Connecting City And Campus

The Ohio State University has long been a huge part of what life in Columbus is all about. Residents of our fair city know that the college is a key driver of its economy and social and cultural activities.  Now the University wants prospective and current students to understand that Columbus can and should be a big part of their college experience, too.

This wasn’t always the case.  When I was at OSU in the ’70s, campus was the exclusive focal point of student life.  Living “off-campus” simply meant one of the at-that-time run-down areas right next to campus.  I covered the Statehouse for the Lantern so I drove downtown regularly, but that was just because it was part of my beat.  The city really didn’t seem to offer much of interest to my campus-oriented world — but many of us ended up staying in Columbus after graduation, anyway, because there were jobs here.

Columbus has gotten a lot more interesting since those days.  Back then, the Short North was a scary place of vacant storefronts and XXX theaters; now it is a thriving, uber-cool neighborhood of shops, restaurants, and art galleries.  The Arena District, another focal point of the Columbus social/cultural scene, didn’t exist.  Downtown was a sea of surface parking lots that closed down about 6 p.m.  And German Village — where the initial wave of rehabbing was still underway — seemed incredibly far away.  Now all of those areas not only are much more interesting, they also are easy (and cheap) to reach via COTA’s free CBUS circulator, which runs on a continuous loop from Victorian Village right next to campus down High Street to German Village and back again.

Colleges are competing fiercely for students, to the point of building lavish dorms and state-of-the-art workout facilities and other amenities.  If the school happens to be located in a city that features lots of great social and cultural activities and economic opportunities, why not feature that in its marketing effort as a point of distinction with schools located in small-town America?  Ohio State’s decision to tout Columbus to its current and future students is not only good for the city, it’s probably good for the University, too.

Back To The J-School

IMG_3420From 1977 to 1979, I spent huge amounts of time in an unassuming brick building tucked away at an anonymous intersection on the sprawling campus of the Ohio State University.  It was the home of the School of Journalism, known to its denizens as the “J-School.”  It was where I met Kish and where my friends were, and the epicenter of my little college universe was the Ohio State Lantern newsroom found on the second floor.

Last Friday afternoon I had the chance to go back again, thanks to a kind invitation from Dan Caterinicchia (who helpfully goes by “Dan Cat”), the Director of Student Media at OSU and faculty advisor to the Lantern.  Dan asked if I would come out and talk to his class of Lantern reporters, purportedly to discuss journalism ethics but in reality to give an aging ex-reporter a chance to share some memories with fresh young people about a time and place that still evokes many warm feelings.

During my visit I got a chance to see the Lantern newsroom, pictured above, which has changed tremendously since my era at the J-School.  During the ’70s the newsroom was a long room that ran almost the entire length of the building.  It was filled with rows of desks covered with electric typewriters where reporters were furiously typing copy, pods of desks where copy editors and section editors were marking up stories, a dark and smelly photo lab, and a “wire room” where constantly clattering marchines were spitting out reams of reports from the Associated Press and United Press International.

There was a tremendous buzz and energy in that long room, with reporters trying to meet their deadlines and the pressure of putting out a newspaper that was published every weekday and distributed to a community of more than 50,000 critical readers.  The newsroom was filled with an ever-present blue haze of stale cigarette smoke because everyone seemed to smoke like fiends in those less cancer-conscious days.  The ashtrays were dented silver film canisters, and they were always jammed to overflowing with crushed butts.

For an aspiring reporter, it was a little slice of journalistic heaven that made you feel like you were part of a real newsroom — and you were.  When I worked briefly for the Toledo Blade after graduation, the look and feel of its newsroom was not materially different from that of the Lantern.  I felt like my J-School experience had trained me well.

