VOL. 9 NO. 2 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH FALL 1999
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING GREEN
by Anne Palmer Peterson, illustration by Randall Royter
Vice President for University Relations Ted Capener BS'53 is always on the lookout for green eyes. From behind the eyeglasses and unruly white brows that seem almost a trademark of his academic surroundings, he is constantly on the watch as advisory board members gather to brainstorm and critique programs for Red Butte Garden, Pioneer Theatre, KUED TV, KUER Radio, and the Alumni Association. His probing inquiries and humorous asides enable Capener to coax green-eyed perspectives from even jaded or reluctant contributors. In a gentler version of the methods he employs to draw out guests of Civic Dialogue, he expertly elicits differences of opinion. Nine times out of 10, what Capener really wants from the staff and volunteers whom he values so highly are bold insights about what the U can do to improve its service to the state. When he succeeds, he finds the job immensely rewarding.
For an administrator in charge of relaying the activities of a university full of experts to seek the input of green-eyed friends (and sometimes foes) is a mark of the retiring vice president's leadership and fairness. It takes faith, hard work, and imagination to recognize great ideas. His insistence on external involvement demonstrates to volunteers and professional staff that what each contributes matters to the other. "Ted has always been quite wonderful about showing his interest and care for others working for him, which was apparent in his service to his board membersmaking sure they were included, that they were on track, that they knew where we were going, and why. Everyone trusted him and everyone knew he had their best interests and PBS' best interest in mind," says Bruce Christensen BA'68, who served as president of the U.S. Public Broadcasting System while Capener chaired its board.
Yet Capener is not one to micromanage; he doesn't tell people what to think or do, but gently cultivates opinion, probing deeply for beliefs about what best enables communication of the University's mission of teaching, research, and service, according to KUED General Manager and Interim Vice President for University Relations Fred Esplin MS'74. "Those who report to him value his style of considering their opinions and respecting their judgment before reaching a final decision on the issues within his jurisdiction. He is politically and organizationally astute, skills which have made his leadership all the more valuable," says Esplin.
Perhaps because he came from the outside to serve the Uoriginally under the administration of President Chase PetersonCapener is the first to admit that despite its public authority, the University of Utah doesn't have all the answers. So he seeks the unbiased judgment of what the outside world expects of its University.
"When I say we need green eyes, I mean someone who sees everything fresh and neweven though it may be old and stale," remarks Capener, his eyes fixed on the view outside the window of his Park Building office. When he speaks of green-eyed enthusiasm, Capener has in mind CBS newsman Roger Mudd, reporting from the steps of the Capitol during the prolonged Congressional debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964. "It went on for months and he reported on it practically every day, and he was always excited and fresh about it, which made the rest of us excited about it, too," he adds.
Capener also employs the phrase to describe radio sports commentator Paul James BS'53. When Capener was weighing an offer to work as Washington bureau chief for Bonneville International Corporation, James offered his boss a little unsolicited advice inside KSL's control room. "'Why do you want to chase those lawmakers around?' he asked me, and I said, 'Well, why have you wanted to chase jocks around for all these years?'" As he does in James, Capener admires the ebullience of Ute radio man Bill Marcroft BFA'52, who carries over the airwaves his unbridled enthusiasm for college sports season after season. "They've seen so many games and done so many interviews, and they never get cynical. They always see things through green eyes," he remarks.
It is little wonder that Capener's favorite war stories and workroom heroes are all in the media. His career has spanned print (editing school newspapers, including the Daily Utah Chronicle, and publishing Continuum magazine and FYI, the University's faculty and staff newsletter), radio (his broadcasting career began in 1958 at KSL Radio, where he was later named director of agricultural and economic programs), and television (from 1964 to 1972 he was vice president of KSL Radio and Television, in charge of news and public affairs). His leap into senior management at Bonneville occurred after his nine-year stint in Washington, where he covered congressional delegations from eight states. Capener served as senior vice president for news, public affairs, and research at Bonneville before what he describes as his "dream job" opened up at the U.
That was January 1, 1985. Since then he has been responsible for the administration of alumni, intercollegiate athletics, community and government relations, University communications, media services, Red Butte Garden and Arboretum, Pioneer Theatre Company, Kingsbury Hall, the ASUU Presenter's Office, and the marching band. In his spare time, he hosts Civic Dialogue, broadcast weekly on KUED Channel 7. "If I designed a job myself," he says, "this could not have been better."
