Summer 2003
Far from Normal
A man on a mission
Alma Matters
Memīries Sweet
Riff Ram
Class Notes
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TCU Magazine

Far from Normal

TCU's 10th chancellor, Victor Boschini, may have come from Normal, Illinois, but he's anything but average. Teacher, leader, friend and all-around good guy, he's poised to lead TCU to that elusive "next level."

By Nancy Bartosek

The first three spots in the parking garage on the Illinois State University campus have red Reserved hoods over the meters. Most people know that one belongs to the president. But some do not. So when Victor Boschini Jr. arrived one morning to find a car in his place, he simply parked behind it, then headed off for a day of meetings.

When Boschini returned to his office he was greeted by a red-faced freshman who'd been waiting more than four hours to retrieve his car.

"The kid was really embarrassed," Boschini recalled with a characteristic grin. "But it gave me a good opportunity to spend some time getting to know him."

The boy's father later thanked Boschini for instilling a life lesson rather than just towing the car.

Victor Boschini seems to have a knack for creating teaching moments, even if his only prop is a parking space. Ask around, you'll hear it again and again -- he's a born leader. He draws people in, organizes them and then gives them the credit for being so smart.

Chancellor material, that's what he is. He certainly fit TCU's criteria in the search for its 10th chancellor, someone to build on the momentum created by Michael Ferrari. A leader to navigate the next wave of expectations.

"He has an energy and enthusiasm that is contagious, and his style is very inclusive, just as Mick Ferrari's was," said Trustee Denny Alexander, chairman of the chancellor search committee. "I think all constituents in the TCU community will find him to be the kind of dynamic leader TCU needs as we strive for new levels of prominence."

The president's office at Illinois State University is on the fourth floor of Hovey Hall, a stately building in the center of the 145-year-old campus. There are, of course, elevators, but Boschini always takes the stairs. He says his knees argue with him too much now to continue his former running schedule, so the stairs and brisk walks serve as his primary form of exercise.

On this April day, oldies drift from a small portable radio on the floor. The Elvis memorabilia and books on the shelves have been boxed up, ready for the move. A stack of graded tests cover some of the family photos and quotes tucked randomly under the glass top of the conference table. Footprints in the sands of time are not made by sitting around, reads one.

The desk, stately if slightly worn, served a previous president; Boschini salvaged it from storage. He calls his decorating style traditional, and though he enjoys Oriental, he tends toward classic items that are "old and kind of ratty."

This day he's dressed in a conservative dark suit, and with his usual self-deprecating manner, jokes that he's the "Richard Nixon of fashion."

Trim and energetic, Boschini admits that while he enjoyed team sports as a youth he was among the last players picked -- but he was team captain when his peers got to choose. "I was never the funniest, the smartest or the most athletic," he noted, "but my high school principal used to say that I was the one those kids wanted to be with. I guess I just like bringing people together."

The skill served him well at a university fractured by infighting when he took the reins at ISU in 1999. Boschini's charge was to heal the divisions.

Spearheading a strategic planning initiative called Educating Illinois, he quickly "galvanized a team," said ISU Trustee Jack Huggins. "At the time there were many disputes over governance, disputes between the board and faculty," Huggins said. "We weren't all pulling in the same direction. His job was to create a vision and get everyone pulling the same direction.

"I would have to rate him an A+ on that."

The objective of Educating Illinois was to make the university "the first-choice public university for high-achieving, motivated students." Within a year ISU had moved up a tier in college rankings. Within two, committees involving 373 faculty, staff and students had implemented 14 of 79 action plans.

"None of this would have happened if he hadn't said, 'Go to it,' " Huggins recalled. "What he's accomplished in a few years will set the direction for many more years. It's a tremendous foundation for moving forward."

Boschini dismisses such praise with a wave of his hand.

"Collective wisdom is always better than your own," he said. "When you're a university president, good ideas just flow in your door. Your job is to help them become reality. And when that happens, the weird thing is you get credit for them."

Boschini becomes animated when talking about making things happen. While he contends that he is "just a placeholder," others praise his ability to build consensus.

Judy Johnson, a trustee at Butler University where Boschini served as associate provost, said his true talent lies in being "one of those leaders who is quite content with other people getting credit for the successes that occur."

After launching Educating Illinois, Boschini set his sights on funding some of the initiatives. Hamstrung by an endowment of only $31 million, he organized the university's first fund-raising campaign, Redefining Normal. It banked more than $62 million of the $88 million goal in two years, giving the school its first endowed chair, a building for the College of Business, a new theater and a football building.

