Not like it Was

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

I was 28 when I came to the Campus of William Paterson for the first

time in the Spring of 1979, a whole decade after I had dropped out of

school.

 

Unlike Sue, I came to WPC in 1979 because I didn't want to be stupid any

more.

 

As a child of the 1960s, I had made all the mistakes a boy could. I had

dropped out, tuned in and turned on, and found myself hunted by the

police for three years, then stuck in nowhere jobs after I finally

turned myself in.

 

In fact, had I come to WPC a year earlier, I would have found myself in

agreement with those radicals the school expelled, than with the

fledgling beatnik habits Sue displayed. My whole life was full of

radical behavior, dropping out of high school in 10th grade to live in

the East Village, to wander through the underworld of drug addicts and

prostitution until I woke up one morning with a dead man in my room. Yet

even in reform, I found myself unable to shake my radical ways, and

within the year before my coming to college, I had been fired from two

jobs because of my activities.

 

I lasted four years working for a Fairfield cosmetic redistributer. My

boss, a slightly unethical character who shifted shipments of rare

perfumes from wealthier druggists to the wholesale cosmetic chains all

across country. I never had qualms about helping him in his "rob the

rich to help the poor and get rich himself" routine, until I saw him

abuse one of his sales girls, a sensitive artistic type who broke under

the strain of his verbal abuse. In protest, I typed out and mailed over

100 letters to manufacture representatives, highlighting not only his

activities, but his sources. He was not pleased. He called it industrial

sabotage. I called it justice.

 

After that, I moved onto a night job slinging cases of fine wines and

other alcohol. I lost 30 pounds in nightly sweat, and was about to be

admitted into the union when the union rep -- in conjunction with

management -- told the crew it had to violate its own contract, in an

abrupt change of hours. I only wrote one letter, and this to a Newark

union official. No one else was brave enough to buck management or

expose our corrupt union rep, who was instantly recalled. I

mistakeningly believed the union would protect my job.

 

Although I had read significantly since dropping out of high school in

1968, I only discovered my love of history and literature while standing

on the unemployment line. I also discovered my dislike for the direction

my career seemed to be taking when I decided I wanted to go to college.

 

I had no high school diploma, and found that if I wanted to get into any

college, I would have to acquire a GED. I went to the library, and

taught myself enough algebra and grammar to get my GED scores and pass

the basic skills test for WPC. My extremely high scores, however, worked

against me when I sought financial aid. Race conscious officials at

William Paterson shook their heads, telling me I had scored too high to

qualify for the kind of grants I sought, grants a decade earlier friends

of mine had received in getting their education. So I had to resort to

loans.

 

And I was indeed ignorant for I was awed by the William Paterson campus,

awed by its location nuzzled in the tip of a mountain top, awed by the

aged buildings of Hobart Hall and the Coach House, awed by the stretch

of its lawns, the sway of its trees, by the slow, sauntering students

making their way from one class to the next. This was everything I had

ever imagined as college, and I came up to the campus often and early,

wandering through its sacred corridors for six months before I actually

started a class, breathing in the sweet smells of its cut grass and its

budding trees, taking in the warm, almost too friendly excitement of its

student population. Most of all, I was impressed by the concentration of

knowledge, all in one spot,mountain top, awed by the aged buildings of

Hobart Hall and the Coach House, awed by the stretch of its law

 

All my former friends had started to turn 30. And as if by some

rearrangement biological programming, they began to look and sound old,

talking about life in the past tense, telling people about what they

have done rather than what they would do, emphasizing aches and pains

they would not really suffer until their forties and fifties. I needed

to be around young people, people still full of hope and dreams, and as

I walked here, I found people like Sue, Michael, Glenn, Joel, Mat, Teri,

people who thought they could build their lives into something if given

half a chance.

 

Joel Lewis later criticized many of the faculty at William Paterson,

saying most of the professors who came there "felt as if they were

serving a life sentence. They would get there, and think they'd arrived

at Devil's Island."

 

Joel said few professors could look to obtain greater positions once

they'd settled into places like WPC.

 

"There isn't a lot of mobility from a state college," he said. "If you

go to a place like Rutgers, you can move on to other places, making

contacts at various conventions. But most professors that got tenure at

WPC stayed there."

