Kelly Meisberger: What has been your favorite course to teach and why?
Bob Cole: I’ve introduced 16 new courses over (33) years. Many were special to me. Beats and Deadlines was special to me because students so often told me later that what we did in the course is what they did when they went out in the field. It’s rewarding when a students tells you you prepared them for so and so . it’s disappointing when a student tells me (he or she) didn’t know how to do so and so. Intro was special because I met students for the first time. It’s surprising, but very, very few of them were ever editor in chief of their high school papers. Many hadn’t even taken a journalism class. Then there were many special courses I liked. News Editing because I liked to catch mistakes – it’s so much fun! Literature of the South, Press and Fiction, Press History . the Toxic Tour in Beats and Deadlines. I really liked so many courses I had the opportunity to teach.
KM: How did you come to the College?
BC: When I got (my Ph.D) I read a story . saying how much in demand English was as a major. Within a month, the whole bottom fell out of it. It’s in demand, and the year I graduate, it plummets. A lot of my friends that were in English were just in a panic. There were no jobs for them. Then Watergate hit, and small schools wanted to have someone to teach journalism . I ended up having a choice of about seven jobs in journalism and I picked this one. I’m so happy that I did. I never though I’d be doing journalism.
I thought when I got my Ph.D in English, I’d be an English professor. People I knew asked, ‘Don’t you feel cheated?’ and I said ‘No, I loved it’ – and I did.
KM: What are you going to miss the most about leaving the College?
BC: Being around students and teaching courses. What won’t I miss? Grading stories.
KM: What are your plans for after you retire?
BC: Years ago, I put my book aside for 10-15 years. I brought it out when Professor (Lee) Harrod started up the TCNJ Review. I submitted chapters to him, and over the years, I’ve submitted 15 chapters. One was chosen for Best American Sports Writing and one got honorable mention for Best American Sports Writing. They were very well received, which obviously made me very happy. It’s called “The Beaver Book,” which some say is a sexual reference, and it probably is, but Beaver is the name of my hometown. Sometimes they don’t want to believe that. I went to a small school, Shady Spring High School in Beaver, and we had a very close group. They always have me read from “The Beaver Book” at reunions. It’s really something that enriched my life, to be able to go back in the book and visit a time . like no other. So, I’ll be working on my book – hopefully get it published – and visiting with friends.
KM: What is the most important thing a journalist should know?
BC: How to find things and find out things. Where to look for information.
KM: What’s your method for finding things in your office?
BC: And just imagine, the areas at home are much more dense than this! All the clutter you see here and the greater clutter I see at home does not prevent me from functioning. Some of my filing is intuitive, some of it is idiosyncratic. But it’s striking how relatively few things I lose. I have files and boxes just like other people. The difference is that I create my textbooks so I have massive amounts of duplicate material. It’s a lot to keep up with, and sometimes I don’t. I think it’s the best thing I did as a teacher. Ten years ago in the mid- to late-’90s, I had a string of students come from Germany to take my journalism courses. They had heard about it strictly by word of mouth. One of those students wrote me a letter saying, ‘I miss those wonderful readers.’ I said, ‘One person saw!’ They are tailor-made for you. I have great satisfaction in doing those.
KM: You’re known for making the classroom environment a fun place. What inspired you to teach this way?
BC: I had a wonderfully eccentric graduate teacher, Carl Strauch, who would say things that were so funny and genuine. He was a delight. And I thought if I’m ever a professor, I’m not going to be careful. If I think motherf—er should go in a sentence, it’s going to. And students can relate to that. It overcomes a lot of problems with getting to know people, because students think you’re like them in some way. So use of language and anecdotes and things really help.
KM: How did a West Virginian come to have the Phillies as his favorite baseball team?
BC: In the winter of 1949, I was first introduced to baseball. The Phillies had brought up two players who later became very famous: Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons. Ever since, a lot of those years were dedicated fully to being a Phillies fan. In 1950, the year after I got interested, they won their first pennant in 35 years.
KM: If you could say something to all the students you’ve had over the past 33 years, what would you tell them?
BC: Don’t let the bastards get to you.
BC: I can’t talk about my career without mentioning my parents. My father was a coal mine foreman, and my mother was a registered nurse in West Virginia. They raised four kids up to believe they could do what they wanted to do. They encouraged me and helped me get through hard times, and for the same purpose, my four kids have been a real inspiration to me and I am terrifically proud of all they have done.