IMG_3421The newsroom looks a lot different now.  The long room has been cut in two, with one half devoted to a TV studio for Lantern TV.  The newsroom part is smaller, cleaner, and quieter.  There is no need for the long desks of typewriters or the noisy wire room, because reporters can just type their copy on laptops and email it to the editors, who work on huge Apple computers to put the newspaper together.  There’s no indoor smoking, either, which is a good thing.  Although a lot has changed, I imagine that the Lantern staffers of our day and of the present day would quickly find common ground — at least, the stack of empty pizza boxes on a trash can at one corner of the newsroom suggested as much.

I was a bit flummoxed about what to talk to the class of Lantern reporters about, but the flow of memories and stories came easily and the students listened respectfully.  Dan made things easier by calling up some of the newspapers and stories of my day — the Lantern now has a terrific, easily accessible on-line archive of its editions from 1881 to 1997, available here — and displaying them on a large screen as we talked. I’m not sure the students got anything out of the talk, other than random recollections and references to cultural touchstones that are now decades out of date, but it was fun to remember some of the issues and challenges that we struggled with so long ago.

I was impressed by the journalism students, who seemed as bright and inquisitive and interested in the world as the J-School rats of the ’70s that became my friends — but much more polite, of course.  And I also was impressed by Dan Caterinicchia, who has an excellent record of work as a professional journalist with the AP and also obviously has a  good rapport with his students and a keen eye for how to keep the Lantern meaningful in a changing, digital, social media world.

I would say to my fellow ex-Lanternites — and you know who you are — that the Lantern is in good hands, and that the J-School, and the on-line archive, are worth a visit.

Mumps On Campus

The Ohio State University is reporting an outbreak of 23 cases of mumps on campus. Eighteen students and one staff member — as well as others with links to the University community — apparently have the disease.

Mumps is one of those diseases, like scarlet fever or measles, that people used to get as kids before vaccines became commonplace. I had mumps when I was a tot, and so did all of the kids in my family. I remember being tired and having a sore throat and swollen glands, but getting to eat ice cream and drink 7-Up and read Archie comic books in bed made it bearable.

We tend to think of childhood diseases as not so serious, and usually they aren’t — at least, not if you get them when you’re a kid. If you get mumps as an adult, however, it can have more serious consequences, including swelling in some tender areas for post-pubescent males. Mumps also is the kind of disease that sounds tailor-made for transmission in a college campus setting. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“Mumps is spread by droplets of saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat of an infected person, usually when the person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Items used by an infected person, such as soft drink cans or eating utensils, can also be contaminated with the virus, which may spread to others if those items are shared. In addition, the virus may spread when someone with mumps touches items or surfaces without washing their hands and someone else then touches the same surface and rubs their mouth or nose.”

Now, compare that description of mumps transmission to the close quarters and hygiene standards found in the off-campus residences and dorm rooms maintained by college students, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering how big an outbreak of mumps on a college campus could become. (If you’re an Ohio State basketball fan, you also find yourself hoping that all of the members of the team have been vaccinated.)

Which raises one final point: you don’t get mumps if you had it as a kid or you’ve been vaccinated. I thought vaccinations for mumps was pretty universal in the United States. An outbreak of 23 cases of the mumps suggests that understanding may be unfounded — which is deeply troubling. Aren’t parents getting basic vaccinations for their kids these days? If they aren’t, why not? It makes you wonder if other basic public health steps are being ignored, and what other outbreaks and consequences might lie in store for us as a result.

French For A Dummy

I’m going to be spending some time in France in a few months, so I’ve decided to brush up on my French language skills.  Actually, calling them “skills” isn’t quite accurate — unless the meaning of “skills” can be stretched to include a capability that really doesn’t exist.  I can read a little French, and I remember that jambon means ham, but that’s really about as far as it goes.

IMG_4898I took French in junior high school, in high school, and at OSU until I met my language requirements.  Despite these years of patient instruction, I never moved past the most basic levels.  Not surprisingly, my French class memories don’t involve having rapid-fire conversations with proud and dazzled teachers.  Instead, I remember trying to get some “extra credit” by helping my high school French teacher decorate her classroom for Christmas.  To my befuddlement, she wanted me to hang up the letters of the alphabet.  After I did so, she asked me if I got the reference.  When  gave her a confused look in response, she gestured at the letters, barked out a short Gallic laugh, and said “No L!”  I shrugged at this weak example of French humor, then remembered that sophisticates in that country considered Jerry Lewis a genius.