 

But I knew I wanted to write, and came to college to provide myself with

the tools that would allow me to do that, and I knew that I could find

those tools at WPC college, despite its limitations.

 

It did not matter to me at all that this was hardly Harvard and that

campus kids secretly called the college: "We Party Constantly" for the

attitude they had, or that the college fathers in an effort to elevate

the status of the campus had shed itself of its lowest scoring kids the

year before, casting out every sort of radical and misfit that might

cause the campus to lose face. This was a college seeking to grow, and I

had come just in time to catch the last "artistic" movement before free

speech and independent thought became discouraged.

 

It was a time when the world changed, too. As I submitted my application

in May, Margaret Thatcher became prime minister of Great Britain, a

terrible foreshadowing of what would soon happen in America with the

1980 election of Ronald Reagan. In June, Pope John Paul II would visit

Communist Poland. The Nicaraguan revolution would begin. In July, my

uncle Albert would fly to South Carolina, marking yet another long

distant move by one of the primary members of the family. In August,

while helping him move south, I would hear news of Thurmond Munson's

death, ending an era in which I had been a fanatic Yankee follower.

 

The campus, when I finally arrived in September, made me feel less empty

and aching, as if it somehow had managed to fill the space left by my

losses: a drunk uncle Richi wandering the world in a fugue, my ex-wife

wandering the west coast with my eight year old daughter. The hustle and

bustle of the student center -- which served as a stop over point for

students traveling from one part of the campus to another -- made me

feel at home. I had grown up in a house full of grandparents, uncles and

aunts.

 

Joel, who had come to William Paterson in 1974, said the construction of

the Student Center, had changed the character of the campus,

transforming it from a commuter college to something more traditional,

giving students something of their own among the hill top buildings.

Kids gathered here, ate here, attended clubs here, hung out in its

hallways, its atrium, its lounges and above althe campus, transforming

it from a commuter college to something more traditional, giving

students something of their own among the hill top buildings. Kids

gathered here, ate here, attended clubs

 

"Many WPC professors recall the early 80s as the close of a tumultuous,

but exciting period at the school," Joel wrote in his unpublished

manuscript about Sue's vanishing. "Once, an almost all-female teacher's

college, it expanded into a multi-purpose literal arts college by the

late sixties. Tuition was cheap and admission was virtual open

enrollment. As the school hired its expanded faulty in the late 60s,

many of the young professors were left-wing politically and culturally

libertine. In 1974, the student center opened and, with it, the Billy

Pat Pub, which was legally able to serve 18 year olds at the time. Soon,

people claimed that WPC stood for We Party Constantly."

 

Sue did. In fact, she set up shop in the pub in 1978 when she first

arrived and did not evacuate until she graduated in 1984. Billy Pat's

Pub saved many kids the arduous journey own Pompton Avenue hill to

Haledon and the drunken drive back. Some kids still went, especially

later, when the clicks formed and the pub took on an elite air, full of

administrative rules, about who could come inside, and who could not,

limited numbers of guests and such. Many kids, who dated off campus

people, chose the uncomplicated bars along Belmount Avenue in Haledon,

instead, where their biggest problem was being proofed or stopped by the

police on their way home.

 

On most Friday or Saturday nights, the drunks stumbled out of the pub

and towards the two only dormitories that graced the far end of the

campus, a parade of inebriated clowns who formed the heart and soul of

what was then William Paterson College, jocks, drug addicts, children

members of the reviving frat and sororities, party animals of all sorts,

whose dedication to alcohol far exceeded their dedication to study.

 

If Sue pontificated there during my early wanderings into the pub, I

didn't see her, though knew later she spent as many hours lecturing her

friends here as she did attending lectures elsewhere. Someone --

probably as a joke -- had even carved her name into one of the corner

booths, calling it "Sue's Place." It was here, she pondered the great

issues of life, whether or not the man she was currently interested in

would get lucky that night, or march home with his face and balls blue.

In this pub, Sue worked out many details that would later make up her

myth-making, the plots of stalkers, CIA men, FBI men, and men from the

Mafia. She had not yet shaped the Russian variety of this last into her

stories. This was a time when the cold war grew more frigid under the

threat of Ronald Reagan, hostages in Iran, and a revolution in

Nicaragua. The fall of the Berlin Wall was an inconceivable decade away,

let along the collapse of the Soviet Union.

