Documents
Resources
Learning Center
Upload
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out
Get this document free

I was running my own freelance graphic design business and got

VIEWS: 3 PAGES: 10

									                                                                                                                An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago




M a r y               E l i z a b e t h                    J o h n s o n



I t i s J u n e 8 , 2 0 0 4 , a nd t h i s i s a n       Why?                                                      A n d c a n y o u d e s c r i b e t h e d e pa r t -
i n t e r vi ew wi t h M a r y E l i z a b et h          —because back then twenty-three                           m en t a t t h a t t i m e ?
J oh n s on , t he D i r e c t o r of C r e a t i v e    years ago, first off, no one traveled        At the time we had an internal
an d P r i n t i ng S e r v i c e s at C o l u m bi a    south of Columbus Drive. No one              print shop in the basement, two
C ol l e g e C h i c a g o . A l l r i g h t , M a r y   did. This was pre-South Loop rede-           full-time printers, later went on to
i f y ou c ou l d t e l l u s , w h at y o u             velopment. It was like falling off           three full-time printers. There was
w e r e d o i n g b ef o r e yo u ca m e t o             the edge of the world.                       Gerry and one designer, one type-
C ol um b i a a n d w h e n a n d w h y y ou                                                          setter and that was it. That was it.
ca m e t o t h i s i n s t i t u t i o n .               C a u s e t h ey we r e a t t h e e d g e ,  And when I first started, the school
I was running my own freelance                           right?                                       was so broke, I had to bring in my
graphic design business and got                          They were at the edge.                       own rapidograph, my own T-
sick and tired of being everybody’s                                                                   square. The office was so filthy, I
                                                         K i nd o f .
whore. When you have your own                                                                         came in with a bucket of wash
business and you are freelancing—                        At the edge yes. And, Columbia               water the day before I started my
if you get a call Sunday night in                        back then had such a reputation for job to scrub the walls which had
the middle of dinner you go—and                          this rough and tumble unorthodox never been painted.
you do what they need you to do.                         cowboy school, that my refined
                                                         colleagues from the Art Institute            If you wanted to do a poster and
I did that for about a year and a                        were mortified. But I came any               you wanted an interesting type
half. Previous to that, I was work-                      way.                                         font, you would go out and buy
ing at the School of the Art                                                                          your own transfer lettering. It
                                                         A n d j u s t w as t ha t —h a s — d o y o u
Institute where I had gotten my                                                                       would come out of your pocket.
                                                         c a l l i t a d e pa r t m e nt ? H a s i t
masters degree. So, I was just sort
                                                         a l w a ys b e e n c a l l e d c r ea t i ve a nd         It was very lean and mean. And
of tired having my own business.
                                                         p r i n t i n g s er v i c e s ?                          you know those of us that have
And Deb McGrath who was work-
ing here, my friend from the Art                         Yes.                                                      lingered long here and see the
Institute—we were colleagues there                                                                                 money being spent left and right,
                                                         O k a y.
at the same time—she majored in                          Yes. And it was a department when
film/video, called me and said there                     I started here. Gerry Gall was the
was an opening and would I care to                       director. Gerry (Bert’s brother) not
apply and I did.                                         only ran that department, but he
A n d w h a t — at t h a t t i m e w h a t w a s
                                                         also was the techy for the Art
t h e j o b t h at y o u —j o b de s c ri pt i o n
                                                         Department. So, he bought and
that—
                                                         ordered art supplies. He took care
It started as a junior graphic                           of faculty needs. So, he’d cross the
designer. My former husband was                          hall and do that job and then he’d
head of the graduate school at                           cross the hall back to office and do
SAIC and all of my friends were                          his job. The Art Department was
professors and teachers and you                          on the 13th floor in the main
know artsy, artsy, artsy. When I                         building back then which is why
told them that I was coming to                           we are still there. Nobody can
Columbia, they just freaked out—                         understand why we are on the 13th
                                                         floor. Well, it was because Gerry
                                                         took care of the Art and Design
                                                         Department as well.
                                                         T h a t ’ s i n t er e s t i ng . S o , a nd t h a t
                                                         was ‘82.
                                                         Eighty-two, yes.


                                                                                  65
An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago                                                                  M a r y      E l i z a b e t h       J o h n s o n




