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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2004

This pay fits way of world today

Can we hold up a minute and rewind to a topic from a few days back?

This would be the WifeGate situation at Bowling Green State University, where the decision to add the newlywed president s wife to the payroll has become a source of controversy.

As reported in The Blade:

In the midst of a hiring freeze, the wife of Bowling Green State University President Sidney Ribeau has been selected for a $66,000-a-year job whose duties include accompanying her husband at university events.

Paula Whetsel-Ribeau, a BGSU graduate and former university employee, started work last week after receiving an invitation-only offer to become interim assistant to the vice president for student affairs. The job was offered for one year only based on unknowns about the state budget.

Her job description has a long list of duties, including developing and implementing BGSU staff diversity training, as well as so-called first lady responsibilities, such as representing the university with her husband. She and Mr. Ribeau married a year ago.

When I read that, I have to admit I had much the same reaction as a lot of other people around the region.

They re going to give her a salary? As in, pay her actual money?

Hey, it s a belt-tightening world, isn t it? There isn t a publicly funded institution anywhere not struggling with finances, and BGSU is no different.

But on second thought, I m wondering now if paying Ms. Whetsel-Ribeau for her time is really so out of line.

Now, I grant you, it was entertaining to watch BGSU officials do their song and dance to justify this new hire. They said they sought out the president s wife for this job because Ms. Whetsel-Ribeau who earned her undergraduate degree at BGSU and is a doctoral student there now was a known commodity down here, and they needed to fill the position quickly.

Well, OK, if they say so. Hey, it could be! Still, it seems clear it s First Lady duties we re really talking about. As The Blade s editorial page tsk-tsked the other day, ... isn t that what spouses of university presidents traditionally do?

In a word, yes. But, in another word, why? Is tradition reason enough to adhere to an antiquated support staff model of wifeliness?

Aren t universities the place we should expect enlightened thinking? What s enlightened about demanding, by virtue of marriage, that a woman put on her little black dress and her sparkly hostess smile and go stand by the door and make nice with the guests?

Besides, we re not really talking here about hostess duties, but public-relations work. In Ms. Whetsel-Ribeau s case, BGSU is competing for her time against her course of graduate work in the leadership studies program.

If public relations is a recognized duty we expect of a university president s spouse, why shouldn t we formalize the arrangement and, yes, pay that person for performing a job?

Now, if you want to debate the value of such work $66,000?! that would be another matter entirely.

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