Hughes howled when the newspaper reported that the university was using an outdated recruiting brochure. The brochure quoted a national college survey done in the mid-1980s, which found an NAU education to be a "good buy." According to current Lumberjack editor Erica C. Wilson, the survey's findings likely wouldn't be the same today. "We're in deep financial ca-ca here, and they're painting a false picture to the students," she says. "We wrote the story. He was none too happy."

Most entertaining of all the incidents was a grab-bag column written by Jim Rathburn, the paper's editor last fall. Rathburn, quoting a term used by the school's basketball coach when referring to one of his own players, called the school's quarterback a "flagrant asshole."

"The president was outraged by this, and wanted to know what we were going to do about it," says Altizer. (Ironically, at the time Rathburn ran with his "flagrant asshole" commentary, Altizer was out of town--she was in Denver to pick up a national student-journalism award won by the Lumberjack.)

What Hughes did about it, according to those who later felt his wrath, was to send the column to various journalism professionals around the state, who responded with the expected harrumphing condemnations. When a meeting on the incident was eventually held--during the following semester, long after offending editor Rathburn had left the editor's post--Hughes presented the letters as evidence of the gravity of the situation.

Elsewhere on campus, the column did not exactly spark chaos. Most of the journalism faculty believed the column was poorly done; a few called for Rathburn's head. As for the students, "some believed it wasn't appropriate in that context," remembers current editor Wilson. "But a lot of people said, well, yes, [the player] was a flagrant asshole."

Jennifer Etkins, Lumberjack editor last spring, says Hughes called to complain to her or her adviser at least once a week. "He is a riot," says Etkins, now a law student in Washington state, "an absolute riot."

Several current and former editors of student newspapers at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University say they rarely heard (or hear) a discouraging word from their presidents. Kris Mayes, editor of the ASU State Press, says Lattie Coor has "never, ever" called to gripe about a story, headline, column or editorial. Beth Silver, editor of the UofA Daily Wildcat, says Manuel Pacheco called once last year to complain that a photographer had been sent to his house on a holiday, but otherwise has kept his distance. (Interestingly enough, she also says that NAU's Hughes returns her reporters' calls quicker than either her own president Pacheco or ASU's Coor.)

Several unsuccessful attempts were made to contact Hughes for this story. New Times was told that all official commentary on NAU's "right-sizing" (the school's official phrase for budget-cutting) must come from the university's news bureau, and that interviews with the president on this topic also had to be set up through that office. (Some professors say a memo was circulated around campus last year insisting that all media questions concerning "right-sizing" be handled by the news bureau.) According to Jane Manning, director of the bureau, Hughes didn't have time for an interview.

Meanwhile, claims one journalism faculty member, "a climate of secrecy and fear exists here." In such a climate, anonymous memos circulate wildly. Rumors take on a life of their own.

One such rumor has to do with the disposition of the Lumberjack once the journalism program is killed off. No official word has come down on the paper's fate, but some have heard that it will be run by the school news bureau--essentially the university's public relations office--a move that many believe would effectively remake the paper into a good-news PR organ.

Others speculate that the paper will continue as an independent news operation--without any guidance from faculty or staff. Journalism prof Ralph Hanson is himself a regular critic of the paper--but for different reasons than Hughes'. "I haven't seen a real level of aggressiveness here," Hanson says. "I believe that the Lumberjack has not gone after him in the way it could have. If the paper were better, the president could have a lot more to worry about." Hanson believes a completely independent paper--one without any faculty guidance--would anger the president just as often as the currently semi-independent Lumberjack.

"Were the journalism professors be eliminated, he would have a great deal more to worry about from the Lumberjack," says Hanson. "There would be far less competency and professionalism.

"He'd get far less legitimate criticism from the Lumberjack and far more petty criticism, more name-calling. I don't think that would make the president any happier."
Ironically, the jousting with Hughes has given the student journalists valuable real-world training in dealing with hostile subjects.

"I guess that semester was a real awakening for me," says ex-editor Jennifer Etkins. "I had never realized that adults, people who are supposed to be your guardians and care about your education, really have other agendas. Hughes clearly has a political agenda, whatever that may be, especially in the way he deals with the Lumberjack."
The journalism faculty also is getting a taste of the real world. Several of them, including Hanson and Lumberjack adviser Altizer, have received letters informing them that their jobs may be eliminated. At NAU, journalism is not an official department with its own chairman. A university-wide administrative reshuffling a few years ago placed the journalists under the wing of the College of Creative and Communication Arts. Advertising and public relations--both scheduled for elimination in the first two phases of "right-sizing--are classified in the same college and were, along with journalism, the three academic components of the original journalism department. After "right-sizing," one professor points out, the entire journalism department as it existed when Hughes took over as NAU president in 1979 will have been disappeared.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets