Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with our president, David Wolk, and get to know him more personally then by just looking at the pictures on Castleton’s Web site. He told us about his future ambitions, his suggestions to better Castleton and even what to say to him if you get in trouble. We learned that he used to be a paperboy, a bartender and a competitive toboggan racer, but before we got into all that, he told us the meaning of life as seen by him.
David Wolk (DW): I have this simplistic notion, what makes for a good job, good marriage, good relationship, good life, its got to be two things, its got to be intellectually stimulating and its got to be emotionally gratifying to the point where you get up every day and you want to go to work, you want to have that relationship with that person, you want to be married. If you feel intellectually stimulated and emotionally gratified that’s sort of a secret to a good life, good marriage, good job, etc. . And I feel that way here.
The Spartan (TS): How’s the house on the hill?
(DW): I like it – Thursday night is definitely the party night on campus, it’s the loudest night, but we don’t mind it at all. There are other presidents that don’t like living on campus. In fact the UVM president doesn’t live in the house that’s on campus. He’s got his own place on Lake Champlain.
(TS): Do you have to shovel in the winter?
(DW): We shovel the back area, but they go around and plow and when we have events, they’ll shovel the front area. We didn’t want to move here at first, we were really happy in our house – it’s where our kids grew up. They’re all grown up and gone, but at first we didn’t want to move on campus, but it’s part of the job and its been wonderful. We’ve opened up the house more than it ever has been before – for all kinds of events – there have been classes on our back deck and students practicing on the field next to us.
(TS): What were some of the worst jobs you had growing up?
(DW): I had a lot of them. I was a bartender and a waiter. I like bartending better then waiting on tables. It’s probably my favorite job. I drove a truck delivering Sunday papers, I worked in a recreation department for six summers as a playground supervisor and a day camp counselor and ran the Little League program.
I used to bartend a lot – I still could – I used to memorize that whole Mr. Boston guide, although some of these new drinks, I don’t know if I could make some of those?
(TS): You did your undergrad at Middlebury College; do you remember the name of the college president while you were there?
(DW): Umm? (Thinking). I just went to the inauguration of the new president last year. (Laughing).?
(TS): It’s not a big deal
(DW): Ok. (Chuckling)
(TS): Do you hope to have a more lasting impression on your students than he had on you?
(DW): (Laughing hysterically).Yes! Oh god.this is embarrassing!
I know what he looked like too..
(TS): James Armstrong was his name
(DW): Oh yeah I remember now. he had grey hair.
(TS): So how did you get to be the president of Castleton?
(DW): I worked at a catholic school as a teacher and guidance counselor, coach, and was involved in advising different programs. Then I went to graduate school and became academic dean at another prep school. Then I became an elementary and middle school principle, was in the senate for four years, ran for the senate government and lost was appointed Gov. Dean’s chief of policy and was recruited to come back to my home town to be principle of the high school that I graduated from, Rutland High.
(TS): People have decorated the “what will make Castleton better board” with everything from “better looking students” to “more hippies” and “fewer hippies” as well as some serious answers. What’s the one thing that will make Castleton better right now?
(DW): A new president . (laughing) . In the past two years the Pell grants have been frozen and the student loans have been cut back and frankly what would make it better for students is – and this is not a political statement – it has been since Bush has become president, they’ve either frozen or cut back on all those loan programs. To go back to the days of the late 90’s when there were increases to the loan program – to be honest with you – I think that would make it better, if we could return to the days of higher levels of federal financial aid.
(TS): What’s Castleton going to look like 20 years from now?
(DW): There is going to be pretty significant changes to all the buildings on campus except for Woodruff. So physically we’ll have state-of-the-art-classrooms, resident halls, community facilities, athletic fields and facilities, but I think it’s going to be more like five-to-10 years. We’re really going to remake the face of this campus. We’re going to see some really radical changes.
(TS): College has changed a bit since you were in school, did you ever participate in any sit-ins or protests?
(DW): In Middlebury, there was a Vietnam War protest that I participated in. It was a peaceful, nonviolent protest . I think that was the only one. I was more involved in working for candidates who I supported.
(TS): The atmosphere has changed a bit. Are the sit-ins and nihilistic students a thing of the past or are they going to make a comeback?
