One of the perks of working for a college president is that occasionally you get to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. I, for example, once attended a Rose Garden swearing-in ceremony and met President Clinton, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynahan and General Colin Powell. It was thrilling. Another time I sat inches away from Stevie Wonder as he belted out his greatest hits to a private audience of 100 or so. It was a toe-tapping good time.
Of course, such moments happen but once in a great while, and a lot of mundane stuff fills the in-between times. If you have the good luck, or misfortune, to serve as the president’s executive assistant, in addition to the mundane you perform a dizzying variety of “other duties as assigned.” This can mean picking up presidential offspring at daycare, folding laundry, and taking trips to the car wash–all tasks assorted EA’s, all of the PhD’s, tell me they have undertaken.
Being an executive assistant does not require a doctoral degree (although it might help), but it does demand that the amanuensis have a high degree of stamina. The president I worked for once asked me to leap out of his car at a tollbooth on the New Jersey Turnpike in order to retrieve his briefcase from the trunk, an act for which foolhardiness, or a death wish, as opposed to stamina, was requisite, I suppose. One executive assistant I knew managed to combine foolhardiness with stamina in pursuit of her extra duties. She and the president’s spouse took two-hour liquid lunch breaks, imbibing various spirits to fuel their gossip about college employees. As you can imagine, this career move earned the EA great respect from her colleagues. And a big raise from her boss. Go figure.
These days former Executive Assistant to the President Pamela Reid, late in service to retiring Mills College President Janet Holmgren, has a lot of time on her hands to figure out how she lost her job. Poor Pamela. One hot August day last summer her career in higher education went to the dogs. Specifically, to President Holmgren’s dogs, a pack that included Chihuahua-terrier mix Holly. Holly sank her dainty fangs into a toothsome bit of Pam’s left ankle as the EA was attempting to ready the president’s house for a fund-raising event. California law makes no bones about it: victims of snack-happy canines are to report the bite to animal control; Pamela did and that’s when things turned vicious.
According to her wrongful-termination suit, filed in Alameda County Court, after she reported the injury, Ms. Reid soon went from top dog on the president’s staff to permanently ensconced resident in the dog house. Says Ms. Reid, “I got nasty-grams.” The torment continued for five months, until Ms. Reid was “laid-off.”
You know as well as I that at age 62, Pamela Reid will have a hard time finding a new job. In today’s market, not many employers will give an old dog even the opportunity to learn new tricks, so it’ll probably be a long time before Pam lands a new position, a dog’s age I would estimate. Her suit may be “meritless,” as the college of course claims, but I can understand her dogged pursuit for justice. She should know, though, that looking for compassion from a college president is really, really barking up the wrong tree.