How did he do it? "I just asked," Boschini said with a shrug. In his shoot-from-the-hip style, he added, "I'm no brain surgeon, but they hadn't given before because no one had asked them to."

Boschini heads to TCU with an upbeat attitude about raising money. "I believe that people don't give to schools, people give to people," he said. "So I plan to build relationships that will make me a part of you, and you a part of me."

It's a job he eagerly anticipates, for it gets to the core of his favorite activity -- making friends. "I get the fun part of it. I get to be a friend-raiser."

His belief in the servant-leader model also spurred his involvement in the Illinois Campus Compact, a group of 34 university presidents working to infuse service learning activities across the curriculum.

"I want our students to know how to be good citizens," Boschini said. "They need to learn that it's important to vote, volunteer and voice their opinion. You can instill civic engagement into the classroom whether you are teaching physics or woodshop."

Despite a crowded schedule of meetings with the Legislature, campus and civic activities and time for his family, which includes four active kids, Boschini spends four hours a week in class, teaching Sociology of Education. He considers it a privilege and hopes the School of Education will invite him to teach when he gets to TCU.

"It's my best four hours every week. It's the time I know everyone in the room will tell me the truth. I know what the students are thinking about because I talk to them twice a week. If they're having trouble with registration or hate the food, I know about it."

Seven Hills, Ohio, was a middle-American bedroom community-on-the-grow when Boschini lived there as a boy. Victor Sr. was a foreman at Ford Motor Co., mom Elizabeth a homemaker. The neighborhood cul-de-sac jumped with kids, including two sets of his cousins, and open fields nearby provided hours of entertainment for an inquisitive boy prone to organizing big adventures.

His sister Gail, three years his senior, said Boschini had goals from an early age and set a standard for himself that drew people in. Everyone knew he'd be president of something someday and acted accordingly. Dubbed "Bad Dude" -- as in a VIP -- by his twin sister Beth and several cousins, Boschini's entourage would pretend they were his bodyguards as they passed the elementary school children on their way to the junior high.

Boschini's parents, both high school graduates, made it known that college was expected and lived frugally to provide it, forgoing luxuries like air-conditioning.

Teaching was a passion for Boschini even as a youngster. Beth and cousin Ray were often enlisted as students in Victor's makeshift classroom. "He was always teaching us," she remembers, affectionately. "When we'd speak incorrectly, he'd correct us."

That penchant to be at the front of the classroom grew as he did. Class president his junior and senior year. National Honors Society. Class treasurer. President of the Latin Club.

"I did everything the nerds did," Boschini said. "The kid in the back of the class with the glasses -- that was me."

Gail laughs at that assessment, pointing out that her brother had a large circle of friends, many of whom he still stays in touch with. "He had as many friends who were boys as were girls," she said. And girlfriends? Boschini chuckled. "I was the one who always got dumped."

He got into trouble, too, at least once. Boyhood friend Michael LaRocco, now president of Safeco Personal Insurance in Seattle, was there the one time Boschini skipped class. The teacher didn't show for a class they were in so the two hightailed it to a table the student council was manning. Then down the hall comes the teacher, back late from an appointment.

"Busted!" LaRocco, said, laughing. But other than tattling that Boschini is a "horrible driver" (Boschini admits it), LaRocco stands by his friend: "As trite as it sounds, Victor is as good a soul as you could ever hope to meet. He has always been one of the most honest, decent people with unwavering integrity. He was that way at 15. He's that way at 47."

Boschini has never been afraid of work, an example set by his parents, and he held many jobs in his early years. He and cousin Ray once decided that the car wash would be a great place to work, but the two only lasted one day. Most jobs were more rewarding. Boschini worked for Marshall Fields for several years and one summer labored at a box company where the regular workers cold-shouldered the "rich college kids."

"Of course we weren't at all," he said, noting that the work was boring but paid well. "But we won them over, and by the end of the summer they loved us."

Winning over people exemplifies Boschini's success as a leader, said Mary Paugh, assistant dean of student services at Butler when Boschini served there as associate provost. Paugh watched in awe as he "energized his staff and fellow administrators."

"He isn't someone who listens and nods his head," she said. "He is someone who listens, thinks about what was said and takes it into sincere account. And he does that with everyone -- students, faculty, administrators and trustees."

Johnson, his friend and colleague from Butler, says Boschini leads with a cooperative style that doesn't call attention to itself. "He has the ability to energize the people around him," she said, explaining that he united polarized groups when Butler decided to go to a fully residential campus.

