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Lonely at the top, at first

Joseph Aoun , who became president of Northeastern University in August, recently shared some disarmingly personal thoughts about his start on the job. What no one talks about is that it's lonely to be the new president in town, Aoun told the Globe. The friends and neighbors he once saw every day aren't around, and people view him more as a leader than a regular person.

But now Aoun has made friends. He gushed about the day Mayor Tom Menino took him all over the city. And about the students he met at a barbecue who offered to show him how to salsa dance.

"You start by being very lonely, and then people adopt you," said Aoun, who moved from Los Angeles with his wife.

"When somebody teaches you salsa, the next time they see you, they are not seeing you as the president."

To make sure he gets to know the place, Aoun keeps space on his calendar every day for surprise visits -- to the public safety office, to dining halls, even to a nearby church.

He also insists on taking staff and visitors out of his office for "walking meetings," talking business while strolling around campus.

HELLO, I MUST BE GOING: The state Board of Higher Education honored Stephen P. Tocco on Thursday, but no one knew for sure whether that meeting would be his last as chairman.

Even Tocco couldn't say.

"I actually didn't think I would be here for this meeting," said Tocco, who took over the chairmanship of the University of Massachusetts board of trustees this fall.

"I thought I would be serving only one role, but I might be serving in both roles for a while longer."

The board presented Tocco with a plaque for his seven years of service, and Senate President Robert E. Travaglini swung by to share a few words.

"The beauty is he will still be beholden to me," Travaglini said, referring to Tocco's chairmanship of the UMass board. "Steve has demonstrated he is a pro. He can make hard decisions and is careful to make decisions correctly. If he doesn't, I will be here to correct him."

The governor has the authority to appoint a new chairman for the higher education board, but Felix Browne, a Romney spokesman, said Friday evening that the office had no announcement to make.

ELITE, BUT NOT DIVERSE: While Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby often earn kudos for their academics, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has faulted the three Maine colleges for the lack of diversity in their freshman classes.

The colleges were among seven academically high-ranking liberal arts colleges with incoming classes this year that are less than 4 percent black. The other four are Middlebury, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, and Bucknell University.

The Journal did credit Colby for doubling the number of incoming black students from a year ago.

"There are some challenges in terms of geography and historic makeup of incoming classes," said Stephen B. Collins, a Colby College spokesman, but he added, "We are not going to rest on our laurels."

At the other end of the spectrum, Amherst College ranked third highest for its representation of black students with 9.9 percent, while Swarthmore College came in first with 11.6 percent, followed by Haverford College with 10.2 percent.

MOOT DECISION: Every year, the Ames Moot Court finals at Harvard Law School are a pretty amazing affair, bringing together a dozen third-year law students who have already beaten out a couple hundred of their classmates, in front of high-ranking real-life judges.

But this year, the cast of characters seemed particularly interesting.

On one team was Erika Harold , the 2003 Miss America. The other team included Kevin Terrazas , who started law school after serving in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division.

Among the judges: Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy .

Terrazas's team, which represented an imaginary cosmetics company pitted against an organic grocery store, won for best overall case. A West Point graduate and captain, he was part of the initial invasion of Iraq and later served in Mosul.

Asked whether combat experience came in handy in the courtroom, Terrazas said it gave him perspective, but "it didn't calm the nerves as much as I would like."

E-mail tips to Campus Insider alternates with Ask the Teacher, a Globe advice column by a teacher, on Sundays in the City & Region section.

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