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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

Who’s On First?

Back in 1970 during my third year of college at Syracuse University -- I was carrying the twin majors of photojournalism and philosophy. I ran into an impenetrable wall that frustrated and annoyed me to the point of distraction. I was taking a class in aesthetics with an unbendable professor who would not acknowledge photography as a fine art form. While she could not tangibly defend her reasons for this, she was the professor and I was the student and never the twain would meet.

This teacher went as far as to permit us to listen to one side and one side only of The Beatles album “Abbey Road.” How she managed to differentiate why one side was acceptable and the other wasn't was way above my pay grade at the time; however we were never permitted to listen to “Octopus Garden” in the classroom (my favorite track on the album). Apparently, it failed her litmus test as to which of The Beatles songs could be elevated to the level of art. I’m not at all sure how Bach or Mozart would have weighed in…

Being 20 and having the calm and reserve of a bull in heat, I frequently danced on the edge of losing my temper with this professor, but for some unknown reason her calm and well-meaning smile defused this ticking time bomb. Not being afforded the opportunity of stating my case within the context of what I held dearest to me, I quickly lost interest in participating at all. My phenomenology professor was another hard case. While he was a well-loved fixture around the university among the students, he was equally despised by other teachers because he drove a Porsche during a time when they considered it to be a frivolous accessory.

I invited him to my first one man show on campus but he seemingly trivialized my attempt to get him to cross the street -- which he told me he never does. The Newhouse School of Communication was off limits to him, at least in his mind. It's hard-core functionality and foundation rooted in the antithesis of the philosophical mind distressed him to no end. He would rather think than do, and I could not afford myself that luxury.

I suspect this dilemma is easily understood from the perspective of the two philosophy teachers who had already established the boundaries of their own profession. Both appeared to be within 10 years of retirement, and I suspect neither had any plans of rocking the boat by acknowledging the possibility that the new kid on the block had a point.

My frustration with the aesthetics professor reached the level that I shut myself off from nearly anything she had to say after our encounter. This occurred during the unfortunate time frame of the killing of three Ohio State University students by the National Guard during a protest over the Vietnam War. This incident had a ripple effect throughout the entire United States and many universities found themselves at the mercy of students who had decided their protesting and burning down buildings was a more effective way of spending their time rather than seeking the higher education they had come there for in the first place.

Syracuse University adopted a policy that permitted all students to opt out of any of the classes that they no longer wished to complete by accepting a pass / fail instead of a letter grade that semester. While I had every intention of completing the coursework for most of the rest of my classes, I definitely accepted the pass / fail in this situation to remove myself from her presence and overbearing mentorship.

The picture below was taken about 20 miles from the university during this time frame. I bandied around many metaphors that I thought were appropriate, or at least semi appropriate for this situation.

I'm not sure if the out-of-place icebox or its empty contents represented the professors.

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