Michael Geheren: What is your role for the students in one sentence?
James W. Abbott: My role is to make sure the student experience at USD is the best that it can be.
MG: What are some of the highlights of being a student here?
JA: One of the highlights is graduating and getting that first great job or getting accepted to a great grad school or a great profrssional school. I think one of the the things that is so great about USD is that it is a university town that is really fun. It’s kind of womvy if you will, not roomie, but womvy. W-O-M-V-Y. It’s not a word, I don’t think. It’s big enough you don’t know everybody by any means, but you do know somebody and that is nice.
MG: I notice you eat lunch with students sometimes.
JA: I do.
MG: Why do you do that?
JA: I don’t even know, I just like it. I like talking to students. Students are fun — I like to know the students.
MG: I understand you have two dogs, but I have only seen one.
JA: Yes, that is because I don’t care for one of them.
MG: The one you like is McGovern?
JA: McGovern I like a lot.
MG: What is wrong with the other dog?
JA: Well, Oscar is a beagle who barks all the time. He and I don’t get along. He doesn’t like me either, so it is mutual.
MG: And you flex the pet policy when bringing McGovern through the MUC?
JA: Yeah, I pretend like there isn’t one. I actually don’t know if there is one. I’m always careful not to take him around food. I just sort of walk through. I like the exercise, he does too. I like going through the buildings at odd times.
MG: Why did you name him McGovern? Obviously he was named after the late Sen. George McGovern.
JA: We started a tradition one dog ago, naming our dogs after defeated Democratic presidential candidates. We figure we could have a lot of dogs then. The first one was Adlai, after Adlai Stevenson. Now we have McGovern, and I hope he is with us for a long, long time because he is a very sweet dog.
MG: Speaking of presidential candidates, are you planning a 2016 run for president?
JA: If they decide to call my job president of the university, I will run for that again. Other than that, no.
MG: We are a Pepsi school, but I understand you have a secret stash of Coke in your office.
JA: You know I really don’t.
MG: You don’t? But, do you prefer Coke?
JA: I really don’t like Pepsi. I think it is because my grandmother always drank Pepsi. She watched soap operas and drank Pepsi.
MG: Let’s say you are acting as a travel agent for a group of students for spring break next year. Where would you send them?
JA: I would send them on a service trip of course, while I would then leave for, I don’t know, Acapulco? Just kidding. I really would encourage students to go on service trips. I really think students get way more out of it than they even contribute, and they contribute a lot. I would like to go to Appalachia if I had a choice.
MG: Do you get into social media? I know you don’t have a Twitter account, but there was the Fake Jim Abbott account.
JA: Well, I was kind of thinking of doing a fake, fake Jim Abbott. Then I decided it would be a lot of work and I would have to keep up with it. I would have to try and be clever. That’s tough. The guy who did the fake Jim Abbott, he was good.
MG: Let’s say the state Legislature decided to give you $12 million to spend on what you would like.
JA: I think my successor would have to spend it because I would be dead of shock. It is highly unlikely. If I had $12 million I would invest it in a new health sciences building, which we desperately need. It wouldn’t be enough though.
MG: What do you want students to gain in their time here?
JA: You know, I always say the same thing, and for me it is the definition of the liberal arts education. I want them to leave here with the ability to express themselves in writing, orally, to think critically and to be able to problem solve. That’s the goal as far as I am concerned. And of course if you have to do let’s say accounting, you have to be able to learn the skills.
MG: What is one thing you wish you would have known when you were a student here?
JA: I wish I would have known or felt compelled to be a little more disciplined as a student. There are courses I should have taken. I should have taken more math —at the time it wasn’t required. You could choose between science and math. I chose botany.