A rich pitch at the Towson mansion

March 25, 2002|By Joseph R. L. Sterne

SECRET PLANS seem to be underway for the first Deep Pockets Gala at the $1.4 million Towson University presidential mansion in Guilford.

The university's new Center for the Study of Entrepreneurial Acquisitiveness has prepared behavioral recommendations and talking points for Mark L. Perkins, whose "coronation" (an alumnus' word) as the university's 11th president was celebrated on the Ides of March. According to quasi-final documents, President Perkins is asking Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, to be his first guests of honor at his first big fund-raising bash.

"Because the primary mission of any aspiring institution of higher learning is to enlarge its endowment, it makes sense to invite the directors of the nation's largest foundation," President Perkins was said to have said.

"We are supposed to educate students," he conceded, "but first things first.

"Without millions in our coffers, how are young people to appreciate Shakespeare or the immense scientific contributions of Microsoft?"

What follows is the CSEA public relations advisory for President Perkins as he prepares for the inaugural Deep Pockets Gala:

"The dress code will be white tie and tails in order to set the tone for subsequent gatherings of big bucks in plush surroundings redolent with Towson traditions. It may well be that Mr. Gates will arrive in an open-neck shirt, since he has never been known to wear a tie. To make him feel comfortable, please advise all assistant deans to make a change to blue jeans should Mr. Gates arrive in casual dress.

"It is almost certain, President Perkins, that Mr. Gates will ask you why you are wearing a rather ostentatious $25,000 university gold medallion around your neck. Be prepared to answer that an old grad prominent in crafting this bauble has described the medallion as `like a wedding ring' -- a badge of the highest office the former teachers college can bestow.

"If, perchance, Mr. Gates should complain as he enters your mansion that pesky little brown bugs are flying around and tickling his nose, tell him these are doomed termites, the last hardy remainders of an infestation university biologists are determined to eradicate.

"If he then asks why in hell you bought a huge house loaded with termites, respond by saying that this was a deliberate move to inspire advanced research. Indeed, this could be the moment to begin putting the arm on Mr. Gates. Tell him that with a benefaction of $115 million, Towson can develop a cure for the common termite -- thus saving homeowners millions of dollars that they would be wise to spend on laptops.

"Mrs. Gates may also become agitated as white chips peeling off window sills fall into the caviar and the truffles. Don't mention lead paint to her. Don't even think it. Switch the subject fast to the dream of a Towson University Center for the Study of Women CEOs named in Melinda's honor. Susan Keating of Allfirst Bank is a shoo-in prospect for director.

"President Perkins, sir, the greatest challenge of the first Deep Pockets Gala may come if Mr. Gates inquires why Towson University's presidential mansion is some miles away in ritzy Guilford rather than on campus.

"By all means, do not -- repeat not -- reply that Towson town is not tony enough for Towson University.

"Instead, suggest that the geographic bifurcation of campus and mansion could lay the foundation for something really significant. Since Western Maryland College is in the process of spending $200,000 to find a new name, the way is open to convert Towson University into Central Maryland University.

"The TU Center for the Study of Entrepreneurial Acquisitiveness believes such a name would convey breadth and majesty and a readiness for major investment.

"Of course, the first Deep Pockets Gala attended by the deepest pockets in the country offers a breakthrough even better than a name change to Central Maryland University. A breakthrough out of the box, truly inspired, something that will set a new standard for college fund-raising.

"Sir, why not Bill Gates University? The price tag: a mere half a billion!"

Joseph R. L. Sterne, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, was editorial page editor of The Sun for many years.

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