Volume 22, Number 42 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 26 - March 4, 2010
Downtown Express file photo by Tequila Minsky
Antonio Pérez, president of Borough of Manhattan Community College, has set up a Web site for people to post questions and answers on life’s big and small dilemmas.
Who wants to ask a question about life or love?
By Josh Rogers
Regis Philbin is not a name that gets bandied about much in academia, but one college president says there was an important lesson to be learned from “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”: The audience is almost always right.
Antonio Pérez, president of the Borough of Manhattan Community College, said the game show’s audience picked the right answer 92 percent of the time when contestants asked for their advice. That’s the premise of a new Web site Pérez set up. Students and others ask life questions, and users post their answers.
“How nice it would be if we had an answer sheet” for life’s questions, Pérez said in a telephone interview.
The site’s name, wwuask.com, is based on the first four words of an online question he posed a year and a half ago to students and faculty: What would you ask if life came with an answer sheet?
Pérez, who has a doctorate in counseling, said most questions fall into one of three categories based on age. People in their late teens to mid-30s, a good number of the site’s questioners, often ask about life direction questions — education, career and relationships. In middle age, the focus often shifts to one’s children, and later in life, people become concerned about their legacy.
Although still far from being elderly, Pérez, 63, said he does think about his legacy and sees the Web site as the last big project of his academic career.
“Do you write a book about some theory that no one knows about or do you help people,” he said. “I’m about helping people.”
He intends to write a book about the project, which he launched a few months ago. So far about 7,000 people have visited the site.
Posted questions range from the meaning of life and should I sleep with my boyfriend to how to fix my car alarm. Answers often sound like common sense advice from an older mentor, such as “forgive yourself” to a 20-year-old asking how to get over regrets.
Many of the dating questions focus on mixed ethnic or religious relationships. Pérez said that may reflect the B.M.C.C. student body, which represents a sizable, but unknown percentage of the site’s visitors. About half the 25,000 students were born outside the U.S. and they often end up dating people from different backgrounds, he said.
Pérez said so far he has “resisted the temptation” to post answers, but he may in the future, in which case he’d sign his answers. When questions are specific to B.M.C.C., such as how to apply for a scholarship, Pérez often forwards it to the appropriate administrator to post an answer.
He said he works on the site on his own time and tries to keep it separate from the school, which he has led for 15 years. A few isolated questioners have used the forum to criticize Pérez and the site, such as one who asked “why does BMCC need a president?”
Pérez said he never would have thought of setting up a site, but when he told Craig Hatkoff about the hundreds of responses he received, Hatkoff, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival and a B.M.C.C. board member, suggested turning to the Web.
Pérez believes his effort is “the internet’s first user-generated self-help site.” He said it cost about $5,000 – $10,000 to set it up with Web consultants. He has spent a few hundred dollars advertising on Google, which dwarfs the $17 he has made so far on Google ads.
He never thought the site would make money and said there is not much chance he’ll be proven wrong. That wasn’t his intent.
“Many people suffer by themselves when there are people out there who can be of help,” he said.