Into the Fray (and Surviving) as Northeastern News Media Adviser

In the spring of 1967, I received a call from then-Executive Vice President Ken Ryder. At the time I had just become an assistant professor in the English Department. We met, and he asked me if I would consider leaving the English Department and joining the administration as an assistant dean of students. He wanted me to become the media adviser and adviser to Hillel as well. I asked why he wanted me for that position, and he said he knew I had been the News editor as an undergraduate and on the editorial board of the News, Cauldron and Spectrum (which at that time was called the N.U. WRITER.)

This new opportunity came with a good increase in pay at a time when Marcia and I already had two of our three children and could use the money. But I had reservations. I knew, when I was a News staffer, that President Asa Knowles hated the News and wasn’t particularly fond of the yearbook and literary magazine. I told Ken that I could not take the job if it meant prereading news copy. My News adviser and mentor who got me a teaching fellowship, English Prof. Everett Marston, also did not preread. To preread was a death sentence for any adviser, and Ken agreed that I would not preread and he’d speak to Dr. Knowles. Second, while the title “dean” was nice, I told Ken I had been away from the News since I graduated in 1961, and the editors might not take kindly to the four-letter word “dean.” He felt certain that would not be a problem once they knew you were “family” to them as a former editor. The next bombshell he shared was that I would report to Vice President of Student Affairs Gil MacDonald. I told Ken that could be a problem, since he didn’t talk to me for a year after I wrote about the bronze hydrant next to the bronze Husky. Ken said he’d straighten that out. As for Hillel, the organization was fairly new on campus, and two Jewish faculty members, Lou Cooperstein and Borah Kreimer, had co-advised but always had arguments and didn’t get along, except they told Ken they both agreed on me becoming adviser. And so, from 1967-1983, masochist that I am, I was the adviser.

During my tenure, whenever President Knowles was upset with what the News printed, he’d call me, my phone would melt as he was swearing, and I’d have to meet with him. I later learned not to rush down to his office where his acolytes and derriere-smoochers were waiting as poet E.E. Cummings wrote, “like lions rushing to the coming slaughter.” Whenever he called, I went to the Churchill Hall cafeteria, had coffee and showed up half an hour later. I found that by then he had calmed down somewhat. At your post-mortem, I would euphemize the discussions I had with Asa and say something such as, “The President asked me to voice his displeasure…etc., etc.,” when he said more than that. You also didn’t see the times I invited a couple of his “people” to meet with me behind the ROTC building so we could “debate” further. Don’t screw with a Dorchester boy!

At the time I became adviser, poet John Ciardi had helped write the Tufts University student newspaper regulations, and while this isn’t his quote verbatim, he wrote, “Sometimes the madmen have shared the podium with the more calmly-reasoned, and unless we’re prepared to defend both, we cannot wish them well as they enter their real journalistic worlds.” That said it for me.

  While I’ve always believed in a free student press, there were a couple of times I found it a bit difficult. In one freshmen orientation issue of the News, there was a story about getting “the clap” in the dorms. Parents read that as they moved their students into the dorms, and the reaction for me was super negativity. I was bothered by one Cauldron that had a blank page entitled “Famous Words of Asa Knowles.” Gulp! However, I always felt that the student publications editors and staff actually loved the university. Why else would they spend so much time bringing printed info and pleasure to the student body, frequently sleeping on desks at night before the next day’s paper circulation? The 1969 and 1976 Cauldrons were dedicated to me by the editors, and those were humbling experiences, but I have to say that my favorite Cauldron was Jim and Dixie’s 1971 paperback, a monumental historical tome about the ’60s and early ’70s.

I’ve had many responsibilities during my close to 40 years at Northeastern, but none more pleasurable than serving as the student media adviser and friend to so many talented soon-to-be professional journalists.