 

From this alcoholic podium Sue would preach numerous sermons over her

years at William Paterson, from the dangers of the Reagan revolution to

her extreme feminist views that including the slicing open of men's

penises, something she had adapted from Valerie Solaris, a radical

feminist of the 1970s who had shot Andy Warhol and eventually found its

ways into "Redlight" as a supposed sign of Sue's growing desperation to

escape her career as a go-go daReagan revolution to her extreme feminist

views that including the slicing open of men's penises, something she

had adapted from Valerie Solaris, a radical feminist of the 1970s who

had shot Andy Warhol and eventually found its ways into "Redlight" as a

supposed sign of Sue's growing desperation to escape her career as a

go-go dancer. It was a twisted rap that mingled feminism and pornography

in an

 

"Sue told me she was doing black beauties," said Nicole Bushe, one of

the girls Sue worked with on the school newspaper, and someone Sue came

to hate.

 

Others also told Joel for his story that Sue made claims to use of other

drugs as well, and yet, as with the alcohol use, few saw Sue wasted

there, basing their assumptions on what she told them.

 

William Paterson College lacked any real challenge for Sue. She had

arrived too early when the college still lagged under the educational

dictates of the 1960s, "study anything you want and still get a degree."

Subjects like "basketweaving" that would later develop into the

curriculum for night schools around the county could still get a student

three credits towards a degree, as could "Introduction into Tennis" and

"Music Appreciation." Not until 1984 when Sue had already graduated did

the school senate get serious and pass new standards for graduation,

going back to a more fundamental educational principal.

 

Graduates seeking their masters found other schools laughing at their

degrees, often requiring them to take additional undergraduate classes

to qualify for their master's program. People, like Nicole, transferring

from WPC often discovered their transcripts stripped of half their

credits.

 

Yet the fathers of the college did not have its students in mind when it

requested the higher standards. They had the gleam of money in their

eyes, as they and the administrators of the other half dozen state

colleges plotted to unseat Rutgers as the state's official University.

If they could pull themselves up and unite, they might gain the kind of

respectability state institutions elsewhere have obtained, using the

current campuses in Wayne, Trenton, Glassboro, Montclair and elsewhere

as the basis for a single school, something akin to the State University

of New York. The plan ultimately failed. Rutgers maintained its

distinction, even recently suing to stop other colleges from making the

claim as the state university. WPC originally planned to change its name

to University of Northern New Jersey in early 1998, but even that subtly

was halted. While it reached University status in June, 1997, a full

year ahead of time, it remains a single-standing campus.

 

Despite this WPC and other colleges benefited with the attempt, even

though WPC gutted its humanities. The students, who graduated after

1984, received a better reception at other institutions of high

learning, and even those who fiddled through the 1970s found themselves

with degrees much more credible than their education justified.

 

The fault wasn't totally the college administration's, though its greed

often outweighed basic good educational policies, preferring to retain

for tenure those professor who exhibited an extremely conservative bias.

Anyone too populpreferring to retain for tenure those professor who

exhibited an extremely conservative bias. Anyone too popular with the

students was immediately suspect, and generally released before they

could obtain permanent status. Outcries and protests generally confirmed

the rightness of their decisions in the minds of the Administration. In

one case, the students came to tenure hearings dressed for a wake,

carrying with them a mock coffin, thei

 

When first envisioning WPC as a legitimate college in the 1960s, the

Administration saw the automobile as the key to the future, with

services such as drive up windows as McDonalds or Drive-in movies as the

up-and-coming trend. They decided to make WPC a commuter college, even

though the nearest highway was six grueling city miles and dozens of

twisted streets from its front gate. They bulldozed the trees from half

the mountain to build strips of parking lots that students would later

call "the air strip."