     I’m still at the point where if I acci-                  lot of business was conducted after                 faculty retreats and come back and
     dentally go home with a pen that                         hours in the dark because it was                    tell who was having sex with whom
     belongs to Columbia, I bring it                          such a night culture at the college.                in the swimming pool after hours. I
     back because there’s that precious-                      It was an alcoholic culture. There                  mean it was a very sexual culture.
     ness about limited resources that us                     was a lot of booze flowing. It was,                 Yes, it was.
     old people feel even today that the                      it was very—
     newer people don’t.                                                                                          And it was raw power as well. Bert
                                                              Ve r y di f f e r e n t f r o m wh a t I h a d      controlled the college completely.
     I remember the first Christmas                           k n o wn .                                          When I started MA had already
     party I attended was in the fifth                        On a Friday afternoon in the                        begun to be ill and distracted and
     floor board room. That’s how small                       summertime,Gerry would break                        started withdrawing from the
     the college was.                                         out beer in the office and we would actual work of the college.
                                                              sit and drink beer while we finished
     I t he l d ev e r y b o d y.                             up our Friday work. It was totally                  So, Bert had really taken over and
     Yes, it held everybody and Debbie                        Bohemian, totally Bohemian.                         had consolidated his powers. And
     McGrath and Anne Kennedy went                                                                                Bert was a one-man show; you
     to the Dominicks and bought food                         Was i t — an d I do n ’ t w a n t t o p u t         know one lived or died by Bert’s
     for the party and brought it back.                       w o r d s i n y o ur m o u t h , b u t wa s i t     sword. I remember when Jerry
     And you ran to cash your paycheck                        at a l l a m a l e c u l t u r e ?                  would go on vacation and I would
     because if you waited too long,                          It was a sexist culture. Sexual                     order paper for the print shop, Bert
     your paycheck would bounce                               harassment was constant, prevalent signed every purchase order
     because everybody else would cash                        and remember back then, you had request, every one. And we filled
     theirs. And the staff and faculty                        to take it as a female or lose your                 them out by hand.
     directory was one side of an eight                       job. So, there was a lot of abuses
     and a half by eleven sheet of paper.                     going on and a lot of pressure. And So, if you needed a hundred sheets
                                                              it was really distasteful.                          of paper for $1.40, he looked at it
     W h a t , i f yo u ca n r e m e m b er b ac k                                                                and approved every single P.O. that
     t h e n , y o ur f i r s t i m p r es s i o n s . Yo u   Now, that I look back upon it, you went through this college whether
     t a l k e d a b o ut y o u r i m pr e s s i o n s        know a lot of things happened that it was paperclips, or a $6,000 piece
     b e f o r e y o u g o t h e r e an d yo u r              were outrageous. But it was a very                  of equipment. So, he knew every-
     c o l l e a g u e s a t t h e a r t i ns t i t ut e .    sexual culture, very gender                         thing that was being purchased.
     I walked into this building and I                        oriented. But it was the time as
     said to myself, I like the job, I don’t                  well. I mean it was pre-Aids, pre-                  A n d w h at —w h e n d i d t h at s t a r t t o
     know if I could spend 8 hours a                          herpes and just no boundaries there ch a n g e ? I m e a n d i d t h e g r o wt h o f
     day in the ugliest building in the                       whatsoever between faculty and                      t h e c o l l e g e wh e n d i d t h e a t m o s -
     world. It was filthy and it was                          staff and administration. It was                    p h e r e — f r o m y ou r po i n t o f v i e w,
     falling apart. It wasn’t urban chic, it                  crazy.                                              wh e n a n d w h a t s t a r t s t o c h an g e?
     was just old and tired. And being a                                                                          I think that first Bert just started
     visual person, oh, my God, I                             A n d s o m e o t h e r s h av e co m m e n t e d being crushed by the sheer scale
     thought it was going to ruin my                          as w e l l t o o w i t h s t u d e n t s , i t wa s and scope of it. And we waited
     brain if I had to stay here all day.                     so small and that those (inaudi-                    longer and longer for P.O.s because
     And then I decided to take the job.                      b l e ) a n d t h e y w e r e o l d er —            they weren’t getting signed.
     I was also briefly taken aback by                        Right.
     the power structure, the control,                                                                            When Bert was also given the posi-
     the influence that Bert had. The                         —t ha t t h e r e —                                 tion of Provost, and he started
     culture of Columbia was so primal                        No boundaries. No protocol what- paying attention to academic issues
     back then. The 5th floor was just a                      soever. I mean everybody was                        and curriculum issues and policy
     cloud of black smoke, as soon as                         having sex with everybody. And                      and he wasn’t paying attention to
     you got off the elevators because                        you know people would go the                        facilities management as close as he
     everybody smoked, everybody. At                                                                              was. You could feel that shift at




                                                                                       66
M a r y       E l i z a b e t h           J o h n s o n                                                          An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago




least as administrative staff when he                     doing typesetting named Sherry                             I’ve also hired a creative production
became Provost. I felt that his eye                       who was married to a wild black                            coordinator and business produc-
wasn’t so much on my stuff but it                         jazz musician. And then the two                            tion coordinator in the office and
had shifted over to the academic.                         guys in the print shop. And then a                         they handle a lot of the non-design
But then when Dr. Duff came                               couple years later another gentle-                         work so that the designers can
along, it really changed dramati-                         man was added in the print shop.                           continue doing design instead of
cally and it became a very different                      So, there were three printers. And                         calling up printers to get quotes
institution.                                              Kevin Riordan was hired as a techy.                        like I used to have to do. They just
                                                          So it grew a little bit. And that                          do design and the detailed stuffed
And you know Columbia reinvents                           shop did not grow at all until I                           gets handed off to Corey or John.
itself with every new president and                       became director.
that’s really the watermark that I                                                                                   So, we do all the work that comes
see. Duff came along and it was a                         (inaudible)                                                through our door. And it ranges
crazy year and a half. And then Dr.                       No. No. We did add one more                                from the mundane like a book
Carter came along. It’s been a crazy                      designer. We added one more                                marker for the library to a
four or five years. And the institu-                      designer so there were two design-                         $170,000 very expensive high end
tion has evolved with each presi-                         ers, a director, a typesetter, a techy                     marketing piece.
dent.                                                     and two print shop guys even
                                                          though the college went from as                            A n d s o i f s om e o ne c om e s t o y o u
I ’ m c u r i o u s wi t h y o u r d e pi ct i o n o f    tiny as it was it as huge as it was.                       an d s a y s I ’ m d oi ng t hi s ev e n t ,
t he m i n d of s e x ua l e l e ct r i c i t y o r       So, it was—it was absolutely                               w h e r e d o es i t g o f r o m t h e r e ?
t he c ul t u r e . W h e n d o e s t h a t               insane. The work load was crush-                           Because unfortunately we don’t
c u l t u r e, i f y ou wi l l , s t ar t t o s h i f t   ing. So, a lot of work had to be                           have any copywriters on staff, you
o r ch a n g e ? A n d d o y o u s ee t h a t             turned away. As it was we couldn’t                         have to bring me your copy, and
t ha t i s b e i n g k i n d of ab s en t t o d a y       service the entire college. We could                       any images you may want to use. If
so it is kind of two extr emes?                           just do a certain very few pieces.                         not, we have a library of photo-
It started to shift when Duff                             And back then Columbia was so                              graphs that we use and we use a lot
became president and Bert lost a                          broke, nobody could hire freelance                         of student artwork to illustrate the
tremendous amount of power.                               graphic designers. That was an                             pieces. So, you’d come to me. You’d
When Duff came all of a sudden.                           incredible no, no. All the work had                        sit down. You’d give me some art
Columbia stopped being the rock                           to be designed internally. So, there                       direction. Who is your audience,
band with all its groupies and                            were times when I was working 7                            when is this going to hit, what look
turned into a real college. And                           days a week, 20 hours a day liter-                         do you want. Of course now we
issues became different, how issues                       ally.                                                      have identity standards and we are
were resolved became much more                                                                                       beginning to brand the college
typical academic protocol. It                             C an y ou t a l k a b o ut b e c au s e I                  which is a whole new chapter for
changed almost over night.                                t h i n k i t ’ s i n t e r e s t i n g a nd e ve n        Columbia.
                                                          t o d ay p eo p l e d o n ’ t r e al i z e t h e
O k a y. A nd l e t ’ s t a l k a b i t m o r e           de s i g n w or k i n v o l v ed i n p r o m o -           In the old days, Columbia was so
a b o u t y o u r d e p a r t m e n t an d ho w           t i o n s f o r t h e a c t i v i t i e s f or t h e       entrepreneurial and the department
t ha t g r e w a n d c h a ng e d f r o m y ou            i n s t i t u t i o n , a nd i f y ou c ou l d e l a b-    chairs were so strong that they
c a m e a s a j u n i o r g r ap h i c                    or a t e o n t h a t .                                     would come to us and say, well I
d e s i g n e r. C a n yo u k i n d o f t ak e u s
                                         We do, we do—now we do proba-                                               want a brochure that doesn’t look
t h r o ug h y o u r p r o m o t i o n — bly most of the design except for                                           anything like that brochure that Ed
Sure.                                    the Dance Department season                                                 Morris just did. I want it to look
                                         brochure, and the theater season                                            like my department.
— y o u k n o w t o w h er e w e a r e
                                         departmental brochures. But
t od a y a n d —
                                         because I now have four designers                                           So, we had how ever many depart-
When I first started, I was a junior                                                                                 ments there were back then, twelve
                                         full time and two student interns in
designer and Gerry was the director                                                                                  separate identities. Every depart-
                                         my tenure as director, I’ve never
and then there was this crazy lady                                                                                   ment had to look different than the
                                         had to turn a job away which I am
                                         very proud of.



                                                                                      67
An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago                                                               M a r y      E l i z a b e t h           J o h n s o n