(DW): We just celebrated the third anniversary of the Iraq war . and when the war started, there were some marches here on campus, not sit-ins, but more like teach-ins. What’s happened here is no different than other colleges. There just isn’t as much anti-war activity as I would have predicted. In the 60’s, when I was in high school and college, it was not just about the War, but it was about the war on poverty, it was all about civil rights, the war on hunger . it was a much different level of social consciousness. I’m not just talking about Castleton, this is nationwide – what I do see more of now, that I didn’t see then, which is a good thing, and this is especially true at Castleton, is the level of volunteer service. Think of all the students who are involved in alternative spring break, Meals On Wheels, Make-A-wish foundations, America Reads mentoring association, we have 50-60 students volunteering at the Castleton school. We have a much higher level of volunteer service here than most colleges and that’s so much better than it was in the 60-70’s, where people were concerned about the civil rights and wars because we were going to get drafted.
My draft number was 23. Now, you have a lot more students more interested in one-on-one.
(TS): Do you ever deal with the disciplinary actions of students?
(TS): What’s the best thing for a student to say when they walk in this door on Monday morning and it’s time to face the president?
(DW): “Let me tell you the truth.”
(TS): It’s that simple?
(TS): You’ve had several roles in government including Howard Dean’s chief of policy. Was there ever a time while you were alone with Gov. Dean that you felt slightly intimidated by his aggressive behavior?
(DW): You’re talking about the scream?
(DW): Let me tell you, last week he called me. We talked for an hour and we mostly talked about our kids. He’s a great guy and he does get a little carried away at times, but he’s a wonderful father and he’s a great guy, but no I’ve never been intimidated by him.
He’s really competitive and so am I – this is really immature – but one day when my kids were really little we were up on the mountain top in Chittenden and we were tobogganing with our kids. Of course, he’s got his state cop right next to him and at that time I was in the Vermont senate and didn’t have the protection that he had, but we had our kids in the toboggan and were up at the top of this really steep hill. So we start going and all of the sudden it’s a race and we got our kids in the toboggan and we’re going as fast as we can about a mile down this hill. So that was probably not the smartest thing to do, but I wasn’t intimidated . (Laughing)
(TS): Do you have any plans to get back into government?
(DW): No, you really have to have the fire in the belly to do it and I just . I don’t have any really desire to do it. I feel good about what I did in the senate but I think you have to have a number of issues that drive you and really be passionate about it and at my age I just don’t have that. I have issues that are personal to me, but when you run for office you cast away all semblance of privacy. I didn’t mind it then, when I was younger but . no you really need to be driven and I’m not driven to run for office again. I leave it to others.
(TS): What is one career that you would have liked to do other than education or politics?
(DW): I don’t even need to think about this, I would have loved to, and maybe I still will who knows, but I love sports and I would have like to be a sports writer or a columnist or a national sportscaster. It’s totally different than the jobs that I’ve had before. It has all been about making a difference, trying to help people, so that would be a selfish career as opposed to what I’ve done in the past.
(TS): Ok, now I’m going to give you two choices and you pick the one you prefer over the other?
(TS):O’Reilly factor/ Colbert Report?
(DW): Colbert Report, I watch it all the time, but my favorite is Keith Oberman – Countdown – and I love the way Oberman goes after O’Rielly almost every night as the worst person in the world and I’m so into it that I tape it.
(TS): Tivo/DVR ?
(DW): DVR, but I’m usually not home in time, so I’ll watch it at midnight. I’m a late night person.
(TS): Weapons of mass destruction/ weapons of mass deception?
(DW): (Laughing) It’s not even a question, it was the latter.
(TS): Cadillac Escalade/ Toyota Prius?
(DW): Toyota Prius, in fact I’m going to be driving a Toyota Prius when it comes in because I think all of our fleet should be Hybrid, so I want to set the example.
(TS): English Lit/Pre Calc?
(DW): English Lit.
(TS): The Spartan/ New York Times?
(DW): (Laughing) The Spartan! Come on . that was a softball, right down the middle.
(TS): Johnny Damon yuppie/Johnny Damon hippie?
(DW): Johnny Damon hippie, although he lives up to the title in his recent book. Which I have. He is an idiot.
(TS): Ok so it’s the bottom of the ninth, there are no outs and you’re at bat with a runner on first and you’re down one run. Are you going to sacrifice to move the runner over or are you swinging for the fence?
(DW): I’m swinging for the fence