The 2010 Reunion: Sixty..and counting
Sixty years to the month after the demise of Vanguard, three dozen Vanguard survivors and spouses, plus more than a dozen guests, gathered in the most appropriate venue – Brooklyn College – to celebrate the anniversary. It was a special moment, perhaps the last of its kind.
The Vanguardians came from places near and far – Norman Gelb from London, Eileen Kornblum Fellner from Arizona, Jack Leavitt from California, Bob Gair from Washington D.C. – and New York and adjoining areas were well represented.
Also attending: the President of Brooklyn College – Dr. Karen Gould, college alumni officials and B. C. professors, and several winners of the Vanguard Prize plus editors of the two college newspapers. Other special guests were James Kelly of the Sign Company, who created the Vanguard plaque on the door of our old office, and Maureen Baron, widow of Harry Baron.
The reunion was organized by Al Lasher and Geri Stevens, with considerable help from Brooklyn College staff and officials. While the memory of Harry Gideonse lingers to some extent, it must be said that the event was greatly enhanced by the support and participation of President Gould.
The evening began with a reception at President Gould's offices on the second floor of Boylan Hall where – thanks to name tags – Vanguardians who hadn't seen each other in ages were able to meet and greet and hug. Then the reunion moved to the faculty dining area in the Boylan basement for dinner and speeches.
Geri Stevens performed the emcee duties, introducing speakers and offering some comments of her own. She recalled the Vanguard turmoil of October, 1950 and pondered "would we have been here tonight, together…had we not been so brutally silenced. That is an irony most definitely unintended by its perpetrators…the defining event that has forged the bond we share. And the reality is, of course, that Vanguard never died."
Introducing Dr. Gould, Geri pointed out that she was the first woman to hold the office of President of Brooklyn College. In her own remarks, President Gould made it clear that she was very aware of the First Amendment implications of the Vanguard controversy.
Myron Kandel spoke about the life and accomplishments of Bill Taylor, who died recently in Washington. Bill was at the center of the civil rights movement, starting with his first job out of Yale law School, working for Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. As Myron commented : "Bill was a true giant of our times. Those who shared Vanguard with him have been proud to know him and his work. He was among the very best ever produced by Brooklyn College." Myron also noted that in Bill's own autobiography he wrote: "In retrospect, I believe that the Vanguard experience prepared me for life's struggles."
Rhoda Hendrick Karpatkin underlined that "When the Brooklyn College administration shut down Vanguard in 1950, it virtually assured that our passion for free speech rights would continue – and it has, for more than half a century… here we are, still charging ourselves with nurturing free speech rights and proud to be alumni of a college that engages in that endeavor as well…We gave Vanguard's readers high quality, feisty journalism that was independent and fearless."
Mike Levitas, who chairs the committee which awards the Vanguard Prize, which goes to an outstanding campus journalist, suggested that the inspiration for the prize came at the 50th anniversary dinner, sparked by Vanguardian Gene Bluestein, who has since passed away. The idea of the annual award was also stimulated by a "brighter climate on campus for First Amendment rights created by former B. C. President Cristoph Kimmich" and now continued by President Gould. Three of the Vanguard Prize winners were at the dinner.
Herb Dorfman, who runs the Vanguard web site, the Vanguard Blog, etc., took note that the birth of the web site was helped by B. C. officials who suggested that it run within the larger college website and by experienced college staff who provided technical expertise. Herb pointed out that Vanguardians had a lot to say about events outside the college, and the web site and the Blog developed offshoots to take in all comments and commentaries. All these remain in place. He concluded: "the Vanguard web site in all its forms has told us…what our people have been doing, thinking and planning….That is the legacy."
Al Lasher emphasized that the battle for a free press continues to this day. He referred to a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review which detailed the Vanguard experience and reported a recent First Amendment case at Ohio State. He spoke of the Vanguard Prize, which provides each winner with a $500 scholarship. But the endowment supporting the prize has been negatively affected by the current economic downturn. He suggested that Vanguardians consider making a contribution of $60.00 (the price of the reunion dinner) or more to help the endowment remain viable. [Checks should be made payable to BC Member Org. and sent to Al's address at 875 West End Avenue, Apt. 4B, New York, NY 10025.]
After the last speeches, the reunion dinner ended, reluctantly, and everyone went home.
Sixty years didn't seem that long, after all.
Vanguard-Plaque Celebration, Friday, April 28, 2006
You had to be there. At 5:30 PM, Friday, April 28, 2006, in front of the old Vanguard office in Boylan Hall. A crowd of Vanguardians and a group of Brooklyn College administrators, including the president of the college. Geri Cohen Stevens was just introduced. She paused for a moment to collect herself.
Geri had been the Managing Editor of Vanguard when Harry Gideonse and his acolytes shut the paper down on October 6, 1950. She was about to unveil a 12" x 12" engraved brass plaque honoring us for, "upholding the free speech protections of campus journalists
They changed the lock on our door. We put out a bootleg paper for a while, Campus News. We railed at the injustice. Some of us went around to speak before student governments of other colleges in the area, seeking resolutions of support and trying to stir outrage over the attack on our First Amendment right. Didn't work.
