I always complete the semesters by throwing my students an in-class pizza-and-a-journalism-movie fiesta, so today we watched Almost Famous over a couple of slices. The film, if you’ve never seen it, is tremendous. Really, one of my, oh, 20 all-time favorites. However, I wasn’t especially focused on the cinematic events. No, my thoughts were on my class and, really, my time at Manhattanville.
Despite all the drama over being dumped as the college newspaper adviser (in case you missed this, here’s the link to my all-time most-read post—120,000 views and counting), and despite having some real differences with the administration’s approach to teaching journalism, I love Manhattanville College. I mean, I really love it. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t leave class in a better mood than when I arrived. I can’t think of a student I genuinely disliked, or a moment that made me say, “God, I hate teaching!”
Truth be told—I love teaching. I really do, and Manhattanville is the place that offered me a first shot. So any bitterness (and, certainly, there is bitterness) is gradually being replaced by warm memories and happy thoughts.
That being said … I’ve learned a lot over these past three years, on journalism and its role on college campuses.
At most of America’s large colleges and universities, there’s an understanding between the administration and the student media. There will be full coverage and it will (at times) be painful. Why does the school go along? Because the college newspaper is an important learning tool for future journalists; one that (students being students) will not always be utilized to perfection. The payoff for the school: A. A great newspaper that interests myriad students; B. Oft big-name faculty members who are regularly published authors and/or journalists; B. Future professionals in a potentially high-visibility field. Larry King, Tom Brokaw, Matt Lauer, Michael Lewis, Mike Lupica, Stuart Scott, Jon Wertheim, Joe Posnanski, etc … etc—all college graduates.
Unfortunately, many smaller schools don’t see things this way. At a time when enrollment—across the board—is down and finances are down the toilet, administrators at places like Manhattanville worry about a negative message poisoning a proactive PR effort. How does it look, they surely think, to have a snazzy website highlighting all of a school’s perks—but a newspaper damning the place to hell? What, for the college, is the gain?
I get that thinking. I really do.
The gain is this: Education. Strong education. Righteous education. Doing what it is you’re supposed to be doing—matching up the highest-quality teachers with a student body anxious to learn. It’s about making sure students get full value for their education; about making sure you’re not doing things primarily for the good of the college, but for the good of the college’s students.
I’m not saying I’m the best teacher. Or the best adviser. Tonight, as the movie wrapped and the lights were turned on, I tried speaking to my students about passion and hard work and dedication and dreams … but couldn’t. My voice cracked. Tears welled in the corners of my eyes. The words stumbled around. “It’s been …” I said, “… an honor to have you all here. A real honor.”