Missing Bill Glavin

Newhouse School of Public CommunicationsBill Glavin: a cynical old man with a marshmallow heart. I know, you’re probably wondering how that’s possible. Well, here goes.

Glavin worked at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications (Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY) for 37 years. His time as a Magazine Journalism professor spanned four decades. And through those four decades, he was a student favorite.

His snarky wit made students laugh, and his gentle but firm grading showed them how to be better writers. And he always graded in a green pen. As one of his former student said at a recent memorial for Glavin, green encouraged us to keep going, while red pens always made us want to stop. Glavin could somehow rip our lovingly crafted articles to shreds and still make us feel good about ourselves at the end of class.We all knew that his number one desire in life was to make his students the best writers possible. At the end of every article we handed in, after the “this story didn’t seem to have a focus” or “use active verbs” and especially “avoid cliches” – Glavin always wrote in his emerald green ink “Your writing shows great potential. Work on these few minor problems, and you’ll go great places.”

He championed us in and out of school, fighting for new supplies, lower tution (it cost less to educate a magazine student than a photojournalism student), encouraging us to publish articles, keeping  a sharp eye on the ever-changing world of journalism, and arguing with everybody from his department chair all the way up to the dean of the school. His scratchy and commanding voice paved the way for struggling students. He loved us, and we all loved him.

But Glavin hadn’t always been an award-winning teacher. Oh no. He once told me that, on his first day ever as a teacher, he came to class with a list of about twenty writing tips he’d compiled over his years as a magazine writer and editor for Good Housekeeping. He thought it would take a full semester to get through it. Instead, under a fit of nerves, Glavin read the entire list, not taking his eyes off his notes even once. Twenty painful minutes later, he looked up. A table of twenty or so shell-shocked students looked back at him.

His teaching skills developed after that. Students no longer looked at him with glazed eyes, but focused in on every story, every tip, every admonition he had to say. Every time I write something, whether it’s a boring paper, a blog post, or even a chapter in my work in progress, Glavin’s scratchy voice is always there to tell me “Your writing shows great potential. Work on these few minor problems, and you’ll go great places.”

Bill Glavin passed away after a difficult battle with lung cancer on May 7, 2010. Learn more about him, and read the stories of his loving students and friends at glavin.syr.edu

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