Carol Reuss joined the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s faculty in 1976 when the school had no public relations courses. Her experience and knowledge guided the development of the public relations sequence, which today is widely recognized for its excellence at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She was inducted into the North Carolina Public Relations Hall of Fame in April 1996, and retired from teaching on June 30, 1996. An annual award is given in her name to a deserving junior studying public relations.
Reuss has been active in journalism and mass communication education nationally. She was chair of the national Accrediting Committee of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) and has been a member of the publication boards of Public Relations Review, Journalism History and Journalism Quarterly. She co-edited two editions of Inside Organizational Communication and is co-author of several other books.
Among her many honors: the President’s Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), the Magazine Educator of the Year Award from the Magazine Division of AEJMC in 1993 and the 1995 Mary Turner Lane Award at UNC from the Association for Women Faculty.
Reuss served as associate provost from 1987 to 1994 under three different provosts in UNC’s central administration.
Marissa Rupp: My name is Marissa Rupp, and I am here on November 6 [2012, 1 p.m.] interviewing Carol Reuss. We are at the Carolina House in Chapel Hill North Carolina. So, I am going to start with some basic questions.
Carol Reuss: Okay. What are we looking for in general?
MR: In general, we are looking to learn about how you experienced your career as a journalist.
MR: And how maybe, that experience has changed over time. So I am going to start with some basic questions. Where and when were you born?
CR: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in December of 1932—and my family lived in a little town called Woodcliff, Ohio, which is about a mile from Lake Erie. And I spent my growing-up years there.
MR: When did you leave Ohio?
CR: I left Ohio in – I have some notes—I left Ohio and went to college away from there in 1950. And I came back and I worked in Cleveland until 1960, and I moved to Indiana for a while.
MR: What was your childhood like?
CR: It was good. I was reflecting on that, and my parents were trusting, they were hard working, and they had three kids—all different—and they treated us all equally good—equally well—and they came out of the Depression. And let me set the stage here, because I have been studying this a little bit.
The year I was born was the year that FDR was elected. The country at that time had 33 percent unemployment. My parents—as young married people—were caught in that—and we were fortunate, in so far as my dad had a trade. He was a builder, so we had a nice house. But a lot of other people didn’t. And so, they never made an issue. They worked hard, they were conservative, and there was no building at that time, so my dad worked at a manufacturing plant for a while. What they put up with is what the present people are having to put up with—and they don’t realize it, the present people. You do work to survive. And they did.
And when we went to school, they didn’t push us at all, but they worked behind us when we had weird ideas. And that must have been hell for you to raise, because I had an active mind that said, “Oh, let’s do this, let’s do that.” And so—in growing up through all this—I started my journalism career when I was in grade school because I fought to get the job carrying newspapers. And the only ones that I could do were the local papers, because Cleveland papers—which distributed in our area—wouldn’t let a girl do it. And so I ran into the antifeminist view way back then—and it has shaped how I approach things, I’m realizing now.
But anyhow, I had my paper route and I had to get customers; I had to collect money from them and do all that good stuff. And so I started at the ground level in journalism. It was when I was in high school that I scored all of the little sports in my high school. As a result of that, I was contacted by the papers to give them the scores. So I actually set up a little news bureau, unknowingly for the sports teams. I—I wrote one column a week for one paper—a free paper—and then I reported the scores to the Cleveland papers and the county papers, and they paid like a dollar—a dollar and a quarter for a phone call. So, after the games I’d take the scorebook, and with my quarters, get to the pay phone and start making my calls. And so, there was this sense of “newsiness” and being able to be in contact with people. And to this day, I can still remember how to spell some of those fellas’ names. They were Italian names, and so I had the Carusos and the Cicanellis and others like that—and it was good training. But it also—without my knowing it—convinced me that I never wanted to be on society pages. There was no way I was going to do very much on newspaper because they were very anti-girl, anti-woman doing anything. And so I tucked that in my bag and went on from there. And when I went to college—I went to a small school that had a journalism department. I was going to be a chemist–thank God I couldn’t get into a scientific school, because I was a girl. So, I went into the school and I fell into the journalism department. It was a good program and I taught there later. And, it still has a journalism department.
MR: Was that at Loyola or—
CR: No, that was at Saint Mary-of–the-Woods in Indiana. And there are hyphens between those words. Saint Mary hyphen of hyphen the hyphen woods. And the school—the college is still open—and it still has a journalism program.
But it was later after I got my masters – and I guess I had my doctorate when I to Loyola—I went back and taught at the woods. Then I had an opportunity to go down to New Orleans and I did it. And I had a different experience down there, of course, because that is a great, fun city.
MR: Yeah. You mentioned that you were interested in starting a paper when you were very young—in grade school. What do you think started that ambition?
CR: Well, I never wanted to run a paper as such. After I got out of my undergraduate program, I looked around and thought, “I better have a job.” My parents didn’t push, but there was an ad for a job in Cleveland for an industrial magazine—and I got the job. It was interesting, one of the questions they asked me—in preparation during the interview—was “can you read this decimal number.” It was a millionth, and they were working in an industry of a millionth of an inch. Little things like that fell into place. But, also, I started there—again the women’s issues come into play. All male, except for women who were clerks and stenos [stenographers]. And yet, I, as a professional person, had to punch in a time clock. Until, after a couple of years, I said, “You know, I really shouldn’t have to do that.” And they said, “Why, no, you shouldn’t.” Because that is the difference between the professional and the staff.