     next department. Alexandroff                   A n d d i d t ha t h a ve t o do wi t h i t                A n d I w o nd e r i f yo u as k t h o s e
     backed this up because when he                 r e p u t a t i o n t ha t t h e y d i d n ’ t s ee        pe o p l e ( i n a u d i b l e ) o h, n o t h a t ’ s
     started the school he called his               t h em s e l v e s a s f i t t i n g i n w i t h t h i s   no t w h at w e — s o w a s i t u nc o n -
     buddies in the business world,                 t y pe s c h o ol o r c o w b oy, y o u                    scious?
     entrepreneurs most of them, said               know—                                 No, no. No, I don’t think so. I
     come on down, chair a department               It had to do with the fact that if    think they worked at it. I really
     and let’s start a college. So, that            they felt they were associated with   think they worked at it and it
     work ethic and that sense of inde-             Columbia their prestige would be      worked for them. Many of these
     pendence and that ferocious need               diminished. And now of course         people maintained that they could-
     to make a mark stayed until those              you know with Dr. Duff coming         n’t have possibly gotten their fund-
     chairs retired. So, now we have to             on board and Dr. Carter coming        ing unless they have such a strong
     conform with the branding stan-                on board and the overall reputation singular presence—they would
     dards and the graphic identity stan-           of Columbia beginning to blossom, have lost the funding because of
     dards of my office and (inaudible)             people are becoming much more         issues with Columbia which was
     still allowing wiggle room so people           willing to surrender their individual always viewed with the jaundiced
     can feel as if their program or event          identity to the identity of the       eye for so many years.
     has some distinctiveness without               college.
                                                                                                               A n d y o u s a i d t h a t — ag a i n , I d o n’ t
     violating the branding of the
     college.                                                And we still are the world’s best-                wa n t t o p u t w or d s i n y o u r m ou t h,
                                                             kept secret. People don’t know                    A l e x a n d r o f f s u pp o r t e d t h e b u t h e
     T h a t ’ s v e r y i n t e r e s t i n g b e c a us e  about us. They know certain                       al s o —h e wa s a w a r e o f t hi s bu t i t
     y o u r k i nd o f u ni q u e p e r s p e c t i v e o f departments, they know certain                    wo r k ed f o r h i m ?
     t o l o o k at t he s t r u c t u r e of t h e          people. A cab driver will say to me,              It worked for him. It was, it was his
     c o l l e g e n ot f r o m w i t h i n i n s o m e      Columbia, how many students go                    business model and he—you know
     w a ys b u t f r o m wi t h o ut . C an y ou            there. And I’ll say almost 10,000.                if you read his history book—he’s
     m ay b e t a l k a l i t t l e b i t m o r e a b o u t They have no idea how many                         constantly agonizing over where’s
     that transit ion and the need for                       buildings we have. How many                       the money coming from, where’s
     m ay b e t h at s t r u c t u r e a n d h o w           majors we have. How many                          the money coming from. Yet on
     t h a t h a s ch a n g e d ?                            students we have. And you know                    the other hand he supported that
     Columbia always used to be—it’s                         that’s the job the new Assistant                  chair, strong chair, entrepreneurial,
     parts always used to be stronger                        VP for Marketing and                              silo-like academic structure.
     than the whole, always. So, the                         Communications, Mark Lloyd and                    Because in many ways it was
     parts wanted to distance themselves Sam Ross, the new Institutional                                       (inaudible) it was much more fun.
     from the reputation of Columbia.                        Advancement VP. They need to get                  It was, it was sexier. The energy
     Because the Museum for instance                         the word out there that Columbia                  that was happening, the cross-polli-
     had a much stronger reputation                          has matured, has value and the sum                nation that was happening, the
     than the college did. They always,                      of its parts is the greater whole.                competition that was happening, it
     always wanted to separate them-                         The Museum is now coming back                     was a lot more exciting than the
     selves from any identity with                           to the fold. Rod Slemmons has                     traditional academic model that we
     Columbia College. They just                             been a fabulous advocate for re-                  are following now.
     wanted to be the Museum of                              joining in the Columbia family and
                                                             using Columbia’s resources and                    A n d y o u s a i d i t al m o s t k i l l e d h i m
     Contemporary Photography. The
                                                             making it very clear that they are                personally?
     same is true of the Arts
     Entertainment and Media                                 part of Columbia College Chicago.                 He’s commented on that one
     Management Department, the                              So, it’s getting much better. And of              reason he had to retire was that
     Film Department, the Dance                              course the college benefits as a                  that horrible battle that resulted
     Department, these people                                whole. The Dancer Center, the                     from dividing the English
     purposely wanted to disassociate                        Season, they used to just want to                 Department and creating Fiction
     themselves from Columbia.                               be known as Mordine and                           Writing. Dividing the baby with
                                                             Company and the Dance Center.                     the sword to make the two depart-
                                                             And Columbia College Chicago
                                                             was six point type at the bottom of
                                                             the brochure.

                                                                                68
M a r y         E l i z a b e t h          J o h n s o n                                                           An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago




ments he thought was the begin-                          I m e a n t ha t — I t hi nk t ha t t o o                      use. Will my rapidograph not
ning of his health issues. It was so                     f r om t h e o u t s i d e of s o m e o n e                    work, will I have to bring in
stressful.                                               r e a d i n g j u s t a d e s c r i p t i o n of t h i s       another one? You know, those
                                                         ha p p e n i n g wo u l d n o t b e s ur p r i s ed            people, the Tony Loebs, the Nate
W hy wa s h e — I m e a n w h y w a s                    t h a t t h at w o u l d h a ve h ap p e n e d a t             Lehrmans, the Ed Morrises, those
t ha t ? I m e a n I do n ’ t w a n t t o                all.                                                           people that started way back when,
d i m i n i s h t h a t a t a l l b ut I t hi n k        Right, right, exactly.                                         yes you can have your issues with
p e o p l e a r e c ur i o u s , wh y w o u l d h e                                                                     them, you can talk about lack of
t ak e i t s o p e r s o n al l y a n d n o t be         S o, y o u ’ r e s a yi n g t ha t w a s al s o
                                                                                                                        professionalism, but they stuck by
a b l e t o s ay yo u k n o w—                           p a r t o f w ha t ’ s g oi ng o n . B e c a us e
                                                                                                                        Mike Alexandroff and the college
Because he loved everyone of those                       i n t e l l e c t u a l l y h e m i g h t h a ve s a i d ,
                                                                                                                        and served it morning, noon and
people. Everyone of those chairs                         t h i s i s n ’ t ne c e s s a r i l y s ur p r i s i ng
                                                                                                                        night, and served the college very
was like his child. I remember                           bu t e m o t i o na l l y h e c o ul d n ’ t —
                                                                                                                        well.
Mike walking down the hall one     Yes, yes, it was a very emotional
                                   place to be. Emotions were always
day in front of the cashier’s office                                                                                    We l l , l e t ’ s p au s e h e r e .
when the college started to grow   highly charged all the time.                                                         Okay, okay.
and he turned around and he        Because we were, still are tuition
looked and me and he said, who     driven, Bert would pace those hall-                                                  And then we’r e going to come
                                   ways counting heads of students
the fuck are all these people around                                                                                    ba c k a f t e r a s h o r t b r e a k .
here? And for him he began to lose lining up to pay their money to                                                      Okay.
                                   enroll. The drama of registration
the intimacy, that sense of dysfunc-
                                   was like the solar eclipse. It was                                                   O k a y. We ’ r e c o n t i n u i n g t h e i n t e r -
tional family that we loved. When
                                   just—it was just a moment in time                                                    vi ew wi t h M a r y E l i z a b et h
the college started to grow he
                                   that was so tense because the very                                                   J oh n s on , D i r e ct o r o f C r e a t i v e an d
started to lose that, that touch with
                                   of the future of the school                                                          P r i n t i ng S e r v i c e s he r e a t
everyone.
                                   depended on how many heads                                                           C ol um b i a . I f I c o u l d a s k yo u j u s t
He and I used to sit down and he’d walked through those doors. The                                                      t o e l a b o r at e , br i e f l y e l a b o r at e o n
say what did you do on the week-   academic calendar and the ebb and                                                    t h e a t m o s p h er e a t t h e c o l l e g e
end? I’d tell him what I did and   flow of the stress points and the                                                    wh e n y o u w e r e f i r s t he r e f r o m t h e
you know the college president and release points really seemed to me                                                   prospective as a woman.
I would have talks about what we   as a staff person like the summer                                                    It pervaded the entire college. It
did on the weekend. It was, it was solstice and the winter solstice if                                                  was everywhere at every time at
a very intimate—everybody knew     you will. We were so broke for so                                                    every moment in every business
everybody’s personal issues and    long. It’s like any family crying                                                    dealing and it was yucky. And back
problems and who was going to      how’s the electric bill going to get                                                 then you had to take it as a
bed with whom.                     paid. Well, bring that into the                                                      woman. It was before sexual harass-
                                   workplace, day after, day after day.                                                 ment in the workplace even had a
S o , i t w a s t h a t — i t wa s l i t er a l l y                                                                     name. It came from the top down.
t ha t t h o s e i n d i vi du a l s t h a t h e —       Ye a h, I t h i n k t h a t ’ s i nt er e s t i n g            You were harassed constantly. You
w h o p h i l o s o p h i c a l l y p a r t e d w a ys   be c a u s e I t h i n k t o d ay e ve r y b o d y             accepted it because it was just part
a n d i n c ol l e g e t ha t w a s g r o w i n g ,      k n o w s C ol u m b i a s t i l l h as h u g e                of the ebb and flow of the day. It
h e c o u l d n ’ t a c ce p t t h a t . I s n ’ t       f i n a n c i a l d i f f i c ul t i e s . B u t I d o n ’ t   got to be pretty brutal. One time
t ha t i n t e r e s t i n g .                           t h i n k a ny o n e i n d i v i d u al l y w o nd e r s       and individual that worked at
Yes, yes. He had to let it happen                        ho w t h e e l e c t r i c b i l l i s g o i n g t o           Columbia that was very high up in
because that was the only solution                       be p ai d.                                                     the ranks sat opposite me at the
but it, it broke his heart and you                       And back then, everybody did. It                               drafting table and just said I bet
know Mike Alexandroff was an                             was a collective anxiety that we all                           you’re a great fuck, and blew my
intellectual—a firestorm must have                       bore everyday. I mean how many                                 mind. He was a married guy. And
been going on in his brain while                         paperclips am I going to need to                               that happened all the time.
this was happening. I’m sure it was                                                                                     Another time a very high-up execu-
debilitating.                                                                                                           tive repeatedly asked me to meet




                                                                                       69
An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago                                                                      M a r y     E l i z a b e t h           J o h n s o n




