August 28, 2006

Skorton Checks In

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A half an hour before President David J. Skorton was scheduled to move into Mary Donlon Hall yesterday, one of the other residents, Daniel Ochs ’10, was waiting for his new dorm mates just down the hall.

The writer-in-residence suite, where Skorton and his wife, Robin Davisson, will stay for a week, is on the left at the end of the hallway where Donlon residents take the stairs down to the building’s basement laundry.

In Ochs’ five-person suite, a few six-packs of Mountain Dew sit up on a shelf; snowboard boots and other clothing are strewn around the floor; a fan leans precariously on the case of the open window, which swings down and outward into the room.

Ochs’ rooms are laid out on the same footprint as Skorton’s, but lack the president’s suite’s furniture, big-screen television, and air-conditioning.
Located on the first floor of the dorm, the quint is being used as overflow housing, according to Ochs, because he sent his housing application in late. Ochs is from the area – Trumansburg, N.Y. He wonders how his southern suitemates will handle the snow (three of the others are from Virginia, one is from Boston), and he is glad that Skorton has finally arrived.

“Because we’re on the first floor we get people stopping by all the time asking, ‘When is he coming? When is he coming?’” Ochs said.

“People were posting notes on his door saying, ‘come visit me in room whatever,’” he said.

But Ochs and two of his suitemates, Chris Parschalk ’10 and Justin Park ’10, said they liked the idea of the president living down the hall.
“We’ll probably go over and say hi after he’s all moved in and everything,” Ochs said.

“We’re gonna prank him,” Parschalk joked. “We’ll make him brownies – special brownies,” he said. “Just kidding, but we’ll definitely go say hi.”

Around 4:00 p.m., when Skorton was supposed to arrive, Rob Barker, a University photographer and Leslie Sadler, an associate director of academic initiatives, showed up at Donlon. Barker said that Skorton wouldn’t arrive until 4:30 p.m — he had some last minute packing to do at his official residence in Cayuga Heights.

A freshman wearing a white-blond shag haircut exited Donlon in a large group shouting, to no one in particular, “Hey, when is the president coming in?”

Two residents sat near the steps studying and waiting for a Chinese take-out delivery. One student balked when he realized that Skorton would be arriving. “I don’t want to be sitting out here looking gross waiting for takeout when the president comes,” he said. They went to wait inside.

At around 5:15 p.m. Skorton and Davisson arrived, he driving a navy blue Audi and she in a white Honda CRV. Both cars had New York plates. As Skorton and Davisson started to unload their cars, three girls shouted “Welcome!” and waved from across the street at the Robert Purcell Community Center.

Skorton was dressed in a red Cornell t-shirt tucked without a belt into Tommy Bahama jeans. He was also wearing, he explained, Columbia river sandals – “in case it floods or something.”

Skorton unpacked several small suitcases, a hanger with suit pants, khakis and three ties and his flute: his saxophone, he said, would have been too noisy for the dorm. Also left home were Skorton’s two dogs: huge Newfoundlands, Billie and Miles, named after jazz legends Billie Holiday and Miles Davis.

Davisson, also in a Cornell tee, wore brown leather heels and khakis. In addition to her bags, she brought her knitting and a fan, which she left in the trunk of the Honda. The writer-in-residence suite is air-conditioned.
Amid flashbulbs, Sadler, the handler, led Skorton down the hall to the suite, which had printed-out Iowa license plates – “Pres. Skorton” and “Prof. Davisson” – on the door. “We have another set with your first names if you want. Your office told us to use your titles,” Sadler said. “First names, we’re using first names,” Skorton said.

Sadler opened the door to the apartment.

“This is not a dorm room,” Davisson said with gusto.

“Hey, check it out – this is way nicer than UCLA when I was a freshman,” Skorton said. “It was just me and my roommate fighting over space in the closet. It was a very crushing experience but I’ve finally gotten over it.”

The suite has internet, cable television, and a window air-conditioning unit. There’s a refrigerator, a kitchenette, a bathroom and a dining table set. The living room includes a leather armchair, a floral patterned couch and potted plants.

“Isn’t it cute?” Skorton enthused, as Davisson grinned back at him.
A fruit basket had been laid out on a buffet which included Skorton favorites such as raisins, Fig Newtons, decaffeinated coffee and string cheese.

Sadler told Skorton and Davisson how to get to the dining hall in RPCC and then made sure their Cornell ID cards were programmed to open the building’s front door.

On the way back to their apartment, they ran into Prof. Steven Schwager, biological statistics, Donlon’s faculty-in-residence, who testified to the buzz Skorton’s visit was causing.

“I was in the lobby stretching to run yesterday and a student came up to me and said, ‘Are you Skorton?’” Schwager told Skorton. “I told him, ‘It’s President Skorton,’” Schwager said.

The couple were thrilled at the prospect of being undergraduates again, although, Davisson admitted, “we felt really old” when a Monday evening reception for Donlon residents had to be pushed up to 9 a.m. They go to bed at 10:30 p.m., Davisson said.

Back on the hallway, Skorton and Davisson met their new neighbors.

“That’s not a bata, is it?” Skorton asked, noticing the resident hall director’s husband’s African drum in a back room. The drum, it turned out, is a djembe. “Now we can really jam, give the undergraduates some competition, make some noise,” Skorton said.