In college, our pleasant if somewhat beefy French instructor wanted to give the class an example of the importance of precise pronunciation.  She explained that, during a recent visit to Paris, she was being pestered by a beret-wearing, cigarette-smoking man.  She meant to dismiss him with a gruff cochon, which means pig, but instead she said couchons, which unfortunately suggested a desire to do the horizontal bop.  She then barked out a short Gallic laugh as the members of the class snickered at her embarrassing predicament.  The only other things I remember from my college French classes are that we students thought mangez mes sous-vetements, which means “eat my shorts,” was a hilarious insult even though the exasperated teacher pointed out that the French never use that phrase, and we also put n’est ce pas? at the end of every conceivable statement because it at least ended our halting sentences with a smooth closing.

So, trying to get up to speed on French in a few months is probably futile — especially since studies indicate that trying to acquire new language skills becomes more difficult with age.  I’m going to try anyway.  I’ve reserved some French language instruction CDs from the library and am going to listen to them on our morning walks.  I’m starting with French for Dummies.  The title is a bit insulting — but it’s probably accurate, n’est ce pas?

College Changes, College Stays The Same

IMG_4785Yesterday I attended an excellent “On The Road” presentation by the Ohioana Library Association.  It focused on the history of the Ohio State University and included a trip to the recently renovated William Oxley Thompson Library at the apex of the Oval in the heart of the OSU campus.

Our visit coincided with move-in day for students.  When I looked into the beautiful reading room at the library, pictured above, I was surprised to see a number of students reading and working, even though classes have not begun.  Wow, I thought — college really has changed a lot since I got my degree so long ago.

Then we got back onto our bus and drove back to Ohioana, and on the way we passed some off-campus housing where three shirtless guys — one of whom nevertheless wore a tie — were drinking beer in front of a hand-painted bedsheet sign that read “Daughter Drop-Off.”  A block or so later we passed a big keg party featured people dancing on the roof of a porch.  So . . . maybe college hasn’t changed that much after all.

A plug for the Ohioana On The Road programs:  they’re great.  You can get more information about them here.

More (Sigh) Black Eyes For The Scarlet And Gray

Today the Ohio State football team, through Head Coach Urban Meyer, announced disciplinary action against four — four! — student athletes.

IMG_1846Running back Carlos Hyde was suspended from football activities pending the outcome of criminal and student code of conduct investigations.  Hyde reportedly was named in a police report relating to an alleged assault of a woman in a Columbus bar.  In the meantime, cornerback Bradley Roby was involved in a disturbance in a bar in Bloomington, Indiana and faces misdemeanor battery charges.  A freshman, Marcus Baugh, won’t be participating in team activities and will have to sit out the first game after being arrested for underage possession of alcohol, and yet another freshman, defensive lineman Tim Gardner, was sent home and will not be part of the 2013 team after being charged by Columbus police with “obstruction of official business.”

I hate to read this kind of news, because it is an embarrassment to the University.  It plays into every stereotype about Ohio State being a football factory.  After dealing with a series of NCAA violations that left the team ineligible for a bowl last year, the Buckeyes had been working hard to refurbish the team’s, and the school’s, reputation.  This news just makes the effort to restore the University’s reputation that much harder.

I recognize that student-athletes are young, and young people often make bad decisions.  That rationale may work for freshmen, but there is no excuse for upperclassmen like Hyde and Roby to be in a bar in the wee hours, putting themselves in a position where bad things predictably could happen.  They are supposed to be leaders, not problems.  Rather than setting good examples, they’ve made Urban Meyer’s job that much more difficult — and have provided more fodder for more crass jokes and snide comments about The Ohio State University.