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Courtesy of Drew Magazine. Article originally appeared in the Summer 1996 edition, by Jessica Papin C'95

Since 1928, The Acorn, the self-styled "independent newspaper of the College of Liberal Arts" has chronicled the growth and growing pains of Drew University.Captured in the yellowing pages of fading newsprint is a unique record of social history, recorded in medias res, unedited by hindsight. In the 68years since its inception as a two sided newsletter, The Acorn has moved through numerous incarnations. Tricked out in the bold headlines of splashy tabloid, demurely attired in the guise of a modest broadsheet, hip and insouciant as an alternative magazine, it marches through the decades- the college's continuing experiment in journalism and sleep deprivation. Whether as campus bulletin board, scandal sheet, public forum, propagandist rag, eagle-eyed sentinel of the Fourth Estate (or perhaps all of the above) more than 50 years of editors agree, The Acorn has always belonged to the students.

According to the Oak Leaves, the 1940-41 Acorn got off to a wobbly start under Editor-in- Chief Raymond Blair C'41. Nevertheless, over the next few months, the senior wrestled the crooked columns straight, scoured out the typos, and, from that dubious beginning, embarked on a lifelong career in journalism.

When Blair donned his freshman beanie in the late 1930s, Drew was a small school whose all-male student body just scraped 200. Although the seminary had been established nearly 70 years before, the CLA was all of a decade old,and the Graduate School was still 20 years away.

Despite the college's diminutive size, The Acorn flourished. Blair began working in the Drew University Press bureau, covering sports events, phoning the scores in to the Associated Press, New York Times and The Star Ledger, drafting press releases for student's hometown newspapers. Entrenched as he was in all the journalism the university could offer, he knew the editorship of The Acorn was inevitable. Nevertheless, it was with some trepidation that Blair attempted to fill the shoes of his predecessors, Ralph Porzio C'38 and Frank Bello C'39,"both tremendous guys, outstanding editors- quite a big act to follow," Blair recalls. Despite his initial trepidation, Blair was not burdened by timidity, and his paper was no stranger to controversy.

Blair devoted an installment of his column, "Of Cabbages and Kings", to a merciless indictment of Dean of Students Frank Lankard's assistant, Heisse Johnson. "We students thought that he was not the brightest," Blair explains ruefully. "I wrote a scathing column and, though they never commented, the administration must have been livid."

As graduation drew nigh, it was a column that would come back to haunt him. "I ahd spent so much time at The Acorn and hitching rides to visit girls, I was in danger of flunking out," Blair explains. "Heisse went to bat for me, convincing Dean Lankard to let me stay and complete unfinished work over Easter break. I always meant to apologize."

Housed ion a second-floor classroom in Brothers College, the biweekly paper was four pages long and listed a staff of near 40 on the mast head- "enormous given the size of the school," Blair adds, and devoted almost exclusively to campus events. "Though World War II was coming, very little was reflected in the paper. We were pretty innocent about what was going on overseas," he continues.

Blair was graduated with a major in history and a minor in English, "though I really majored in The Acorn" he says chuckling. Repeating a phrase that became a badge of honor for Acorners who succeeded him, he says, "We worked late into the night." Nearly 10 years later, David Follansbee C'50 was keeping the same obscene hours, though in a different location. In 1949-50, The Acorn was tucked away in the bowels of Mead Hall. There, Follansbee earned the distinction of becoming the only Acorn editor in the history of Drew to face impeachment proceedings.

Follansbee says the rationale for the near-coup were twofold. "First, I defended the dining hall, and second, I opposed hazing," he explains, a spark of defiance discernible in his voice. "At the time," the retired minister recounts, "all meals were served in the refractory (now Great Hall) and were overseen by a dietitian." The student council, underwhelmed by the daily fare, was trying to organize a strike against the kitchen. "I guess the other students came from better homes than I did," Follansbee says with a chuckle. "Coming out of the Depression, when my dad brought home one Milky Way bar a week to be split among our family, I thought all the eggs you could eat and even the dreaded pork chops were great. I wrote an editorial opposing the strike; the student council was incensed. "Nevertheless, in the wake of Follansbee's piece, the impetus for the strike gradually fizzled out, and many of the improvements suggested in Follansbee's editorial were instituted. "Basically, I won," he days.

Hazing, however, proved to be a more daunting nemesis. Follansbee's critique of the university practice of hazing freshmen earned him an informal bodyguard as tempers cooled. "I kept a whistle around my neck," Follansbee recalls, "and if sophomores threatened me, I called a large buddy of mine to protect me."