     him in the lobby of the Hilton for                   brought us some measure of power                           C ou l d yo u s p e ak t o o t h e r s s i n c e
     martinis after hours to discuss busi-                and respect and positioned us in                           yo u c a m e i n w i t h. Was i t t we n t y -
     ness and things got pretty out of                    the environment where it was raw                           t h r e e y e a r s s h e s a i d, ot he r p os i -
     hand and some Chicago cops came                      power at all times.                                        t i v e d e ve l o p m en t s t h i n g s c h an g e s
     over and asked me if I needed to                                                                                t h at y o u ’ v e s e en t h a t yo u t h i n k
     have this person taken off me                        C l ea r l y yo u wo u l d n ’ t b e t al k i n g          ha s b e n ef i t t ed t h e i n s t i t u t i on .
     because he was French kissing me                     ab o u t t h i s n o w i f t h a t h as n ’ t              Having more money obviously. You
     even though he knew I was married                    ch a n g e d an d yo u s p o k e t o t h a t .             know everybody can breathe.
     and my husband was in our                            Yo u k n o w w h e n t h a t c ha n g e a n d              Everybody can cash their paycheck
     apartment a few blocks away. It                      t h at y o u ’ r e c o n f i d e n t a n d s e c ur e      whenever they so choose. The
     happened all the time.                               n o w. H o w d o s e i t f e e l t o h a ve                growing professionalism is a boon
                                                          t h at a b s e n t , t ha t a t m o s p h er e             in a way. I don’t get people scream-
     I t hi n k a n d I k n o w t h i s a s w el l , a    t h at c u l t u r e ?                                     ing at me in my offices any more.
     f r e q u en t r es p o ns e w h e n I t a l k   It’s fabulous. On the other hand                               Why the fuck did you do that?
     a b o ut t he s e i s s u e s i s w el l w h y   there’s a passion that missing today.                          There was a lot of bad behavior
     d i d y o u p a r t i c i p a t e an d wo m en   There’s a sense of the heart and                               back then. I remember sitting in a
     a r e a l w ay s a s k e d t o d ef e n d        soul of the college has been                                   president’s council meeting and a
     t h e m s e l v e s i n t h a t w ay, b u t I    replaced by corporatization of the                             faculty—a chair got up and
     t h i n k y o u s ho u l d ad d r es s t h a t . college and all this emphasis on                               another chair got up and they
     W h a t , w h a t wa s t h e at m o s ph e r e ? professionalism and best practices                             started yelling and screaming at
     H o w d i d t h es e p e o p l e g et a w a y    and the round of firings getting rid                           each other across the table, fuck
     with it?                                         of Steven Russell Thomas for                                   you, fuck that, fuck you, fuck
     Because of their power and their                 instance. There seems to be a                                  yours. I mean that’s not acceptable
     status and it’s hard to understand— cleansing of the college. Those                                             at any time, at any point.
     but our Human Resources office is people are different, not under-
     only 10, 12 years old. We didn’t                 stood. And, it’s becoming ho-hum                               So, there is a collegiality that has
     have a Human Resources office                    like a DePaul, like a Northwestern.                            come with the maturation of the
     much less equity issues office.                  Some of the good things that made                              college that is much more accept-
     There was nowhere to turn because Columbia so singular that went                                                able. You know the very best parts
     it was a dictatorship. It was not a              away as well as some of the bad                                of Columbia have not changed and
     democracy. There was no place to                 stuff went away.                                               will never change. And two most
     air your feelings.                                                                                              important things that Columbia
                                                          D o y ou t h i n k t h e y c o u l d h a v e               taught me as a person: today I am
     A n d di d y o u f e e l t h a t y o u d i d n ’ t   k e p t t h os e p o s i t i v e t h i n g s or —          utterly and completely colorblind. I
     h a v e a c h o i c e i n , i n ag r e e i n g t o   m a y be t h e e c c e nt r i c i t y c o u l d            can be talking to any person in the
     t h e s e m e e t i n g s . I m e an d i d y o u     ha v e b e e n k ep t w h i l e g e t t i n g r i d        world at any point in time and two
     f e el t h a t y ou r j o b w ou l d h av e          of t h at h o s t i l e e n v i r o n m e n t ?            hours later I’ll say oh, that was a
     been at risk?                                        I don’t think so. I don’t think so. I                      Black person or that was an
     Yes, absolutely. If not my job at                    think that’s a natural evolution of                        Oriental person. Or that person
     risk, and—this is the tradeoff, my                   things. I think as institutions grow                       was you know gay or lesbian.
     ability to maneuver and get what I                   and become more professional it                            Columbia taught me to be color-
     want and be respected would not                      takes a real balancing act to keep                         blind, gender blind, you name it.
     have been there had I not played                     the eccentricity, get rid of the bad                       And that life’s lesson I will thank
     the game. So, that’s the tradeoff                    stuff and keep the good stuff. I                           Columbia for. I’m a better person
     with participating with sexual                       don’t think it can happen. I really                        because of that. And, Bert, despite
     harassment. There is a strange                       think it’s too complicated. It’s too                       all of his issues, treated every
     benefit because you are empow-                       hard of a goal to reach. It think it’s                     person the same. Whether you
     ered. So, that’s why we did it.                      just the price you pay.                                    were a chair, or whether were
     Being allowed to be abused                                                                                      Richard Woods on the facilities




                                                                                      70
M a r y       E l i z a b e t h          J o h n s o n                                   An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago




staff who hauls things up from the                      you were allowed to bloom and to      ture that’s done, the identity that
loading dock and assembles your                         mature. Traditional white men’s       we’re working on now will help get
furniture for you. There was a                          hurdles were not put in your way      us there, if we really need to grow
nobility every man and woman had                        to be a success.                      more to be able to do more excit-
that worked at Columbia regardless                                                            ing things to keep up with the
of rank. So, that—that was the                          It was the mission living everyday    technology. It’s endless. It’s just
second gift that Columbia gave me                       at Columbia when it was small.        endless.
and one I will never forget. And                        Everyday somebody that couldn’t
today those two gifts are constantly                    have succeeded someplace else         W h a t d o yo u m i s s t h e m os t t h a t ’ s
given to everyone that works here                       succeeded here.                       no l o n g e r h e r e ?
or goes to school here. Unlike the                                                            What a great question. I would
elitism at the School of the Art                        I mean my husband used to teach       have to say Ed Morris. He loved
Institute, not one black student in                     here, my second husband, he           me so of course I loved him. He
my entire class, not one black                          taught in the Art Department,         was cantankerous and feisty but a
faculty member.                                         Interior Design. He had kids in his   fabulous gentleman, well-traveled,
                                                        class who could not read a ruler      well-read, very sophisticated, great
A nd d o y o u t h i n k t h a t wi t h t ho s e        and did not know what an inch         sense of style.
lessons, will it be harder or do                        was. And there was no way to get
y o u s ee t h a t t h a t r e s p e c t o f            them up to speed so that they         I also miss Nat Lerman. Nat was a
d i v e r s i t y t h a t t a u g h t a nd yo u s a y   could become an architect or an       great guy. Tony Loeb. Tony was
t ha t y o u t h i n k i t w i l l c on t i nu e .      interior decorator. But we took       fabulous and exciting and an artist.
But do you see that being thr eat-                      their tuition dollars and then they   Though they committed many
ened at all with the college being                      drop out and then we get in trou-     sins, it is the group that I miss the
mor e expensive and—                                    ble because our attrition rates are   most.
Of course, and you know the                             so high, and the cycle continues.
                                                                                              D oe s i t —d o yo u s t r u g g l e w i t h
numbers are declining. We all
                                      W h a t o t he r ch a l l e n g e s d o y o u s e e     ha v i n g m i x ed f e e l i n g a b ou t
know that there are fewer minori-
                                      f a c i n g t h e c o l l e g e? O r w h a t h a s      yeah—
ties and ethnicities involved today
than years ago. Our kids have to      be e n t h e m o s t i m p o r t a n t c h a l -        Totally. Totally. It’s looking back at
stay in the dorm now their fresh-     l e ng e s s i n c e — s i n c e y o u’ v e c o m e .   your adolescence and the crazy wild
man year and pay tuition which        I m e a n y o u ’ v e t al k e d a b o ut s o m e       things we all did and going oh, my
means we are the exact same costs     c e r t a i n l y.                                      god we survived to adulthood. And
as a year at DePaul. Everything       I think the challenge will be to—                       you look back on it through the
economic drives diversity or lack of this is an old admission slogan that                     midst of time with a sense of
it absolutely.                        everybody hated—realize it’s poten-                     romance and longing and danger
                                      tial, really grow up, start a capital                   and unpredictability. And now,
I also think that leadership, some    campaign, get an endowment, not                         everyday I come to work I know
levels of leadership they talk diver- be tuition driven, be able to offer                     pretty much exactly that’s going to
sity but they don’t walk diversity.   students all of the amenities of any                    happen.
I’m not seeing that. Mike             other college, if it is to survive. A
Alexandroff had that commitment student center, microwaves in the                             Back then you never knew what
to diversity. Imagine back then       hallways, places where students can                     the hell was going to happen.
when the school was so small, it      sit and talk. Even in the old days
                                                                                              B ut i t ’ s i n t e r e s t i n g t ha t y o u h a ve
didn’t matter if you didn’t have a    when we were the cheapest school
                                                                                              de s c ri be d t h e c o l l e g e as k i n d o f
high school diploma or couldn’t       around it didn’t matter. And our
                                                                                              i n s om e w a y s as a n i n di v i d u a l
read a ruler because attention was    hallways were urban rough and
                                                                                              g r ow i n g u p . T ha t y o u k no w t h os e
so focused on you, your brilliance, unappealing.                                              ea r l y ye a r s w er e d a n g e r o u s
your core competence whatever                                                                 t e e na g e o r y o u n g ad u l t h o o d a n d
that might be was discovered and      But nowadays there is such compe-
                                      tition for good students. I really                      c r e e pi ng o l d a g e .
                                      think that’s the major challenge                        We are all grown up and boring
                                      ahead of us. The academic restruc-                      and ho-hum and very safe and



                                                                         71
An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago                                                                         M a r y     E l i z a b e t h           J o h n s o n




