Standing in front of a room crowded with over 40 people, Robert Cole, professor of English, asked everyone in attendance to write their name and address on a white sheet of paper.
“Believe me, I appreciate more than anyone what it means to have a room full of people (come to hear you speak),” Cole said before sharing stories of the many lectures he’s been to where there were only three people in attendance. “If you put your name and address down, you might get a reward.”
Students, alumni and faculty filled a classroom in the Business Building last Wednesday night to hear the faculty research talk entitled “Bob Cole’s Three-Dot Column.”
Zac Goldstein, Web master for Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society, which sponsored the event, introduced Cole to the audience.
“What do you get when you mix Santa Claus, Colonel Sanders and Walter Cronkite? I’m not sure I know the answer, but it would probably resemble Robert Carlton Cole,” Goldstein said.
The topic of Cole’s talk was the changes the College has undergone over the years.
To present a variety of information during a short amount of time, Cole opted to present his talk following the structure of the three-dot column, a method journalists use to briefly touch on several topics in one article.
One of the major changes Cole has seen over the years includes the creation of the journalism major.
When Cole first came to the College in 1973, there was no journalism program.
Journalism training consisted of one class and there was no equipment for the students to use.
“Students had to bring their portable typewriters to class,” Cole said.
Since then, Cole has helped build the major and been named director of the journalism program at the College. According to Cole, one year there were more graduates with journalism minors than English majors.
During his years here, Cole has also seen his share of different presidents of the College, including current president R. Barbara Gitenstein.
“Bobby Gitenstein, I love her because she writes op-ed letters to local papers,” Cole said. “It’s the kind of thing that makes a journalism professor happy, to see your boss defending the First Amendment.”
Cole affectionately referred to Gitenstein as “the transformer,” alluding to the academic transformation she has led the College through over the past couple of years, and joked about her hometown of Florala, Alabama.
He asked the audience if anyone knew where the name Florala came from and when no one answered, he revealed that it was simply the combination of “Florida” and “Alabama.”
If students think building and construction scandals are at a high right now, they must not be aware of some of the information Cole shared during his lecture.
According to Cole, Kendall Hall was once closed for five years due to asbestos and Holman Hall had no hot water for years, among other problems.
“Supposedly (Holman was) built from a blueprint that Rutgers (University) rejected,” Cole said, before joking that the rejection of the plans should have tipped off the College to future problems.
According to Cole, like any school, the College also has its share of sex scandals in its past.
“(We’re) nothing like Rutgers, but we’re in there swinging,” Cole said.
Cole gave the audience members plenty to talk about, sharing stories of student/professor affair scandals and information about random hook-up spots.
“The old chapel was notorious among students for creating more souls than it saved,” he said. “I don’t know if the tradition is going to carry, but you have something to think about.”
Cole also took some time to discuss serious issues the College has faced. He mentioned two serious car accidents that killed groups of students and also the Kendall Hall murder. In the summer of 1978, a pianist snuck into Kendall and camped out there for days. According to Cole, the student was beat until her corpse was unrecognizable and her murderer was never caught.
Before the end of his lecture, Cole took the time to mention some of his most memorable moments at the College.
He included publishing his memoirs in “The College of New Jersey Review” and a recent trip to the State House during which he ran into eight alumni, all journalism majors, working in many different fields.
“One of the nicest days I can remember in my life,” Cole said.
Once he shared all he had to say, Cole quickly ended his lecture.
“Journalists are not artists. We don’t need a pretty ending,” he said. “When we get to the end, we just stop.”
By the end of his lecture, about 70 had piled into the classroom to hear Cole speak.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a more honest professor or someone who changed the way I look at journalism, or the world in general, so much,” Mary Meluso, senior journalism major, said.
Glenn Steinberg, associate professor of English, was one of the faculty members who attended Cole’s lecture.
“I’ve always wondered what his magic was that students love him so much,” Steinberg said. “It seems to be that wonderful sense of humor and the caring man behind it.”
Members of Cole’s family, including his wife, daughter and two grandchildren, also attended his lecture.
“He (Cole) was looking forward to giving this,” his wife, Nancy, said. “I was gratified to see so many students here. It’s a nice tribute.”
Omar Diouf, Cole’s 14-year-old grandson, videotaped his grandfather’s lecture. When asked about how Cole was as a grandfather, he only had two words.
“He’s perfect,” Diouf said.
The perfect grandfather and popular professor couldn’t have been happier with how his lecture went.
“I was moved, overwhelmed and grateful,” he said. “This is the kind of thing you dream about.”