"This was an emotional issue as well as a financial one. But Vic was able to move it forward quickly in a way that was satisfactory to everyone involved. And through all the hard decisions that had to be made he maintained the respect of the administrators."

Breakfast is one of Boschini's favorite times of day. The local paper once announced that he started his day with Pop Tarts, which resulted in a deluge of the pastry landing on his desk. Boschini laughs when asked about it.

"I just have whatever the kids are having. This week we're on to Fruity Pebbles. We get up at 6:30, have breakfast, then I take them to school. It's my opportunity to indoctrinate them. And give them lunch money."

The closeness of the extended Italian family Boschini enjoyed as a child continues in his own nuclear family. Calendars are planned two years out, and all the family vacations and important dates go on first.

Wife Megan is the hub of the family universe, complementing Boschini's kinetic energy with calm steadiness. Both are educators; Megan has bachelor's degree in political science from DePauw University and a master's degree in higher education administration from St. Louis University. She was working in Residents Life at DePauw when she met Victor. Now a homemaker, she volunteers with the high school Scholastic Bowl and various local community organizations such as the Normal Children's Museum.

Elizabeth, 15; Mary Catherine, 13; Edward, 9; and Margaret, 7, are included in all of their parents' activities. Acquaintances say the young people are comfortable in any social setting and possess a noteworthy maturity.

"He has the nicest family and the most well-behaved children I've ever seen," said Todd Hovendon, owner of Biaggi's restaurant, one of Boschini's favorite spots. "You guys are lucking out down there. You're not just getting Vic, you're getting the whole family. Congratulations. That's a big win."

When the Boschinis arrived in Normal in 1998, they built a house -- the first that they owned. Nine months after moving in, Boschini was named president and they relocated to the president's home, a rambling ranch-style affair on the campus golf course.

Now they're brimming with enthusiasm about coming to TCU and a warmer climate. The kids are excited about having a pool in the backyard.

Boschini's enthusiasm spills over into everything he does. Johnson remembers when her husband painted an ugly old furnace in their basement with a fanciful design. When Boschini heard about the project during a visit he jumped from his seat and headed for the stairs, exclaiming, "I love basements and old furnaces!" It was "classic Vic," Johnson said.

Boschini also loves Elvis, the arts, sports and the alluded-to hot weather. He and Megan attend as many ISU athletic venues as possible, and are particular fans of football and women's basketball. Athletics, Boschini said, are an important part of the university culture, as long as they don't become the culture.

"They don't call it news, weather and pottery. It is the great equalizer, a mingler, culturally, and should be an integral part of the college experience."

TCU is the "dream job" for Boschini and his family. He says the campus community has the right attitude and a strong upward trajectory because previous administrations laid a solid foundation. "TCU is not broken. There's nothing to fix," he said. "I am coming with a pen and paper, not a sword, and see my role as managing and refining expectations."

And while doing that is an honor and privilege, it is also "a huge, awesome responsibility."

But this leader isn't afraid of hard work. It's served him well in the past and put him on the fast track in college administration. Now, helping TCU manage that "next wave of expectations" is a role he tackles with relish. And humility.

"I like to have fun, but there's nothing special about me. I just work really hard."

Sheer Boschini

On his accomplishments at ISU:
"The only thing I will take credit for is that I helped them believe they are better than they thought they were."

On campus leadership:
" At a university, there is a reverse hierarchy. The most important person on campus is not the chancellor."

On the classroom:
"Studies have shown that most elementary teachers teach to the smartest, most cooperative girl in class. They want students to be quiet and listen. But I think younger kids should have some chaos in their classrooms. It should be frenetic because that's how they learn. Especially boys. I don't believe in the style of teaching where teachers try to open the top of the head and pour in information."

On being absent-minded:
"I don't carry a wallet. I'd just lose it."

"I like a place that is learner centered. And TCU seems like a place where the faculty believe they are still learning. They are very welcoming and warm and loyal to the university. TCU seems like the kind of place where if someone had a good idea, her or she might see it implemented in his or her lifetime."

On believing that Elvis lives:
"I've always just liked him. Well, OK, that's an understatement. It's way more than that. I'm just trying to be normal for you."

On good ideas:
"I am not threatened by a better idea. I hope I'm smart enough to know I'm not the smartest person in the world. And I don't want to be the most fascinating person at the cocktail party, but I do want to be seated beside that person."

On making hard decisions:
"I'd rather be brutally honest up front than have someone feel I misled them on the other end."

On himself:
"I like to have fun, but there's nothing special about me. I just work really hard."