"Hazing was so natural then," he explains. "It was condoned and even encouraged by the university. To be against it was unheard of." In the first week after they arrived, freshmen were turned over to the questionable care of sophomores. "Freshmen had to wear beanies and funny costumes, run silly errands, or do push ups at an upperclassman's command. At any provocation they could beat you with a paddle. I thought it was rpetty juvenile," he says.

The college had gone coed during the way, and in 1950 follansbee was dating freshman Betty Dinsmore, whom he later married. "The sophomores led her and a bunch of other freshman girls out into the woods, which in those days were pretty dense, took away her glasses, and left her there. She missed curfew- back then, curfew really meant something- and we had to organize a search party to find her. We never recovered the glasses," he adds.

At the end of the hazing week, freshmen were made to crawl through the basement of Mead Hall, which had been purposely flooded for the occasion, their heads smeared with a specially concocted slime. Once through this final trial, they participated in and induction ceremony that was held, "appropriately enough in the slave quarters," Follansbee recalls.

The former editor says the university took a dim opinion of his dim opinion of hazing. The Student Council summoned him to a meeting, eager to oust the recalcitrant journalist. "This is to keep the editor on his toes," declared a student government official. "Yes," returned one of Follansbee's defenders, "but would you really want to bring him to his knees?" Follansbee continued his tenure as editor, and hazing went into a decline.

A year later, under to editorship of Lawrence Sacks C'52, The Acorn underwent a small technological revolution. "The paper switched from lino-type to offset. It was an enormous improvement." Sacks recalls, "photographs had better resolution." The paper was still a biweekly, four page affair, although they produced a special issue to mark the arrival of the new dean of students, Raymond Withley.

Despite Sacks' diplomatic overtures, the editor's attempt at a gracious welcome did little to secure an amiable relationship. That Thanksgiving, Sacks remembers, "There was a storm and a power outage. The dining hall was shut down, and the dean made much-to-do about rallying round and keeping spirits up." Sacks fired off a column remarking that some hot coffee and sandwiches might have been more conductive to school spirit that Withey's trope. "That day, I was summoned to his office for a tete-a-tete. Things went downhill from there."

The dean's opinion notwithstanding, Sacks says students looked forward to The Acorn. "Of course, if there were errors, lots of people told me about them," he says laughing. Like his predecessors, he focused on campus events; that year one was particularly significant, a story that spoke to the tenor of the times.

It was basketball season, and the team was headed south to Maryland for a game against Towson State. The coach made arrangements to stay at the nearby Lord Baltimore Hotel, Sacks recalls. Unremarkable, except that the Lord Baltimore was a segregated hotel, and the Drew team had one black player. He was left at home. "I thought it was outrageous," Sacks says, "I wrote a column about it." His piece sparked a heated discussion that would culminate in a university-wide "town meeting" in the Rose library. Representatives from both the NAACP and the Urban League attended.

"Even though segregation was an accepted practice, it was not the proper thing for the school to do. My column put the university in a very poor light, and there were many people who were unhappy with me for making it an issue," he explains. Sacks, now a retired chemist, relinquished editorship after his junior year. "In 1951-52," he jokes, "I did something very different; I went to classes."

Six years later, Don Cole C'59, now a professor of economics at Drew, found his name at the top of the masthead from the fall of '57 to the spring of '59. During that time, Cole declares, "The Acorn covered no real issues. Though I say that with a purpose. It was the '50s, and Drew was an ivory tower.. The purpose of the paper was to cultivate school spirit. We weren't involved in the world; we were our own world. Ours was the silent generation; students didn't speak out. It was a time of conformity, of repression, not just at Drew but throughout the country," he remarks. "The culture reflected the influence of McCarthyism; it was dreadful now that I think about it. College society was created for us. and we had to toe the line."

He recalls lady's teas hosted by the dean of women at which white gloves and proper deportment were de rigueur. It was a time of sock hops and a dry campus teeming with P.K.d: preachers' kids. In an era before voice mall and e-mail, The Acorn was the primary source of information for most students, Cole points out, "and we gave it a zippy ring. I suppose we were trying to imitate Time Magazine." In the fall of '57, Cole switched the paper from biweekly to weekly and changed the format to resemble more closely a tabloid. The Acorn was also furnished with a faculty adviser. "His official role, I guess, was to censor, but he didn't exert a strong hand." In 1959, the University Center opened. "Of course we covered that," he says. "At the time, it was a magnificent building for a school with a population of six or seven hundred." The Acorn moved to its new headquarters, UC 109, where it would remain until 1996.

