OUTLOOK: Exact starting date/What was the University like at that time?
President Gaffney (PG): July 7, 2003. I came here two days after retiring from the navy. The University was always in great place with a great location. The neighborhood stayed the same and it survived the hurricane. We had an opportunity to build some things, my predecessor had the MAC on the drawing boards and they had been talking about it for ten years. They were finishing up the library renovations. I had a chance to do a few things to fill out that ground and to raise some money for the University. I would say Sam McGill, President 20 years ago, and Becky Stafford, 10 years ago, got us on a really good track to be a University, to be a Division IA program, keep enrollment up between five and six thousand. They had good ideas and I just sort of kept them going and added some new energy to good ideas.
OUTLOOK: New ideas?
PG: One thing I tried to do was, I’m a firm believer that you have a job inside the gates of the University and that’s you going to class and learning something from a professor. A University is such a center of energy and intellectual power has responsibility outside the gate and if you don’t connect these professors with the issues around you and if you don’t get the students interested in those issues, I don’t think you’re getting the full value out of the University. What I tried to do was to do more things with our talent outside the gates, to get us more involved. The side benefit of that is that you get more well known in the region, the state, the governor’s office, in congress, and around. That eventually helps enrollment and our reputation as well. That’s one new thing that I did, setting up all these new centers that we have.
OUTLOOK: Did you come in with a list of Goals/What did you do to accomplish Them?
PG: Every year, I sit down and write out a set of goals and they are sort of negotiated with the chairman of the board. For example, say I write down 10 goals. I send it in and they may say we want you to do more in this area and then we settle on it and I try to accomplish these goals. I think I’ve accomplished this each year. Certainly, there are more things you want to do like have a lot more money and a lot less expenses. You want to have each piece of land usefully filled up and I want to expand graduate education here, while leaving the undergraduate the same size, which is what I would’ve wanted to do had I stayed here longer.
OUTLOOK: What are some examples of these goals?
PG: There are a few. Getting a big donor name on this campus was important to me. We already had Mr. Plangere’s name on the campus and he is still very important and helpful to us. I wanted to also get some other big names that would be recognized far and wide and the biggest achievement in that regard was naming the business school after Leon Hess. Getting to know his wife so well, and she donated money to the MAC, nursing scholarships, and named the business school in honor of her husband, and that was a huge. Like a labor of love, we became really close friends and it was really great. Just getting the MAC started was important as well and getting the art building destroyed and rebuilt in no expense to the student. None of that money came from tuition and it was all from donors. It was always beautiful here, well cared for and well respected from the students, but I feel that we filled in some gaps on the campus in that regard and made some nice progress on what the campus looks like.
OUTLOOK: What is your greatest accomplishment?
PG: Well I think the greatest accomplishment has to be naming the business school. There are so many rewarding things that happened here over the last ten years. We’ve had great speakers at commencement, great athletic wins, we’ve changed conferences, those are all big achievements in my mind. The relationships we had and support we’ve got from Mrs. Norma Hess would have to be the single biggest one for me.
OUTLOOK: Was there a domino effect after?
PG: Yes. When you see a name like Leon Hess with gas stations all around the world, oil drilling, and he was such a great philanthropist and a great man not only in this area but internationally. I think the fact that Monmouth University attracted that kind of support is good news.
PG: I’m sure there are a million things. A major part of my job is to raise support from the university. Both Political support and financial support. I think we did very well and we meet our goal every year and we’ve had some phenomenal gifts, multimillion dollar gifts, but I would always want to do more in that area. Especially getting our alumni more involved in fundraising and giving. If every alum gave $10 a year it would be great considering we have 40,000 alums. We raise most of our money from our neighborhood and less from our alums which is backwards from most schools. I want to get our alums more involved. There was a period of time here in the 50s and 60s when it was an open campus where people were taking years to finish and there was no class identity because people were working the same time they’re going to school. People now have closer bonds to the university in the last 25/30 years, people have been identifying with classes, things like the newspaper, Greek life, athletic teams, and those people are in their 40s and 50s now. When they get to be in their 60s and 70s that’s when you start to have accumulated some wealth and you can start to give. We’re just getting to that stride. I hoped it would start while I was here, but that’s something important for the future and I wish I could have done more but it is what it is.
