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On Twitter, Nebraska and Paterno: Spanier Covers a Gamut in Interview

on July 04, 2011 8:10 AM

At the risk of saying too much, I'll put this out there:

Penn State President Graham Spanier is a good interview.

He doesn't require a list of questions in advance. He doesn't get anxious if the conversation runs a few minutes over the allotted time. And he doesn't outright refuse to answer anything.

Plus, he doesn't require the presence of a public-relations representative to monitor the exchange. You might be surprised how often that happens in other contexts these days.

Anyway, for the first time in about a year, Spanier and I sat down for an extended one-on-one Friday afternoon in Old Main. Dave Cole, of Onward State, joined us and snapped several photos during the first few minutes.

You'll see the fruits of our conversation in a number of news articles in the coming days. The first, about Penn State job losses following the latest state-funding cut, was posted earlier Monday morning.

A few subjects that Spanier and I touched on, though, don't exactly merit their own respective stories -- not in this venue, at least. But from Twitter to Joe Paterno's future, they are subjects clearly worth some public attention.

Read on:

On Twitter

Penn State has built up a respectable presence on the social-networking medium, with official Twitter accounts registered to various university departments, functions and leaders, including some deans.

But don't expect to see Spanier in the Twittersphere any time soon. He has no plans to tweet, he said.

"In a normal world, I might have an interest because I am kind of missing out on something," Spanier said. "But I have a hard-enough time as it is keeping up with my 100 e-mails a day. I'm very busy with all of my responsibilities, so getting involved with Twitter would slow me down further."

And here's where it gets more interesting. Turns out that Spanier isn't a huge fan of people impersonating him online. (@GSpanierPSU, are you hearing this?)

"The other thing is, there are people on Twitter and Facebook and these things pretending to be me," Spanier went on. "And I just don't want to confuse things further. I don't like the idea that there are people out there pretending to be me. I'd love to get on Facebook occasionally and see what's going on, but I think it would just get messy for me and take too much time. So I just don't do it."

On Joe Paterno

Asked if Spanier has a sense of whether head football Coach Joe Paterno, 84, knows when he may want to retire, the president limited his remarks.

"Do I think he has a sense about it?" Spanier said, letting loose a light chuckle. "I don't know."

He said he hasn't talked with Paterno lately about prospects for the coach's retirement.

"We talk about it from time to time. But, no, he hasn't made any formal decisions at this point," Spanier said.

And do you know if Paterno is leaning one way or another? I asked Spanier in a follow-up.

"Ask him," Spanier said.

Fair enough, I said.

On Nebraska

Spanier's ties to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln run deep. He was chancellor there before he returned to Penn State as president in 1995.

Given that, I had to ask him about Nebraska's unprecedented ouster this year from the highly regarded Association of American Universities.

Spanier called the rejection of Nebraska "a very unfortunate and somewhat misguided decision on the part of the AAU.

"I did not support it, and a lot of my other colleagues did not support it," he said. "But there were enough votes to have their membership terminated. It was unfortunate, but it does not affect anything about (Nebraska's) membership in the Big Ten," which took effect last week.

Specifically, Spanier said, he thinks an AAU membership committee used flawed methodology for evaluating the research productivity and prestige of universities. "I just think they're not looking at all of the right things."

As an addition to the Big Ten, he added, Nebraska is "going to be great. It'll be a great thing."

Spanier dubbed Nebraska "a wonderful school" with strong academic and athletic traditions.

"They operate their programs with a lot of honor and integrity. They're very competitive in many sports," he said. "We'll have some great rivalries with them in sports like football and women's volleyball ... (and) wrestling, a number of others."

Stay tuned, sports fans.

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