Geroge Eckstein, C'64, recalls spending the majority of his Drew career in that small office. "I spent hours and hours there, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes," says the 1961-62 editor, "It was a second home." Without the benefits of desktop publishing, the paper's layout was time consuming, and in Eckstein's estimation, tedious. "We typed out all the copy on manual typewriters and worked with layout sheets, gathering up the whole affair and bringing it to the printer late Thursday nights. The printer delivered it Friday mornings, and by noon on Friday we had the paper out. They were extremely happy years," he says fondly. "Students weren't really angry, and Drew was a peaceful place." Nevertheless, the minister recalls, "We were moving slowly toward an era of social protest," an era that would effect dramatic change on college campuses and on the nation as a whole.

The change came quickly, according to David Hinckley, C'70, now an entertainment ciritic at The New York Daily News. When he arrived in the fall of '67, Hinckley noticed, "a real dichotomy between students who were already there, who tended to be the Circle K. young republican types, and the people who came in my year- the long-haired, hippy leftists. It created considerable internal tension." The division fascinated Hinckley; when he took over the editorship in the spring of '68, he "tried to use The Acorn to straddle both groups. In the classic journalist tradition, I wanted to look at both sides."

The tensions on campus were perhaps a mild microcosm of events in the country. "It was Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution," Hinckley says. During those years the role of the university was irrevocably altered; laissez-faire replaced in loco parentis. Curfews were abolished, coed dorms established, and the stern reign of the watchful form parent forever ended. "In addition to internal changes, there was considerable antiwar activity on campus," Hinckley recalls. "The real question remained: How deeply could Drew as an institution become involved?" On May 4, 1970, as the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a group of protesters at Kent State University killing four students, Hinckley had his answer. The university canceled finals and held a series of workshops instead. "The administration obviously believed that Kent State was so disruptive to Drew University, to America, that it had to do something."

Fostered by an active, liberal seminary that had long been involved in the struggle for equality, Drew played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. Hinkley remembers a protest at a barbershop in Madison; students from all three schools picketed when a barber refused to cut a black student's hair.

"Hyera, the African-American student union (now Kuumba) had just been founded, and, much to the administration's concern, brought speakers from the Black Panthers to campus." Black activism, Hinckley says, coupled with the university's attempts to recruit minority students, "created an ongoing debate about the validity of separate institutions; Should there be black dorms? Were black student organizations separatist? They were questions addressed weekly in the opinions section."

Not surprisingly, in the wake of all that was new, a few old traditions twitched through the last of their death throes. After a luckless freshman was kidnapped at gunpoint by a triumphant sophomore class, hazing was officially ended. The weapon was only a starter pistol, and the student, nicknamed "Hoppy," had the dubious distinction of being a human mascot of the freshman class. As Hinckley remembers, tradition held that the sophomores would try to capture Hoppy. Once in their clutches, he was hoisted atop the equestrian statue of Francis Asbury, at which point sophomores would perform a victory lap around campus, crowing "Hoppy rides." The starter pistol incident insured that future generations of unwilling Hoppies would never again be forced into the saddle. "It made for weeks of news stories," Hinckley laughingly recalls.

The Acorn was changing along with the times. Hinckley increased the number of pages to eight {"sometimes twelve!"), revamping the format into a splashier tabloid style. "It was, as always, a process of learning by doing. We had no guidance," Hinckley says. The one-time adviser had disappeared , never to be seen again, and no journalism classes were offered to give formal instruction. "We were on our own."

Hinckley tried to establish a pattern of succession for The Acorn, so aspiring journalists could train up through the ranks. Sure enough, two of his staff ascended The Acorn ladder; Michelle Fabrizio C'73 and Martha Millard C'73 were appointed co-editors-in-chief for 1971-72. Activism was of the essence. "We were intent on political rabble rousing; we not only reported it, but fanned and flamed it.." Millard, now a literary agent, declares, "Back then, we saw journalism as a basis for getting a political consciousness; students were angry." As the first female editors in some years, Millard and Fabrizio attracted the attention of a local newspaper. They were interviewed for a story on women in journalism. The story ran with the headline "Tandem Tinkerbells Take Over." "Tandem Tinkerbells," repeats Fabrizio. "It was pretty insulting. No wonder we were angry."

In the previous year, under Ken Schulman C'72, The Acorn had moved to an 8 1/2 by 11 magazine format, 18-32 pages long. It was a radical departure from the traditional newspaper format. Hinckley's paper, "straightforward, full of rock and roll like the young Rolling Stone, became pointedly political under Schulman," Fabrizio recalls. "He tackled broad social issues in a militant way. By the time MArtha and I took over, we were moving away from that militancy. It was an intense time," she continues. "Things were happening fast; often it was good, sometimes it was confusing. Ours became sort of a drop-out paper."

