively and volatile as ours.

Still, fourth-year social ecology major Keith Andrew remains skeptical on the potential of such an event.

“I don’t know him very well at all, so I couldn’t say whether or not he would want to partake,” he said. “He doesn’t really show face so it gives off a removed feeling, even though everyone knows what he looks like. It might be hard for him to disguise himself because he is older than [Chancellor White] as well.”

In Riverside, White claims his role as chancellor has been changed as a result of this occurrence, and decisions he will make in the future surely will be influenced by his time spent as Pete Weston.

“I was moved and changed as a person and as a leader by this very intense examination of how the place works from the ground level,” he said.