Having so many responsibilities and pondering his June 30 retirement, Capener can't help wishing that he'd had more time to spend on some of his favorite University endeavors. The often troublesome Chronicle, for instance, is near and dear to his heart, and cub reporters frequently seek his advice. Student broadcasters also found a Park Building ally in Capener, who provided advice purely out of his interest in the students' success. His own career in journalism began as a college student at the U, where he served as Chrony sports editor. Above any other careers or professions, Capener says he values education and the helping professions.
Still, Capener says the U has an inherent PR challenge that he can't resolve. "One of the major difficulties we have is trying to separate the concept of the elite from the idea of being excellent. There are those who think every institution and every one should be pretty much the same. And there are those who see us as being sort of east-side elite. Try to separate elitism from excellence, and it poses quite a dilemma. So that, in my opinion, is at the root of many of our PR problems and our legislative problems, too," he reveals.
Capener also would like to have done more to improve internal relations at the U: between academic disciplines, between the faculty and staff, and between administration and faculty. He ventures, "Realistically, the collegiality could be enhanced, but sometimes things take longer to change here than people are willing to wait." (More of his views on the process of change are elucidated in "And Finally" on p. 48.) With friends and allies across campus, from techies at the Utah Education Network to the stage crew at Pioneer Theatre, Capener does his best to bridge campus boundaries.
Producer Colleen Casto BS'82 has 15 years' experience at KUED, including producing Civic Dialogue, and has never found a more instructive, nor more unlikely, role model than Capener. She was a member of the station's technical crew before working her way up-after Capener cautioned her not to quit to accept a tempting offer at Channel 2. "I'm a bit of an activist for women, and a minority woman, and Ted always respected that. I remember the first few times I met with him in the Park Building to discuss his program. As a production assistant, I was very intimidated, but he always included me at the round table. He would always ask my opinion, and now I see him do that all the time with people here on staff," she explains. The trust he has earned has enabled him to attract such guests to his program as Gordon B. Hinckley BA'32, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Judge Judith Billings BA'65 JD'77, and economist Michael Bloomberg. He's tackled issues ranging from the death penalty, gay rights, racism, abortion, and gun control, to election debates, religion, politics, growth and planning, and journalistic ethics, and always with a smile that is genuine. When his time in the Park Building ends, Capener will continue hosting Civic Dialogue.
As a newsroom novice, broadcast communication Associate Professor Louise Degn ex'83 had an experience with Capener that was similar to Casto's. When Degn was hired at KSL Radio and Television in 1969, she was the station's only female journalist. "Apparently, the general manager said, 'Pay her less,' and Ted insisted, 'No, I will pay her what the other reporters are earning,'" Degn told the audience at the Department of Communication's 1999 awards banquet, at which Capener was honored. "He's just such a considerate person that I can imagine that in any operation he is over, that influence would be felt," she adds.
Capener has remained close to KUER jazz man Wes Bowen ex'53, with whom he worked in his first job. Capener was farm director for KSL Radio when Bowen produced a music program. By the time Bowen became vice president of public affairs and Capener vice president of news, a fast friendship between the unlikely pair was cemented. Their habit of "hashing over what's on the community agenda" began then and continues at gatherings over lunch, according to Bowen. "He has a tremendous capacity to act as a moderating influence, in being able to bring sensitive and difficult matters to the attention of the people that need to know about them, in a way that is not confrontational but likely to lead to a useful discussion of the problem. I have enormous respect and affection for him," Bowen says.
A lot of people at the U rely upon Capener for a lot of reasons, but none more important than for his knowing what is news. If he has shared one principle with all those whom he directs, it is never to underestimate the value of unimpeded information. Christensen, who also began his career at Bonneville with Capener, illuminates his colleague's operating philosophy: "Ted made it clear that public service and being able to provide information services that the public otherwise wouldn't have access to was an important part of what he felt his mission was, and he clearly passed that on to the rest of us." That unequivocal portrayal of University developments hasn't always sat well with the image-conscious hierarchy he served.
Former President Peterson shares the following anecdote illustrative of Capener's style: "One day, seeking (I thought) Ted's advice on a knotty matter, I outlined the problem, and then, as I was probably too often wont to do, followed up with my view of the best solution. A smile grew on Ted's face as I stopped for air, and he gently but piercingly asked, 'Were you interested in my opinion or only confirmation of your own?'" Adds Peterson, "Only Ted, a wise and true friend, could be honest and helpful, so nicely."
