A.C. Snow

Snow: A Ph.D. in politics pays off

The tsunami of outrage that swept through North Carolina’s university system after the political appointment of Margaret Spellings as president still hasn’t totally subsided.

“Why they’re paying her almost as much as Carolina’s football and basketball coaches,” said one cynical critic, commenting on Spellings’ $775,000 a year salary, plus performance bonuses. Her compensation is one of the highest among the country’s university presidents.

But the primary fly in the ointment of criticism is the academic resume that Spellings brings to the job as head of one of the nation’s most prestigious university systems.

To begin with, she holds only a bachelor’s degree. In collegiate circles, that’s regarded as the equivalent of driving with a learner’s permit.

“Why, at most universities you have to have at least a master’s degree just to teach ‘Introduction to Frog Gigging 101,’” scoffed a disgruntled UNC alumnus.

“We could have had Donald Trump,” lamented another. “He probably would have taken the job for a token $1 a year. He at least would have brought name recognition to the position.”

Higher education sets great store in academic degrees, as well it should. Earning a Ph.D. from a reputable school represents years of study, research and writing. A Ph.D. is the pass key to promotion and tenure, and is frequently mentioned in obituaries. Only the envious and the irreverent joke that Ph.D. stands for “post hole digger.”

It could be said that Spellings indeed has a Ph.D., a Ph.D. in partisan politics, which obviously is plenty powerful these days.

Skeptics can’t be blamed for regarding Spellings’ appointment as degrading to the stature of such previous UNC icons as William C. Friday and Frank Porter Graham.

Nevertheless, new President Spellings, in a statement that oozed self-confidence, insisted that she can handle the job.

She shouldn’t be reviled for accepting this prestigious and financially lucrative plum. Animosity over the controversial appointment should be directed at the university’s Board of Governors who, operating in secrecy, handed such a Sisyphean challenge to someone with questionable academic credentials for the position.

Fear of flying

After mentioning in a column my distaste for flying, I received an e-mail from Teri McCoy, member of a San Diego, Calif., public relations firm, passing along some tips to decrease the angst of leaving earth for space.

She listed “anticipatory anxiety” as the primary factor in fear of flying. Her suggestion as the only way to cure that is by “gradually learning to feel more comfortable during flight.”

That’s an answer, Teri? I have a better one: Don’t fly.

“Don’t check the weather more than two days out from your trip,” she advises, noting that a high percentage of storm possibility creates anxiety.

Ms. McCoy recommends packing suitcases a few days early to avoid last-minute rushing around and she advises exercise and avoiding caffeine before the flight.

Her final suggestion is one most of us probably already practice.

At the security check-in, take off jewelry, remove items from pockets and take off your belt and stow these items in a corner of your carry-on before you reach the “show and tell point.”

As many of us know, nothing causes more stress than a line of impatient fliers behind us huffing and puffing while we retrieve the detritus from our pockets or purses.

These tips may be of some help to you in reducing airborne anxiety. But for many of us, nothing can totally alleviate that haunting realization while aloft that birds, not humans, were meant to fly.

Reading David McCullough’s new best seller, “The Wright Brothers,” might even inspire some of us to be less fearful of flying.

Hunting benefits

Several of you responded to the column on Wendell Murray’s swan song to deer hunting.

U.S. District Judge Earl Britt wrote, “I was a hunter most of my life, but quit a few years ago. I have no regrets about the game I harvested as I always had the philosophy that I would not take any game unless I intended to eat it.

“Hunting gave me the opportunity to spend countless hours with my two sons, both of whom loved to hunt and fish. I subscribed then, and do now, to the adage that ‘If you hunt with your boy, you will not have to hunt for your boy.’

“A few years ago, I gave all of my guns and hunting gear to them. At my age I don’t want to see anything die.”