We’ve built a number of buildings and we’re putting a million dollars into the science building this year, a whole new building for business, donated stadium building behind the stands. All of that pretty much being donated. Still we need more office space and not more class rooms. More places for people to meet and congregate. If you walk around campus like I do at all crazy hours in the dark and in the light, there’s always empty classrooms everywhere, but every office a faculty member is in or that student activity is in is jam packed and we don’t have enough meeting spaces or area like the one in Edison. These areas where students congregate are very popular and sort of with it in the times we’re in right now. Students do more things together academically and we need more of those areas and space to meet and office space for faculty. Even though we’re trying to hold down our number of employees, we’re not trying to hold down our number of faculty and we need offices for them. We have a parking space for everybody here. But if 20 people stay too late, it causes problems which are why we needed valet parking. We invented valet parking for universities and we are the first University to do that. I’d like to have more parking not for more people, just so that finding spaces are easier. If we have a concert or a game we don’t have to schedule it so that it doesn’t collide with a class like we do now because we need the parking. It would be nice if we could find a way to afford a parking deck but they are very expensive. Not to increase the population on this campus, we’re at the max right now, but just to make parking easier and to give us more flexibility. I’d like to finish the athletic stuff, we’re already working on science and business and we’re going to make some improvements over at the woods theatre, we just go donated a house over there. We’ve got a number of things going that are in the elbow room category if you will.
OUTLOOK: Current Condition of the University?
PG: There are two ways to answer that. In a relative sense, relative to our peers (other private schools) if you look at what we pay our faculty, quality of the campus and how it’s kept, the price we charge you in tuition and the low debt we have in our financial stability, we are better than almost everybody (except Princeton) but we are a really good business here. We’re cheaper than all of our peers, in regards to private schools. We’ve got better facilities, great teams, pay our faculty at a high level and we are improving. We have about $35 million in debt that we have to pay over the long term, the next school closer to us is three times higher than that. When you have debt, you have to pay the bank first before you pay your people and it’s been our policy to keep it low. I think we’re in good shape. In absolute terms, would I like more money? Yes. Would I like ten more buildings? Sure. Would I like to be in the Big Ten in football? Absolutely. There are goals out there, but relative to our peers we are well run and frankly, if I left tomorrow you wouldn’t notice it for six months. The Vice presidents and deans who run this place are very good business men and women and we’re in good shape you don’t need the president. He’s going to be able to come in here and think great thoughts and do new things and not worry about raising tuition because we’re in good shape.
OUTLOOK: Have you and the new president, Dr. Brown, spoke yet?
PG: We’re talking almost every day whether it be by voice or through e-mail. We jointly developed a six-page turnover document, sent four big bank boxes of things for him to read of regulations and financial statements. He and I talk about things that are going on here and who he should meet. Meeting all the trustees before he gets here and he’ll meet other people important to the University. Talk every day about debt limit, any cost going to the MAAC in athletics. Every issue that comes across my desk right now I either write him a note or talk to him about it, unless it’s going to be completely taken care of before I leave. The last thing I want is for people to notice there’s a new president, you want him to be able to bring change but you want the platform to be stable and for the people to not have high anxiety.
OUTLOOK: First thing that comes to mind when you think of Monmouth/Best memory at the school.
PG: Getting to know Norma Hess. Opening Rechnitz hall, starting the MAC were also good. If I think back every year the most rewarding memories I have are the things I’ve seen that have involved students. It’s no secret I’m a fan of track and field and I got to see ford palmer run a four-minute mile and I’m going to be talking to people about that for a long time. Jones Santorellies saxophone recital which was fantastic, student theatre group (one Kevin wrote about) my wife Linda and I went the other night and it was probably the best event I’ve seen in Woods Theater since I’ve been here. I enjoy my daily walk around campus at night, in the morning, and it is part of the reason we bought a house on the edge of a campus in South Carolina. The way the university performed during Hurricane Sandy. There were still some students no campus, employees were working around the clock, custodians cleaned bathrooms for 1,100 strangers for 11 days straight nonstop. Some people worked 14 hours a day with many people in here and many of them sick and it was not pleasant work but there was not one complaint and many of them were proud of what they did and the University felt very proud. That was one that would have to stick out. If you had me go back and look at my calendar I can probably pick 10 things from every year and that’s why you stick around. I’ve had many contracts and I could’ve left after two years, after five years, and there’s an exit clause in my contract that I can leave if I give so much notice. Every year has been great though and I’m just leaving now because the tradition is that a president here leaves after 10 years because you need new ideas and new energy and you want to leave when things are in good shape and we’re in pretty good shape. Also I’ll be 67.
OUTLOOK: Some things you’ve learned?
PG: I’ve had so many experiences coming here that I thought I knew everything. I know a lot about financing and raising money, political politics, a lot about being around people who are the average age of 20 because of 39 year Navy experience. I didn’t know much about zoning, planning, and permitting process in a home rules state like New Jersey. How much effort that would take how much a challenge it would be, how much time it takes, how much money it costs. It’s taken me a long time to learn, but I think I know a lot about it now because of talking about it to legislatures in Trenton and we’re trying to get some modest improvements made that don’t threaten and are acceptable to the community (biggest thing). When you’re in a Naval officer, every job you have is about two or three years long and then you move and you go to a different organization in a different state or a different city or ship. The pace to get things done in two or three years, you’re running at a certain speed. At a University, where people stay here longer the pace is different. You have a much more mature work force here than in the Navy. When you move at a quick pace like in the navy, you’re trying to get things done in two to three years you move quicker but you’re more likely to make mistakes. Here things are more deliberate and you discuss things back and forth and you debate them and then you move. Getting used to that pace took some adjustment. Those are the two big things, but otherwise I had run organizations before and I had been around education before because we used to give money away to Universities. Jumped right into it when he got here. Get a whole bunch of things done right away and you have to if you want to be successful.