As liaison between the University, its public programs, the media, and the larger community, Capener's ability to assess and act upon opportunities and obstacles was also valuable to the U. That doesn't mean that his newsman's savvy kept Capener from insisting that everything he oversaw have "sheen"a term he blithely unleashed on unsuspecting directors of departments that reported to him. Those who managed programs and services under Capener might not have been certain what the word "sheen" meant, but they grew certain of what their boss meant by it: top-drawer, first-class events and programs worthy of a flagship institution. The women's gymnastics program built by Greg Marsden is an example of Utah sheen that pleases Capener. The gymnasts, competing for the highest scores in the NCAA, in meets that drew the largest home audiences in the nation, are evidence of sheen. Last season was the sixth that Utah averaged attendance of 10,000 for gymnastics-a standard that helped Utah earn the right to host the NCAA championships.
Kingsbury Hall? That has sheen too, but it didn't always. Capener was assigned to mediate differences between Kingsbury Hall and the nonprofit Pioneer Theatre Company, which somehow had morphed into cross-campus rivals vying for crossover ticket-buyers when Kingsbury reopened in 1996 after undergoing a $13.7 million renovation. President Art Smith assigned both entities to report to Capener, who was charged to help them work through their differences. It isn't difficult to imagine that green eyes were at a premium when he chaired the 17-member Kingsbury Hall Program Advisory Committee. Those were trying times, as Capener recalls, and the assignment to oversee two arts entities amidst sharp disagreement was one of the most difficult endeavors of his 14-year tenure.
Having Donny Osmond and Broadway lyricist Tim Rice at Kingsbury Hall gave Capener a rare, if somewhat unwelcome, opportunity to share in the limelight. However, as master of ceremonies at a press conference announcing that Osmond would come to the U to star in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Capener superbly played the straight man-baiting Osmond to disavow his allegiance to BYU as he handed him first a crimson cap, and then a Utah sweatshirt. That, as Capener would say, was uncharacteristically "showbiz." He is far too unassuming to let the sheen rub off on him.
Another time in which Capener found himself in the role of peacemaker was in 1985, when a small group of student activists occupied lean-tos constructed behind the Union building to protest the University's investments in apartheid South African companies. The shanties were meant to represent the oppressive living conditions of blacks in and around Johannesburg. Not only did the students become extremely vocal in their opposition to the University administration's policies, U officials were concerned that violence by or against the protestors might erupt on campus. The board of trustees wound up complying with the protestors' wishes, and adopted a policy resulting in the administration's divestment from South Africa. It was one of the most memorable community relations issues Capener managed under the administration of former President Peterson.
Capener also has overseen athletics, which meant that when it was time to hire and fire coaches, his counsel was again in demand. Knowing how fond alumni and students are of winning, and the effect success has on athletics revenue, he worked closely with Athletics Director Chris Hill MED'74 PhD'82 to keep all things in perspective. As his executive assistant, Susan Turpin, observes, "Ted has a quiet, unassuming way of providing support and wanting others to receive credit. He's been a counselor to all of us."
No one but his wife, Judy, was capable of counseling Capener about the right time for him to retire. Turpin says that her boss pondered the difficult decision for two years, and then for one more year, more seriously, before deciding that June 30, 1999, would be his final day at the U. He won't say what he'll miss most, but he does know what has made the University of Utah a thoughtful and stimulating environment for him. "This place is a window on the world that takes many forms. It provides a level of excellence, insight, and intellectual stimulation that is essential for people to really grow and be their best selves. I think that some of the things I've been involved with add to that mission, that goal, that achievement. The University adds to our being in ways that no other endeavor does, and it isn't done anywhere else," he proclaims.
After nearly half a century in media and related work, primarily as a broadcaster and an educator, what he looks forward to most is spending time with his family and fishing the Snake River near his cabin in Island Park, Idaho. Perhaps after catching a few more trout than he's lately had time to pursue, he'll return from his hiatus to volunteer for the U. Meanwhile we'll be watching and listening to him Friday evenings on Civic Dialogue, expecting his eyes to grow ever greener.
Anne Palmer Peterson is editor of Continuum.
Copyright 1999 by The University of Utah Alumni Association