Both Fabrizio and Millard recall devoting considerable newsprint to the shortcomings of the administration. "They always tried to squelch the voice of the students," Millard says. Fabrizio describes President Robert Oxnam as "very aloof. The administration, the trustees, had very little interest in the sudents and not much respect for what we had to say." Fabrizio, now a trustee, has made a concerted effort to be both visible and attentive to student concerns.

Despite the perceived distance between students and administration, the university, particularly the seminary, had a reputation for liberalism, Fabrizio recalls. "In 1965, the Theo School was such a hotbed of activism, it almost lost its accreditation," she says. In addition, the relationship between the three schools drew closer, "as young men, eager to avoid the draft, enrolled directly in the graduate schools to prolong their student deferments." Moreover, she adds, "Drew was one of the first universities, on the heels of Columbia, to formulate a plan of organized protest against the war in Vietnam."

Less than a decade later, Drew was a very different place. Vietnam over, the Reagan administration just begining, the age of revolution had all but run its course. In the fall of 1980, "a power vacuum" sucked junior Kurt Piehler C'82 to the top of the masthead. "I'm not quite sure how I got to be editor," says the now adjunct associate professor of history.

"We were coming off an era where students were very confrontational. The campus was remarkably calm," Piehler recalls. "The only major change was a shift in the legal drinking age; from 18 to 21." Although Drew's underclassmen were not transformed, wholesale, into tee-totaling temperance union, the "dynamic of university social life was significantly altered." Verboten to two-thirds of campus, the pub ceased to be a social center, and nonalcoholic alternatives began to supplant it. "I still remember when you got a free pitcher of beer at the pub for bringing a professor," he says laughing.

Piehler abandoned his budding career in journalism after one semester of editing The Acorn. Nevertheless, 16 years later, he still maintains a working relationship with the newspaper. For an assignment on primary source research, Piehler asks his students to read a semester's worth of Acorns and write an eight page paper on student culture, reconstructing history from the content and construction of The Acorn. "The Acorn provides a unique focus and angle on history," he says.

In the 1980s, that focus became increasingly fixed on economic issues. "While I was there, tuition increased sharply," Piehler reports. "Expenses were about $3,500 a year when I started, and about $7,000 a year when I graduated. Students were upset. The administration didn't really explain why the price hike was necessary."

A few years later the situation had, if anything, intensified, says Lisa Spitz C'85, editor-in-chief from 1982-84. From her vantage point in UC 109, she saw students grow increasingly concerned and increasingly angry as tuition again doubled, from $7,000 to $14,000. "I knew a lot of students who had to leave because they simply could not afford it."

Financial woes figured prominently in the pages of The Acorn, pages that were still being painstakingly laid out by hand. "It was before the dawn of the computer age," Spitz jokes. Nevertheless, under her direction, the paper garnered awards from the Columbia Student PRess Association. "We went from a zero ranking to a first ranking," she says proudly. "We really put a lot of effort into it."

For a brief amount of time, the effort was officially recognized by the university. A portion of lost sleep could be recovered in acedemic credit for an independant study in journalism. Drew arranged to have its fledgling program overseen by an off-campus advisor, an editor at the Daily Record. Much to students dismay, the opportunity was rescinded a semester later, as faculty complained that the credits were not adequately supervised.

Absence of supervision, however, has long been a point of honor among staff members, particularly Jason Kosnoski C'92, a Ph.D. candidate in political theory, who is convinced that The Acorn's autonomy was vital to its function. A staff writer, a news editor, and finally the executive editor for 1991-92, Kosnoski reasons, "In a place inundated with media, The Acorn can't really break stories, but what it does do, really well, is serve as a forum for public debate. Editorially, I think the role of The Acorn is to be critical, not necessarily oppositional, but to constantly examine the actions of the university."

In Kosnoski's sophomore year, the university was the subject of a particularly unflattering examination as faculty and students learned that Drew had significant investments in South Africa. To protest Drew's support of the racist government, the Drew Anti-Apartheid Movement (DAAM) staged a demonstration on the steps of Mead Hall as Tom Kean, the newly announced university persident, was formally introduced to the trustees. Hoisting placards and chanting "Drew trustees, you can't hide, you support genocide," they secured the attention of not only The Acorn but also The New York Times and The Star Ledger, and assorted other newspap4ers.

