Emma Murray: In a nutshell, what does your job entail?
James Abbott: I’m responsible for the operation of the University of South Dakota, both on a day-to-day basis and long-term and am, ultimately, responsible for the wellbeing of the students and on the academic side to ensure that our students are provided the education that they want and need.
EM: What aspect(s) of USD are you currently focusing on improving?
JA: I’m always working on trying to improve everything here at the university, specifically of course we’re adding 30,000 square feet to the Muenster University Center to add some dining options, which I think our students will really like such as Qdoba, Chick-fil-A, Einstein Bros. Bagels, etc. and I’m working very hard to raise the funds to build our planned basketball-volleyball arena and track, field and soccer complex. (The track field and soccer will be north of the Dome and the new arena will be south and we’re connecting the arena to the Dome and that will hold kinesiology and sports science, PT and OT and then some office space and… academic space).
EM: How important is student interaction for you? Why?
JA: That’s kind of the best part of my day, if I have an opportunity to interact with students. I really enjoy bantering back and forth; I like to go to the student union (the MUC). Some students just look at me like, ‘OK, old man what are you doing here asking me questions?’ Other students think it’s kind of fun. So I enjoy that part.
EM: You’re known to occasionally eat lunch with students, what kind of reactions do you get when you first sit down at a table?
JA: If it’s a big table, I introduce myself just so they know who I am, because I am sure that most people don’t, or a lot of people don’t. I try to engage them in conversation but I’m not trying to quiz them. My kids used to tell me that they hated dinner because they thought it was one big long story problem from me, so I try very hard not to do that, but I really am interested in what (students) are doing. I am interested in what they like about the university and I’m always interested in knowing where we can make improvements. But mostly the conversation is fun.
EM: In past interviews it’s been revealed that you are a Fitty Cent and Kanye West fan. Have any new hip hop favorites?
JA: I like all kinds of music, I don’t necessarily have an affinity for rap and hip hop, but I sort of admire their ability to kind of create a whole new genre. I think that’s fascinating. About as modern as I get, really, is Usher these days.
EM: Any favorite Usher song?
JA: I just listen in the background. If NPR is really boring I put (Usher) on… I have it on my iTunes.
EM: Have you ever fact-checked your Wikipedia page?
JA: I do (know about the Wikipedia page). No (I have never fact-checked it). Anyone can put anything on Wikipedia so I don’t see any point in reading it and it being either displeased or satisfied, or whatever. I regard it as fiction…possible fiction. I don’t particularly like to use Wikipedia just because I think it is not reliable, so I don’t spend any time doing that, and I don’t have Facebook.