Not long after the loss of Vanguard, a few of us learned Gideonse was on a short list to replace Robert Hutchins, soon to retire as Chancellor of the University of Chicago. Gideonse had made his scholarly reputation as the youngest-ever chair of the university's Economics department. We reached out to the editor of the U. of Chicago's student newspaper, and he ran a piece we prepared on Gideonse's repressive Brooklyn College regime. Gideonse's name fell off the list.
Hooray, but small comfort. Our wounds never fully healed. However, as Geri observed at the close of her moving remarks, one of the unintended results of Gideonse's attack was that the Vanguard staff bonded, producing many lifelong friendships.
Yes, and there we were gathered, on the second floor of Boylan, more than 55 years after Vanguard's last issue, celebrating the time we stood up against a college administration that had the power to throw us out of school and damage our careers.
After Geri's talk, we heard briefly from Dr. Christoph Kimmich, Brooklyn College's president since 2000. Those of us who have worked with him have found him to be a man of grace and sensitivity, highly esteemed by students, faculty and alumni. He commented on the importance of the plaque to Vanguardians and reported that those of us working on the project took extraordinary care constructing its language. Dr. Kimmich observed that it is the only commemorative plaque on the campus marking an historic event in the life of Brooklyn College.
It was not lost on those of us present that the plaque and the celebration of its unveiling, in effect, represented a long overdue apology by the institution for the errant ways of a Brooklyn College administration half a century before.
Following the unveiling of the plaque, we all trooped over to the library. It has been greatly expanded and outfitted with new-age technology. Computer screens were everywhere and even though it was spring break, some students were at the work stations. The furniture was smartly designed and in blonde oak. For many of us who haven't been in a college library since we were undergraduates, the scene was surreal.
The campus was beautiful. The sun had not quite set. The sky was clear. The evening was warm and comfortable. The quadrangle was alive with red and yellow flowers accenting the lush green lawn which to some practiced suburban eyes was notably free of dandelion weeds.
Our reception and dinner was held in a handsomely appointed space with a soaring, vaulted ceiling and a window wall overlooking the Lily pond. The room, fittingly, is called the Lily Pond Reading Room. There were about 50 guests, mainly Vanguardians, as well as what felt like an army of respectful servers, male and female, dressed in tuxedos. The party was organized by Myron Kandel and Marla Schreibman, Brooklyn College's Director of Alumni Affairs. Every aspect of the event went off seamlessly.
Members of the Brooklyn College administration in attendance were: Dr. Kimmich and his wife, Dr. Flora Kimmich; the aforementioned Marla Schreibman and her husband, Dr. Martin Schreibman, Distinguished Professor of Biology at Brooklyn College; Michelle Arrington, Director of Stewardship at the Brooklyn College Foundation (she's our chief contact on the annual Vanguard Prize), and Andrew Sillen, V.P. for Institutional Advancement (read "development") who oversees the Foundation. James Kelly, designer and manufacturer of the plaque, was there with his wife, Susan. Attending as Vanguard guests were reporters and photographers from the two student newspapers, Kingsman and Excelsior.
As Master of Ceremonies, Myron Kandel offered some welcoming remarks and turned the podium over to Mitchell Levitas, chair of the Vanguard Prize Advisory Committee. Mike presented the 3rd annual Vanguard Prize to Laura Albanese, Class of '07, editor of Kingsman. The $500 prize is awarded annually to a student, "who has demonstrated journalistic excellence and a commitment to protecting and advancing First Amendment rights." Ms. Albanese's response was brief. We were stirred by her poise and eloquence. Mike also introduced the previous Vanguard prize awardees, Brandon Bain, class of '04 and Grace Hernandez, Class of '05.
Dr. Kimmich then offered up a report on the state of the college (great!) and Albert Lasher made a pitch for contributions to the Brooklyn College Foundation, which had picked up the cost of the plaque and some expenses related to the dinner (e.g. freebies for the student journalists). The contributions, he said, should be made payable to the Brooklyn College Foundation, and earmarked for the Vanguard Prize Endowment Fund. The fund has about $11,000 and we're looking to bring it up to $25,000 to double the prize to $1,000 per year. Send your checks to Myron Kandel at 110 Riverside Drive, New York, N.Y. 10024.
"Any amount you contribute is the right amount, " Al said. "Of course, more is better," he added. Checks already received range from $50 to $100, and even beyond.
Myron closed the proceedings with high praise for Herb Dorfman as the chief planner and driver of the Vanguard Web Site, our excellent electronic report on the wanderings and accomplishments of our Vanguard colleagues, and their comments on current issues.
The ceremonies ended at 9 PM. A good time was had by all.
REMARKS ON THE
OCCASION OF THE DEDICATION OF THE VANGUARD PLAQUE ON
APRIL 28, 2006
By Geri (Cohen) Stevens
As I look at this door my most intense memory is of two particular times I walked through it—my first time in and my last time out. The first time I had to force myself to stay despite the terror I felt when I saw immediately that everyone inside was older, brighter, smarter, funnier and more creative than I could ever aspire to be. I have never regretted overcoming that terror and staying. The second time the forcing came not from within me but from without as I and the rest of Vanguard's staff were locked out of this office forever. It is this event, what led up to it, and the irony of its unintended consequences that I would like to talk about now.