OUTLOOK: Words of advice for Dr. Brown?
PG: I’m going to tell him not to sit in his office. I have never gone home from any job in my life with anything in my inbox or any e-mail unanswered. I’ve done something with them and then I go home because I have to think about the people who are sending me things because they work for me and I have to have respect for what they’ve done throughout the day. You can sit and answer e-mail and answer phone calls all day and never leave the office and still earn your salary. That’s not why you’re at the University, you need to be out there with the students. You need to go to games, you need to go to practice, you need to go to concerts, go to the student center twice a day, need to walk through the dining hall every once in a while, show up in a lecture or class and you need to be seen on this campus because it is a real benefit of this job. When you’re frustrated with paper work, you can escape in a minute to a very pleasant environment. Walk around, be seen, get people to know you and not be terrified of you and you see what’s going on. Arrangement when PG will be available to him when he calls if he needs background on things like why did you make this decision five years ago because he can’t learn everything in two minutes. I’m not going to call him ever, but I will speak to him if he reaches out to me.
OUTLOOK: What’s next?
PG: Moving to Columbia, South Carolina, which is right on the edge of the University of South Carolina where his daughter went. I gave the commencement address one year there and he had an honorary doctorate from there. I suspect once I get settled down and moved in that I’ll find things to do there to occupy my time. It doesn’t mean I’ll work there. I could sit at baseball practice, go to a play, go to a lecture, maybe take some courses. Maybe I’ll be a journalist, you never know. At my age, going to a state school doesn’t cost very much and it will keep me out of trouble. Slightly slower pace, paly some more golf and drive to the beach every once in a while. Looks to even do some travelling with his wife, not business related.
OUTLOOK: Will you stay connected to the school?
PG: Only as the president here decides. If I’m in this area, I’m on the board of a company in New York city and I’ll come up for that four or five times a year and if I’m here I may come by and see some friends or have lunch with the new president. I won’t be walking around campus telling people what to do. It will be more passive than active. I’d be curious to see what improvements are going on because we’ve got four buildings getting ready to go, so I’d be very interested to see what they look like in a year?
OUTLOOK: Building named after you?
PG: I’m against that. You get your name because you’ve been generous. My wife and I give money to the University and we’ve given a lot of money to the university, but we don’t give millions because we don’t have millions. People who give a lot of money, get their names on things. Some day if I’m a zillionaire, I’ll give money to the University and I’ll be happy to have my name on a building, but until then I think we should save all the real estate we have here for the big donors. I get paid to do so much. I joked and said if you want to name something after me, put my name on lane one of the track. The trustees can do whatever they want but I told them I don’t want to be remembered like that. Maybe later on down the road if I give money.
OUTLOOK: What’s the deal with the Handshake?
PG: I remember doing this the first time I was a boss when I was the commanding officer of a group of sailors and we spent a year in Indonesia, making maps of the coast of Borneo in the island across from it. So, 300 days on a ship at sea with 200 guys and I was 35 and I really liked these sailors. When you go up and shake hands with somebody, you know you’re not going to hug a sailor, but you want to show a little bit extra and I started doing it. I did it at a ceremony one time and people noticed it and the commented on it and I’ve been doing it ever since for about 30 years. No one has fallen over, but he worries about that at commencement because of the things I will say in my commencement remarks is one of the things you enjoy sitting on the stage is watching the women graduates walk across in the most outlandish high heel shoes try to navigate across the stage without tripping themselves and if you give one of them the wrong kind of tug they could fall and it would be embarrassing for them. A lot of people prepare for it, but they didn’t practice it enough and he still gets them. It’s a little gimmick he fell into.
OUTLOOK: Anything we haven’t touched on yet that you feel we should?
PG: One thing we didn’t mention that would be helpful for everybody here would be if you said something about my high regard for the trustees. They call to all kinds of meetings and if you read their biographies they are very accomplished people and are diverse. Since I’ve been here they’ve given tens and millions of dollars to this University. Some people give a few thousand and some give a few million. They are absolutely unwavering in their support for this University. He was in four job searches in 2003 and after he came here and met the trustees he knew it was the place he wanted to be and they were the people he wanted to work for. They’re welcoming, kind, great people, and a great part of this job is working with them. They pretty much don’t tell me what to do every day and we have a fantastic relationship. I will stay in contact with them and three of them have houses in SC so I’ll see them and I’ll see them here.
PHOTO COURTESY of Jim Reme