Had some shitty news this week when I found out that a good
friend had been “reorganized” out of his advising job. I like to think I’m a
hell of an adviser of student media, but I know that I couldn’t hold a candle
to this guy. The funniest thing is that he always sought me out at conventions
to critique his kids’ work because they listened to me better than him. A
“grass is greener” moment if I ever saw one.
This is the guy who spawned First Amendment Free Food
Festivals on his campus and helped bring them to other campuses across the
country. The idea was simple: he got a grant, bought a bunch of food and then
had a part of the campus roped off by staffers of his paper. Students were
allowed to enter and eat all they wanted. The catch was that they had to give
up their First Amendment rights. After they ate all they wanted, the “goon
squad” got to impose its will on them. The goons would break up groups of
people who were talking, as the students had given up their right to peaceable
assembly. They were given “pro” politician signs that were against their own
belief systems because they’d given up the right to free speech. And so it went
through the freedoms delineated in the amendment. It was awesome because the
kids never realized all the stuff they had until this guy took it away from
His sessions at conventions were packed to overflow. He
taught ethics, design and more. He showed up in fatigues and handed out cigars
and jazz CDs. He held sessions at midnight where kids could get their papers
critiqued and fed them cereal.
Beyond that, he was a hell of guiding force in helping the
students under his watch. He pushed his kids to dig into a corrupt student
government. The kids found out that the student government had given itself
retroactive pay increases because it felt like it. When the paper reported on
it, the government kids tried to have this guy fired and the paper gutted. He
fought it out and managed to hold the fort. He also managed to squirm out of
danger when his kids found out that a number of gift cards bought by the
student government had gone missing and the student government kids had no idea
what happened. Or so they said.
The kids loved and adored him and every time one of these
things came up, they worried that he’d take the brunt of the backlash for their
journalism. He always had the same answer: Tell the story, tell the story, tell
the story. As much as he loved his job, he knew that the job wouldn’t be worth
much if he was allowed to keep it only by not doing it.
After the stun wore off a bit, I emailed him and gave him my
condolences. He told me that he had a good run, this was a long time in coming
and that he knew the “reorganization” was the only way to really fire him
without firing him. He said he didn’t know where he was going, but he’d be OK. I
doubt I would take it so well.
People like this guy are exactly what we need more of in
student journalism. Of course, he’s the LEAST likely person to keep a job of
this kind. Academia (and perhaps much of the job world at large) is all about
getting along now. It’s about keeping your emotions in check, letting everyone
play like it’s journalism camp and hugging it out when someone gets an ego
bruised. This guy was the antithesis of that. He pushed when he heard bullshit,
he went to his go-to people and if you didn’t like the outcome, that was your
problem, not his.
What’s funny about this is that he was in no way an asshole.
He was a tough adviser. Unfortunately, while the kids under his watch could
make this distinction, the powers that be couldn’t (or wouldn’t).
When people wonder why journalism is going down the shitter,
I’ll be pointing to this situation and saying, “because we won’t let guys like
him work with our kids.”