Campus reverie

For most teachers and students, school’s out for the summer. The great, yawning gap of July and August provides a respite from daily and weekly routines. Not so for me: July and August bring seven weeks of teaching and mentoring in the company of 31 graduate students at the University of Western Ontario‘s journalism program.

We began our foray into the murky and tentative world of journalism ethics last evening with a discussion about bias, then launched into two case studies. One of the benefits of having taught journalism as long as I have is that former students become some of the best sources of case material. Last night, we explored dilemmas (one from the world of broadcast journalism; the other, print) faced by two of my former students at Ryerson University‘s School of Journalism: Kimberly Gale, a reporter at CBC Radio in Toronto, and Oksana Lypowecky, an editor at the Saint John Telegraph Journal. It’s a three-hour class. But I arrived early and stayed late, taking time to stroll the UWO grounds before and after the lecture.

The spire of Middlesex College at dusk

There is something haltingly beautiful about a university or college campus in the summer. The pace is relaxed. The manicured grounds are beautiful. The detritus of the past semester has been swept away and anticipation is already building toward the arrival of a fresh crop of students in the fall. Campus pubs and eateries are uncrowded and convivial.

Perhaps I feel this way because my spouse and I spent our first year of married life on a university campus. We were residence dons at Conrad Grebel College at the University of Waterloo and spent the glorious summer of 1975 on its sprawling grounds. Our studies complete, we had four months to while away before the big move to our first jobs in another community — and we took advantage of every moment. There were early-morning duckling feedings and late-night walks. Both of us became involved in the dramatic production of In Search of a Country by Urie Bender, directed by Maurice Evans, at UW’s Theatre of the Arts — Jacquelyn had the female lead; I was stage manager. There were cast parties, walks to a nearby plaza for wine and havarti cheese, and impromptu picnics with no particular beginning or end. Rent was $50 a month, it was summertime and the livin’, as George Gerschwin wrote, was easy.

At a deeper level, however, there’s much more. Universities and colleges are about inquiry, learning and communicating — pursuits that lie at the heart of the journalistic credo. Their campuses are at once utilitarian and symbolic. They represent aspiration, experimentation and progress. They remain repositories of a kind of idealism that tends to dissolve beyond their gates. And, as corny as it may sound, the students who inhabit their varied spaces are a kind of bridge to the future.

In all of that, for me, there is a magnetic attraction.

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