One of the first questions that comes to mind when you hear that the 'Undercover Boss' Season Two finale involves Tim White, chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, is how can he give bonuses or rewards to the deserving employees he works with on the show? After all, it isn't as if a university has profits lying around that can be spent at a generous employer's discretion. Where would the funds come from?
"We called friends of the University," White told AOL Jobs in an exclusive interview. "We called foundation and community members after each task and explained to them what we were doing, and in about a millisecond they said okay. We have to make it clear that there was no state, federal or student money involved -- no funds earmarked for teaching, learning or research. All the money came from really gracious people from all walks of life."
With that settled, you turn to other questions, like wouldn't everyone be suspicious when they see lights, cameras, action? "The story was that we were filming a documentary on the UC system," says White, adding that it's not uncommon for film crews to be working on campus. They're frequently around documenting research and different issues concerning higher education.
But White is a hands-on chancellor. He makes it a point of meeting and mingling with faculty and students alike. Wouldn't they recognize him? His disguise, although uncomfortable, was convincing. They cropped his longish and unruly hair short, died the silver darker, gave him some big false teeth that covered his jawline, and covered them with a big, floppy mustache that was constantly threatening to fall off. "We did have some close calls, however," he laughs. "That was the biggest worry of all for me."
Trying to make the grade
With a disguise and a cover story, White was ready to go undercover at the UC system's most diverse campus, where 55 percent of the students are first generation, meaning they're the first ones in their family to get a university degree. UC Riverside is also the most ethnically and racially diverse University of California campuses, which include UCLA and CAL Berkeley. White is not as proud of the fact that over the past three years, tuition costs have increased by 57 percent. Still the campus boasts 20,000 students, and budgets were on everyone's mind.
White's first assignment involved helping a teaching assistant in the Chemistry department, Catharine Larsen, who has been there for two and a half years, after she'd received her Ph.D. at Cal Tech and done post doctoral research at MIT. She had White assist her teaching 250 sophomore organic chemistry students in one class, and he found this was no easy task. He had trouble with the microphone and seemed awkward speaking in front of so many people -- he couldn't even pronounce most of the chemical reactions. "All of a sudden I felt very old again in front of this group of twenty-somethings. I was very self-conscious," White admits.
White gained infinite respect for his colleague and chose to honor her by establishing the $10,000 'Catharine Larsen Woman in Science Scholarship.' Larsen revealed, "it's not easy to surprise me, but you did it. It feels good to know that if I work here until midnight it means something."
Shhhhhhh! It's a library!
Next up, White helped student library assistant, Nastazha, at the Orbach Science library. Nastazha explained that she works a limited number of hours so she can also fit in the education hours necessary to become a teacher for underprivileged children. White bungled the use of a walkie-talkie and had a hard time organizing the books. He was upset to find that the textbooks on reserve for students who can't afford to buy them are not always organized and available the way they should be. "My job at the university is to make sure that our students can access everything they need to learn... it is not a point of pride when we don't meet a basic need."
At the end of his 'Undercover Boss' journey, White told Nastazha that he was not only going to provide more resources for the library, but that he had found donors to pay off her $9,000 school debt. Additionally, he gave her a $5,000 scholarship for the next two years.
Jumping over hurdles
For his third job, White worked with assistant track coach Nate Brown, intent on seeing how they can generate more revenue from track and other sports to take pressure off the general fund budget. White was a collegiate athlete himself, with a scholarship for swimming and water polo. Although he'd originally planned on being a coach, not an administrator, his athleticism and endurance fell short on the job. He's since realized, however, that a chancellor is a type of coach on its own right.
He soon found it would be tough to make money charging admission to track meets -- the bleachers have been condemned for seismic activity (earthquakes), and they're locked at all times. They haven't hosted a home meet since 2004. The track itself is in such bad condition that the cracks and holes cause them to have high incidents of shin splints and knee issues. White knew that inferior facilities make it hard on the athletes, can't generate revenue and make recruiting extremely difficult.
Still, he was amazed by the attitudes of the coaches and athletes. "They do their best with what they have, and don't complain about what they don't have," he observed. "These are the people who are going to succeed in the world."
To help Brown succeed, White found donors to pay for him to go to a track and field coaching clinic and budgeted $2 million to revamp the facilities.
Giving it the old college try
For his fourth and final job, White worked with student guide, Christina, in the Dept. of Admissions, giving tours to prospective students and their families. Even this proved difficult: he struggled to walk backwards, accidentally gave out misleading information, and his supervisor felt he was a little too reserved. She did, however, speak highly of the Chancellor at one point -- not realizing she was praising him to his face.
In the most touching moment of the show, White and Christina connected on a deeper level when they shared that both of their fathers had been in tragic car accidents. White's father was killed on his way to visit him on campus; Christina's dad was in an accident a year ago and has been in a coma ever since.
After the reveal, White offered Christina $10,000 to pay off her school debt, a $10,000 scholarship so she doesn't have to take on more debt, and gave her yet another $10,000 so she could move closer to the university. "I feel this weight off my shoulders," Christina choked. "I think my Dad is thankful for what you're doing, not just myself... you kinda just changed my life a little, a lot actually."
White says the 'Undercover Boss' experience "gave me the unobstructed opportunity to be a part of the campus heartbeat. As an insider posing as an outsider, I saw that our students, faculty and staff are mindful of what we lack, but they don't use that as an excuse not to achieve. I could feel their energy, and it was inspiring."
"We have to find ways to innovate. If we become stagnant then we're going to miss opportunities. It's time to take a deep breath than go back to the office and keep working to find a better way for our students, our faculty, our staff and our society."
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