     predictable and respectable and I                     And there were no jobs in graphic                            need to look to Sam to bring
     think that is a natural evolution.                    design anywhere. People are still                            money into this college for every-
     Most entrepreneurial companies/                       trying to recover from that. So,                             one’s success. The people that I
     colleges go through that evolution                    then the economy kept me the                                 credit for being brilliant and keep-
     and then they reach a point where                     second time.                                                 ing Columbia alive, Murphy
     they have to mature in order to                                                                                    Monroe in admissions is fabulous
     survive, or the collapse inward on                  But overall my longevity speaks for                            and Debra McGrath. Debbie is
     themselves. That’s standard busi-                   the college. I worked the Field                                probably the most brilliant person
     ness model and I think Columbia                     Museum, Shedd Aquarium, School                                 in the workplace I have ever known
     followed that.                                      of the Art Institute, private agen-                            and her brilliance in her field is so
                                                         cies, had my own business and this                             important to the college. And I
     Because you just can’t underesti-                   still is the best. It still is the best                        view Deb as my mentor here.
     mate the power and the charisma                     because and this is very Mike
     of Mike Alexandroff who kept it all Alexandrian, you can invent your- Sh e br o ug h t yo u he r e y o u
     together. When Mike was on and                      self everyday. You can decide what m e n t i o n e d e a rl i e r. I w o u l d h a v e
     speaking to a group or an individ- you want to do, what you want to l ov e d t o h a ve h ea r d s om e o f y o u r
     ual, he was something to behold.                    focus on, what your interest is. You co n v e rs a t i o n s o ve r yo u r t e nu r e .
     He was magnificent, attractive,                     can craft your job to make it the                    W h en d i d s he g e t h e r e ?
     charismatic, articulate, compelling. work of art that you want it to be. She was here long before I was. She
     And his leadership kept it all going. There’s still is—though we are                                     started working—
     You would remember the last time becoming more corporate—a lot of
     Mike spoke about something you                      freedom to focus on what you want We r e y o u a b l e t o t a l k t o e a c h
     believed in or he believed in. And                  to.                                                  ot he r a bo u t i s s u es o r —
     that charismatic leadership is and                                                                       No.
     was so important.                                   And I have been able since I’ve
                                                         been director to really do with my Sh e wa s y o u r m en t o r.
     I w a n t e d t o a s k y o u w h at k e pt         office what I have wanted to do.                     Back then women didn’t talk to
     y o u h e r e be c a u s e yo u t a l k e d         My boss, Mike DeSalle is the best                    women about it. Never a word. I
     a b o ut s o m e y o u k n ow p r e t t y           boss I’ve ever had in my life. Mike never shared my experiences with
     n e g a t i ve f o r c e s a n d c o n s t a n t    is sweet, kind, gracious, normal                     anyone nor did anyone ever share
     f o r c e a s w e l l . W h a t k e p t yo u he r e and has given me everything I’ve                     theirs with me.
     o v e r t h o s e ye a r s a n d w h at k e ep s    asked for. When I wanted new
                                                                                                              Se e , I t h i n k a n d w e o n l y ha v e a
     y o u h e r e t o d ay ?                            staff, he gave it to me. When I
                                                                                                              f e w m i n ut e s l ef t b ut I t hi nk f o r
     There was a point in time when I                    wanted a new space I got it. And
                                                                                                              yo u n g w om e n o r w o m e n wh o
     was going to quit. Many, many                       he’s basically left me alone and
                                                                                                              h a v e n ’ t h a d a s i m i l ar — a n e x p e ri -
     years ago I was very fed up. But                    trusted me to do a good job.
                                                                                                              en c e i n t h e w o r k p l a c e i n t h e
     then I got breast cancer. And when
                                                         So, I stayed here because of Mike                    w o r k f o r c e i n a c o r p o ra t e o r
     you get cancer, you’re tied to your
                                                         DeSalle to a great degree.                           ac a d e m i c an d f o r m e n t h e y h a v e
     insurance and preexisting condi-
                                                                                                              no i d ea w ha t y o u’ r e t a l k i n g
     tions. And that compelled me to
                                                         T h a t ’ s i n t e r e s t i n g b e ca u s e y ou  ab o u t . B u t w hy no t ? W h y ( i n a u d i -
     stay more than anything else. I’ve
                                                         k i n d o f d e s c r i b e i t m o r e no t f r o m b l e ) h a v i ng t h es e i n f o r m a l c on v e r -
     read articles from the cancer
                                                         on t o p b u t f r om w i t hi n y o ur c ha i n     sation wit h the pr esident would-
     survivors who have said their
                                                         of c o m m a n d s o t o s p e ak . Yo u ’ v e       n ’ t yo u s a y y o u k no w wh a t ,
     careers stood still from the moment
                                                         g o t s o m e o f t h a t f r ee d o m a nd          what’s going on is r eally wrong.
     that they were diagnosed.
                                                           (inaudible) design, str ucture                               And I think that that—I mean I
     And that sort of kept me here even                    ( i n a u d i b l e ). A n yo n e e l s e t o d a y i n      un d e r s t a n d i t b u t I t h i n k t h a t ’ s
     though it was a battle a long time                    ad d i t i on t o M i k e D e S al l e w h o y o u           t h e b i g q u es t i o n m a r k t h a t we
     ago. And then the economy tanked                      s e e a s k ey t o c o l l e g e’ s c oh e s i on            s t i l l h a v e— t h a t w e h a ve n ’ t f a c ed .
     when I considered leaving again.                      or s u c c e s s o r s t r e n g t h o r f u t u r e         Th a t y es w e h a v e a s e x u al
                                                           t h at y o u c a r e t o m e n t i o n ?
                                                           I think the person on the hot seat
                                                           right now is Sam Ross. We really


                                                                                       72
M a r y       E l i z a b e t h         J o h n s o n                                                An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago




h a r a s s m e n t p o l i c y bu t p e op l e a r e   A n d s t r e n g t h a n d s up p o r t .
l i k e w h y d i d yo u pu t u p w i t h t h a t .     Yes. Yes, very much so. I never
O r wh y di dn ’ t yo u t a l k t o o t he r            talked about it but you did talk
w o m e n or w hy di dn ’ t yo u do                     about all the other issues that were
s o m e t h i n g a b ou t i t ? A n d d o yo u         whirling around.
h a v e a n y t h o u g h t s o n wh y ?
I think because it’s so—it’s like why We l l , I w a nt t o t h a n k y ou f o r t h e
don’t children talk about incest?     i n t e r v i e w. B u t i n o u r l as t
Why don’t women talk about being m o m e n t , i s t h e r e a n y t h i n g e l s e
raped or being abused by their        t h a t m a y be I d i d n’ t g e t t o or
spouse? It is so personally revolting d i d n ’ t t o u ch o n, y o u k n o w.
and embarrassing and humiliating No.
that you don’t talk about it. You
didn’t talk about it back then. And S o, I r e a l l y a p p r e c i a t e i t .
it plays to your sense of lack of     Thank you.
worth. I must not be worth it to be
treated this way; it strikes to your
lack of self-esteem.
A nd p ow e r o r l a ck of .
Right.
S o , I m ea n i f w e g e t s om e wh a t
philosophical about i t, but t alk-
i n g t o a n ot h er p er s o n t h a t a l s o
d o e s n ’ t h a v e t h a t p ow e r or i s
k i n d o f a t yo u r s a m e l e ve l —
Wouldn’t have solved a thing. And
it’s deeply embarrassing. You just
didn’t talk it. Just like back then
you didn’t talk about lots of other
things. Another person I do have to
mention is my best buddy here at
Columbia whom you interviewed,
Paula Epstein who you know has
been here for a very long time and
is the real salt of the earth, soul
mate and there are many days I
don’t think I could have survived
here if it wouldn’t have been for
Paula’s love and friendship and
presence here.
S o , t h e r e w er e p e o p l e y o u d i d n ’ t
t al k ab o u t i t , t h e r e w e r e p e o p l e
you r elied on or wer e able to—
Talk about other stuff.




                                                                                  73
An Oral Histor y Of Columbia College Chicago

								
To top