Small gone… Replacements lining up.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader, last week, posted about the growing financial scandal surrounding Lawrence Small, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

Well. Mr Small has resigned his position, and the Board of Regents has accepted his resignation. A number of possible replacements are now being considered. The Acting Secretary, Cristian Samper (now former head of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History) is a possible sucessor.

Apparently, the appointment of Mr (Dr?) Samper has lead to the resignation of David Evans, the (now former) Undersecretary for Science at the Smithsonian. Mr. Evans was, it seems, the number 2 guy at the Smithsonian under Lawrence Small, and was Samper’s boss. It is unclear if Mr. Evans was upset by being passed over for the job; or if he just figured this was the best time to move along and do something else. Frankly, your Maximum Leader would suspect it is both, but probably the bruised ego of being passed over was the dominant feeling when it came time to take a decision.

While the financial issues now surrounding Small’s tenure as Smithsonian Secretary are troubling, Small’s tenure as Secretary has been remarkable. Small was a great fundraiser and the institution is no doubt better off today than when he came into office. Your Maximum Leader believe that the Smithsonian would be well served by having a person well connected to potential donors (as Small was with his financial background); it is likely that the Regents will wind up selecting someone more in the vein of all of Small’s predecessors. Which is to say, academics and scientists.

Your Maximum Leader has nothing against academics and scientists. Indeed, in a perfect world your Maximum Leader would likely have been a tweed-wearing college don. But an institution like the Smithsonian needs a great fundraiser and financial guru to lead it. Like many colleges and universities, the Smithsonian needs non-academics in top positions so that those people can wheel and deal (traits not often associated with academics and scientists) to get the money and support needed to advance the academic and scientific goals of the institution.

Your Maximum Leader has actually had lots of personal experience in this area. Academics who might appeal to the Smithsonian staff, don’t often have the knowledge or skills required to fundraise - and administer - a large institution. Your Maximum Leader is reminded of his alma mater. Many years ago, your Maximum Leader’s undergraduate school was busy picking a new president. The choices came down to two men. One was a well published and scholarly historian who had a successful post-lecturer career as a Vice-President for Academic Affairs at a well-known university. The second was a retired Army General who was a decorated war veteran (WWII, Korea, and Vietnam), former intelligence agency director, and a member of the US negotiation team during the SALT era. The first man was essentially an academic who could also do administration. The second man was a leader and visionary - who was also as well-connected politcially as you could imagine.

Your Maximum Leader’s alma mater selected the first man. A nearby college selected the second man. Both men served as President of their respective schools for roughly the same period of time. During that time your Maximum Leader’s alma mater grew at a satisfactory rate; but the nearby college saw their endowment increase dramatically - as did their regional/national reputation. The problem was the temperament of the first man. He just wasn’t a “gladhanding” type. He was stand-offish. He was formal. He was exactly the way you would expect a serious studious professor type to be. Indeed, your Maximum Leader remembers being at a party once with his college’s president in attendance. Also in attendance was the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee for the Virginia House of Delegates. Now, one would think that the President of a state supported college might spend some time getting to know the Chairman of a very powerful (budget writing) committee in his state legislature. But you would be wrong. In fact your Maximum Leader spend more time with the Chairman talking about hunting, fishing, and proper techniques for roasting a wild turkey on a spit than did his alma mater’s president. If your Maximum Leader’s memory is correct, the President and the Chairman were introduced over the black velvet punchbowl. Looked at each other awkwardly for a moment, then parted company.

Excursus: The awkwardness might have been caused by the fact that the academic was a teetotaler and wouldn’t accept a glassful of black velvet. This, of course, reinforced your Maximum Leader’s firm belief that you can’t develop a good relationship with someone who doesn’t drink.

Anyhoo…

Your Maximum Leader firmly believes that the Smithsonian will find a safe academic to be their next Secretary. They really ought to look for a well-connected visionary. And on the off-chance they find the visionary with connections, write a really detailed employment contract that stipulates what expenses will and will not be reimbursed to the Secretary…

Carry on.

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