UA Presidents Recall Past Experiences with the Wildcat
By Brett Erickson, Daily Wildcat 1999
“We want Henry’s couch! We want Henry’s couch!”
The chant from nearly 2,000 students in the Main Library rattled throughout the University of Arizona campus in November 1986. The irate demonstrators were responding to a staff editorial in that morning’s edition of the Arizona Daily Wildcat, protesting what they thought was a financial slap in the face from UA President Henry Koffler and his administration.
The UA was facing budget cuts and the library was one of the first victims. The university decided to cut the library’s hours, closing the building at midnight instead of 2 a.m. to save money. This didn’t sit well with students, especially since Koffler’s office was about to be decorated with a $7,000 couch.
“They (students) were pissed,” says Paul Allvin, an 18-year-old freshman reporter for the Wildcat then.
In that morning’s paper, the editorial writer criticized the administration’s decision on library hours and briefly mentioned the idea of students holding a sit-in in the library to show their disapproval. Never in his wildest dreams did Allvin imagine students would respond in such a way.
“It taught me the power of the written word – both good and bad,” says Allvin, now the director of communications for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America in Phoenix.
A tense and adversarial relationship between UA presidents and Wildcat journalists has not been all that unusual during the 100 years of student publication at the UA. In retrospect, some former Wildcat staffers jokingly admit they might have taken their roles a little too far.
“We took ourselves very seriously – probably too seriously sometimes – as a source of real news for students, on everything from tuition increases, to class availability, to campus crime to construction, and what it would do to the already bad parking situation,” says Christine Donnelly, a reporter and editor from 1984-87, now with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
Koffler, UA president from 1982-91, says he understood that the Wildcat was a “training exercise” for students preparing for the field of journalism. As student-journalists, the reporters he encountered were less professional than those from the two daily papers in Tucson, he says.
“Even the young reporters at the (Arizona Daily) Star were more mature and somewhat more professional,” he says. Koffler doesn’t remember an expenditure for a $7,000 couch.
“That was not I. I never had any problems with office furniture.”
Battling Koffler and his administration was a frequent occurrence for Allvin. In hindsight, though, Allvin says Koffler may have been misunderstood by much of the UA community. “It was a battle of wits with him. We beat the hell out of this guy. He just didn’t have a good way to relate to the students – that was his problem. It wasn’t his policies.”
Allvin didn’t realize this until Koffler left the university and Manuel Pacheco took the reins as UA president in 1991. Pacheco had an impersonal and paternalistic view of students, Allvin says.
“You got the feeling that he went through the motions to play along with the students because if not, he would get criticized.”
Beth Silver, editor-in-chief of the Wildcat during the 1992-93 school year, says her staff had several problems with the UA administration during the Pacheco era. In the early ’90s Luann Krager, the dean of students, was stopped by the University of Arizona Police Department on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and the Wildcat ran a front-page story about the incident. Krager left the university shortly after (for other reasons) without explaining the situation, but Silver says their coverage did not go unnoticed.
“Before she left, I know she said, ‘We have to pull in the reins at the Wildcat,’” says Silver, now a reporter with the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.
Pacheco could not be reached for comment.
When Pacheco left the UA in 1997, reporters at the Wildcat did not know what to expect from newcomer Peter Likins.”The Wildcat had pretty much given up on establishing a good relationship with Pacheco, “says Todd Hardy, a reporter and editor during the 1996-97 and 1997-98 school years. “He seemed very distrustful of student reporters.”
Likins and his administration were a “breath of fresh air.”
“Here was this guy who was willing to lay it all out on the line most of the time and be up front about it when he couldn’t talk about something. I think Likins’ candor really surprised some of the top-level administrators who had been accustomed to operating under Pacheco’s ‘iron-curtain,’” says Hardy, a former reporter for the Tucson Citizen and a first-year law student at the UA.
Likins says his relationship with the Wildcat has always been excellent, primarily because student-journalists have been careful to avoid publishing malicious statements. That doesn’t mean he agrees with all of the content in the newspaper.
“Of course I sometimes find myself differing with Wildcat editorial policies or individual articles, but that doesn’t trouble me,” Likins says. “I’m not the guy who writes the stories or the editorials, and others are entitled to their own views.
“I would be disappointed with the student newspaper only if its staff seemed to me to be deliberately hostile to the administration on all issues, and I have never felt that way in Arizona.”
The nature of the relationship between the UA’s top brass and the Wildcat can be directly related to the state of the country. While Likins has operated under a period of relative harmony, it was a drastically different story for former UA president John Paul Schaefer, whose term spanned from 1971-82.
Along with the Vietnam War came the polarization of student opinion.
Following a national trend with college news papers, the Wildcat had just broken free from the control of UA officials. For the first time, the newspaper operated as an independently managed entity, with no content or management restrictions placed on it by the administration.
“1971 was very much in a confrontational era, in terms of the student body and the administration,” Schaefer says.
The attitude created during this tumultuous time carried over into the newspaper.
“There was always a bit of tension simply because of the need for independence and the need to assert this independence.” Schaefer says the content in the Wildcat was acceptable, although there were certain issues covered that he disagreed with. All things considered, Schaefer says he had to remind himself that the Wildcat employees were only students.
“It’s a learning situation. It never got out of hand at the University of Arizona,” he says. “I think the Wildcat has been a good newspaper.”