 

Academic standards plummeted under this new open admissions policy and

the once quiet campus became a hustling and bustling bed of activity --

and racial resentment, where streets kids from Paterson met working kids

from Clifton and both met the wealthier kids from Wayne -- a kind of

inadvertent integration as the trustees raked in the cash, allowing

anyone with a meal ticket from the federal or state government come in,

regardless of their SAT scores. Kids, who would have in the past, taken

on the more blue collar professions of their fathers abustling bed of

activity -- and racial resentment, where streets kids from Paterson met

working kids from Clifton and both met the wealthier kids from Wayne --

a kind of inadvertent integration as the trustees raked in the cash,

allowing anyone with a meal

 

For many, poor, middle class or wealthy, WPC became the first foothold

on the ladder of success, a way for the kids of the baby boom to climb

higher than their parents had, or get into a college their grades in

high school might not otherwise have justified. For the trustees, the

increased tuition gave them an excuse to expand the college, creating

for the first time, a significant school of higher learning. While their

standards sank, more and more buildings went up, greedy trustees

gloating over construction plans, building new class rooms, new library,

new dorms and eventually a student center. Vast lawns spread across the

campus. Even more new parking lots went up in a remote section,

condemning even more of Hobart s wondrous acres of trees into asphalt.

 

But the trustees were not stupid. They knew the federal generosity would

not continue forever. So they soaked up as much of the cash as fast as

possible, before the tax payers got wise and suddenly shut off the money

faucet.

 

By the time Sue arrived at WPC, Ronald Reagan was running for president

promising to deliver a whole new era to modern education, one which

attacked the underpinnings of liberalism in America. Those institutions

-- such as fine arts and social services -- that made their fortunes

from enlightening the ignorant and helping the poor, suddenly found

themselves without resources. Reagan gutted the SETA program -- which

literally doomed the City of Paterson, whose political establishment was

not farsighted enough to switch its party affiliations in time. Reagan

would eventually tighten regulations governing the issuance of student

loans, thus cutting off many of the nation s poor from access to

college. These cuts hurt WPC, too, since those student loans also buoyed

up its expanded middle class attendance as well.

 

So the change of focus in the early 1980s came out of desperation, not

the desire to increase the school s academic standing. By becoming part

of the state university, WPC hoped to attract "a better caliber" of

student, someone whose parents could afford to pay higher tuition. With

the academic change also came a change in self image. The trustees

sought to upscale from a blue collar commuter college to something more

traditional. They constructed more dormitories, expanded the library,

added more class rooms, and, of course, increased the tuition.

Fraternities and sororities, which had nearly vanished under the more

democratic flavor of the commuter era reemerged, recreating a sense of

class structure on campus. Humanities classes shrank as the

administration boosted business courses, English as a Second Language

survived, but many literature classes did not. Journalism and TV

production thrived, but theater and acting classes got evicted from The

Coach House to make room for a computer lab.

 

Sue also arrived on campus at a particularly politically inopportune

time. A month before she after she started classes,, Iranians captured

the American Embassy in Tehran, creating one of the most humiliating

years in American history, and a situation that would continue the shift

-- started by the loss in the Vietnam War -- of American opinion from

left to right. The mood of the country and campus shifted, too, and the

egalitarian philosophies of the previous decade suddenly ended in favor

of a whole new philosophy ably dubbed as "Me First."

 

Sue Merchant, Michael Alexander, Mat Grecco, Glenn Kenny, Teri Mates,

Nicole Bushe, Bill Madaras, Doug Baker and others would form the basis

of a class in transition, the last class of literary wanna-bes, whose

education would not prepare them for the new world of fast cars, high

finances and unmitigated greed now emerging in America. Freshmen after

Sue's class would come to campus wearing suits and ties instead of jeans

and carry brief cases instead of nap sacks. Our class would also live

under the shadow of previous literary greats, and we would come to envy

the old guard literary figures such as Joel Lewis, Mike Reardon and a

host of other promising literary stars whose vision of a literary career

was unmuddied by reality until after graduation. Although some of these

lingered a while, most moved on before the campus soured, and the

institutions of literary achievement withered. The school's literary

magazine -- which I edited for a time -- was not nearly as well-written

as those that had been published in the mid 1970s. The college

newspaper, on which Sue Merchant served as news editor and later

managing editor, and I contributed to, lost credibility, becoming

eventually part of the administration's propaganda machine, promoting

fun and good times for all. And perhaps in this shifting world, Sue

reacted best, her hunger to be someone important, to write and be

recognized, tempered by her nothers would form the basis of a class in

transition, the last class of literary wanna-bes, whose

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

And Along Comes Sue

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------


Sue Walsh story: 1998 menu

Spielberg menu

Main Menu


email to Al Sullivan