"It was a really big deal," Kosnoski recalls. "Tom Kean was still governor at the time, and he had a whole coterie of his staff with him." Rank notwithstanding, Kean refused interviews with the other papers, giving The Acorn a rare exclusive. "We scooped the Times," Kosnoski says smiling.

"Drew eventually divested from South Africa," he continues, "wholly due to the efforts of the students and the faculty." In the meantime, there were plenty of other issues to critique. In Kosnoski's junior year, the university announced the imposition of severe budget cuts. Students and faculty, dismayed by the depth and extent of the reductions, staged a wake for Drew. "Faculty came in their academic garb, stripped of the colorful hoods of their alma maters," Kosnoski recalls. "Students dressed in black, mourning the university they buried in effigy. Although many of the budget cuts went through," he says, "no classes were eliminated. We were adamant on that point."

The Acorn, Kosnoski remembers, was an open exchange, a provind ground for ideas. "People were really passionate. The editorial pages were always filled with long diatribes for and against affirmative action," he recalls. "Multiculturalism was a real issue; there was always a stupid white kid complaining that the Ujaama house was self-segregating. It was a facile reading," he continues, "but Ujaama house and the theme houses really rattled some people." The theme houses were equally beloved by other segments of the campus and thus, when the administration toyed with the idea of appropriating them to meet the needs of an ever-pressing space problem, students balked.

Kosnoski, a one-time resident assistant at the now defunct Community House, was among the theme houses' most vociferous defenders. In fact, Kosnoski was frequently knee-deep in the events he covered. Nevertheless, citing various philosophers for corroboration, the theorist in training is convinced that his role as a reporter did not preclude his role as an activist.

"At a university as small as Drew," he points out, "unless you're a total recluse, there is necessarily some conflict of interest. Maybe that was a bad thing, but I honestly don't think it was. I think it's detrimental to Drew to have people believe they must be exclusively involved in the newspaper. To be a good community member you need to be able to put yourself in other places, incorporate other perspectives." Aiming an irreverent shove at journalism's most sacred cow, he says, "No one can ever be completely objective. But you can be fair. Being fair is giving everyone a voice, and that's what The Acorn tries to do."

John Therkelsen, co-editor-in-chief from 1995-96, says capturing "all sides of the story" has become an even greater priority for the campus newspaper. "Today, because electronic means of communication enable all the different offices at Drew- administrative, admissions, etc.- to publicize their own particular view of campus events, it has gotten even harder to "scoop" other news sources," he explains. "In many ways, what's happening at Drew is a microcosm of the events being played out on the world state.

"Electronic media can place newspapers in a defensive stance," Therkelsen says. "They are competition, but like any competition, they challenge us to find new ways of raising our standards. We're trying to respond to that." Moreover, in Therkelsen's estimation, being a weekly isn't necessarily a limitation. "We can incorporate more depth, more perspectives into the stories we cover. We have the space to do research, to talk to people on all sides of an issue," he says. By moderating and integrating information from numerous sources, The Acorn can create a "composite portrait of campus events for CLA students," he explains.

To solicit feedback from their readership, Therkelsen and co-editor Juliet Gaffney established an online Acorn news group. "It was partially successful," Therkelsen says. "We got a lot of comments; we definitely heard what people were saying, but sometimes at the expense of letters to the editor. The new editorial board is working to address that problem."

"For better or for worse," Therkelsen admits, "The Acorn has enjoyed a good rapport with the administration." As am aspiring journalist for whom suspicion is a job requirement, he says, "I'm almost embarrassed to admit it. Seriously though, I think there are a few reasons: First, while I know that past Acorn editors have been at the center of protest, I think we've had a pretty diverse group on this year's editorial board. If you averaged together their viewpoints, they would be pretty moderate."

In addition, the former editor cites new key figures in the administration, specifically Geoff Cromarty and Andrew Steiner, who, he says, "have played an important role in serving as mediators between the administration and the students." Finally, Therkelsen believes that the amiable relations between the denizens of the University Center and Mead Hall are less a function of complacency than a product of a "concerted effort on behalf of the administration to be more attentive to the students. With all the recent initiatives to improve student life, and the development of new recreational spaces, and perhaps just the improvement of the university as a whole," Therkelsen says, the campus newspaper has been more supportive than scathing. He's confident that the climate of cooperation does not compromise the integrity of the paper/ As Jason Kosnoski points out, in a school as small as Drew, it is unlikely that the staff would, or could, ever lose touch with its audience. "Ultimately," Therkelsen says, "our job is to represent the views of the students. That's who we are. That's who we write for."

Courtesy of Drew Magazine. Article originally appeared in the Summer 1996 edition, by Jessica Papin C'95

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