Toward the end of the Spring semester of 1950, tensions between the staff of Vanguard and the college administration – most particularly President Harry D. Gideonse – were at a high, and the administration was looking for a pretext to shut the paper down. The opportunity was provided by a Vanguard exclusive detailing the president's rejection of a faculty vote electing a popular professor – Jesse Clarkson – to head the History Department. No reason was ever given but it was widely assumed that politics were behind it. Herb Dorfman, who broke the story, remembers that "no one would give me a direct answer when I asked if Gideonse blocked the election, so I went to the department chairman who had been elected by default and told him that if I received no answer for the next sixty seconds I would assume that the Clarkson election had in fact been blocked by Gideonse. After more than a minute of silence I walked out and wrote the story."
So, Vanguard ran Herb's story, took an editorial position, and was suspended. Not missing a beat, Vanguard's editors produced Draugnav (Vanguard spelled backwards) off-campus at Ann Lane's house. The headline read: "FSCP Move Stops Publication of Vanguard," the subhead elaborated with "Failure of Faculty Members To Approve New Adviser Blocks Operation of Paper." Draugnav appeared on schedule and four student editors were officially reprimanded and temporarily suspended. They were Harry Baron, the late Gene Bluestein, Herb Dorfman and Norman Gelb.
At the start of the following semester, Vanguard was re-instated, conditionally. Bill Taylor was editor-in-chief, I was managing editor. The condition for our re-instatement, abhorrent to all of us, was that we accept and implement a double-editorial policy. Specifically, we were to announce and post ahead of time the issues on which we would take an editorial position and we were to invite opposing points of view which were to be given equal space adjacent to our own editorials.
Bill was issue editor responsible for producing the first issue of that Fall semester, on September 29. All went well but we were all rankling at the restrictive intrusion into our freedom of expression and decided that we would state our objection to the new policy editorially in the second issue, that of October 6, 1950. I was issue editor and wrote the editorial protesting the double-editorial policy. Harry Taubenfeld, president of the Student Council and an avowed critic of Vanguard, submitted his point of view in opposition. His piece exceeded the allotted word count by a lot – I really don't remember by how much but I do remember that it was a lot, and so, I cut it to fit. And that was it! The next day we were history, locked out and accused of censoring opinions that conflicted with ours.
For six weeks we published a four-page newspaper, "Campus News," produced and distributed off campus, using money painstakingly collected from students and faculty members. Then the money ran out and we had to stop, lowering the curtain with an eloquent eulogy written by Jack Leavitt and titled "We Have Been Silenced."
And now to the irony of unintended consequences to which I referred earlier. It's been said that we don't appreciate what we have until it is taken away and that is exactly what happened almost 56 years ago. We on Vanguard had a proud history and tradition of support for all forms of freedom of expression – in speech and print. We had talked the talk – eloquently – but now we walked the walk. What Harry Gideonse did for us was to make an abstraction real. I think I can safely say that, for most of us, what happened after Vanguard's dissolution, both immediately and in the longer run, in many ways played a more significant role in shaping who we are than almost anything that happened before. Suddenly we felt the reality of what it meant to be denied a voice.
The other unintended consequence lies in the bonds created by the adversity we faced together. We were no longer colleagues but buddies, trenchmates. I believe relationships which might have developed under normal circumstances were strengthened immensely by the battle we fought. Many of these relationships have lasted to this day.
So maybe, ironically, Harry Gideonse ended up by doing us a favor. He gave us an experience we will never forget, the opportunity for actions of which we are still proud, and, if not for him . . . NO PLAQUE!
The Vanguard Prize for 2006
The winner of the third annual Vanguard Prize was, for the first time, a junior, Laura Albanese, Class of 2007, who received a plaque and the $500 scholarship award at the Vanguard reunion dinner (more on that just ahead). The former editor-in-chief of The Kingsman, Ms. Albanese won the prize for her defense of free speech on campus and defense of the First Amendment in a vigorous attack against an attempt to shut down the rival campus newspaper, The Excelsior, in an "investigation" by a Student Government committee.
The student committee was displeased by the lack of coverage by Excelsior of a petition to reopen a cafe in the library but articles and an editorial by Ms. Albanese stopped the probe in its tracks. " We cannot stand by and watch as our neighbor's rights are trampled," she wrote. The president of Brooklyn College, Christoph Kimmich, also forcefully opposed the threat to Excelsior on First Amendment grounds -- a stand that resonated strongly among Vanguard veterans.
Joining Ms. Alabanese and introduced at the dinner for a round applause were the first two winners of the Vanguard Prize, Brandon Bain, now a reporter on Newsday, and Grace Hernandez, who now works for Warner Books. Ms. Albanese also plans to look for work as a print-journalism reporter after graduation next June.
Mitchel Levitas, Chairman Vanguard Prize Advisory Committee