But anyhow, I started out doing new product stuff—it was as boring as can be. But, it was a learning process. And I learned about the machine-tool industry by reading all of that copy and preparing these monthly sections of the book. Later on, somebody left and so I moved up from being an associate editor to being a managing editor. So, I was managing things—and, you know, you don’t look around when you like what you’re doing to say, “Oh, what do I need to study?” You go and do it. And that’s been the way I’ve handled jobs all along. And I would get bored on some things and I would think, “Gee, what can I do?” And I remember two of the big articles that I did in addition to the stuff that I had to do regularly to get the job done, was I did an article on industrial diamonds. Now, I had no idea what an industrial diamond was—but I learned it. And those were the challenges that you take on if you have an office that allows you to do it. And fortunately, I did.
But, I got tired of that and at the college I went to—and I went to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and I was active on the alumni board. They said, “Why don’t you come here and be the PR director for the college?” And I thought, “Okay.” It was time. So, I said to them, “bye,” and went on to work at the college—and my career took a major change at that point.
MR: That’s interesting. I can imagine in the field of engineering—when you worked for that magazine—if you ever went out on the field or anything—there were barely any women.
CR: We were alone. And I was looked down on. I always made sure I had decent shoes on so they wouldn’t burn the bottoms of your feet—because you had hot chips in some of these places. And they’d look and say, “Okay.” But, there was another woman who was high up on a magazine in Cleveland—and I can’t remember what her name was—but it was a society of metals magazine, and I’d see her once and a while. But, we did our work. We didn’t hobnob, because you were alone when you were surrounded by men. And so, even with the guys I worked with, you learn to accept them and they learned to accept me. And I had no big problems. And it’s remained that way, you know, I can get along with almost anybody.
By doing that new product stuff, which came in on news releases, I learned about publicity. And that fell into place for when I was doing the PR work here and elsewhere, you know, I had experience on a lot of these things. A lot of my friends don’t realize that.
MR: Yeah. How did you do your research for the engineering magazine?
CR: I would—I finally made a sort of a list of what was involved in the things involved in the engineering we did. Metal was either cut, or pressed, or stamped, or there are several other phrases. And so, I took everything down to the lowest common denominator, so I could understand what was happening—and I had a capability. I had good sciences in high school. And, my dad being a builder, I knew some things about construction and space and stuff like that. So, I picked up things on the way, and because my intention was not to latch on to somebody and get married and raise children—and that happened, which was not premeditated, I could do all of these things, and succeed at them. But, it was a fun experience.
MR: What was your work with PR at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods like?
CR: It was general publicity promotion. I helped them do publications to recruit students—put the news out of what the students were doing—And these were much smaller than anything here at Carolina, and so a person could handle all that stuff. And, we had a very cooperative group of people there. At that time, that was a Catholic college, run by a tremendous, talented group of nuns. And they worked together, so you didn’t have to say, “Can I ask so and so a question?” You just did it. Later on, I entered that community, and part of it—I think—was not that I was holier than thou, but rather, it was I found a group of women who really enjoyed working, and doing, and succeeding in all sorts of things. And so, I was in that community for 16 years.
MR: That’s great.
MR: You said that they had a journalism department, was that common for the times, or—
CR: No, it was more common among the smaller schools. Um—but no, it was not common.
MR: What was the department like?
CR: It was—well one person ran it, and taught it; did the whole nine yards. And, we brought some people in when we needed them, but it was small classes. All our classes were around the table. It was the usual routine: news writing, news editing, feature writing, design–the very basics. We didn’t have all these theoretical courses because people weren’t doing research in those days in the areas they are doing now in J-schools. And so, it was to teach people the function. We had some pretty good students come out of there and work for places like U.S. News [and World Report] and places like that.
MR: So what made you end up at Loyola in New Orleans after your term at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods?
CR: Well there was an opening available, and in teaching at Saint Mary’s—I was teaching on a bachelor’s degree—with experience, but, you know, you think, “I need a little bit more.” So, I said to the superiors, “Don’t you think I should go on to a little more education.” And they said, “Sure, but you’ll have to do it in the summer.” Because that was the way you did things in those days.
And so, one of the places that I looked at was Iowa, and they allowed me to do a master’s degree in only summers. A lot of places would want you to be there a year. And so, I went there, and when I was there, that first term, they said to me, “You belong in our doctoral program.” And here again, there was an issue about women that came up, that I had not predicted, and I don’t think many had. I have a lot of friends who are in the same age bracket, and we look back and we say, “Yeah, they saw us and decided: We’ve got to put some women in these schools.” So they picked and chose when they saw people who were capable. And I say this without trying to be egotistical, but evidently I had the capabilities, and I went back to the Woods and taught, and the next year I went full time. So, I was going for a couple of years.
But … it’s funny how that happens. The doctoral students here, now, all say, “this is my path.” And they say, “Well, somebody was almost 40 before they did such and such.” That was prominent at that time, because women didn’t have the opportunities. And, it’s only in recent years that I’ve had time to think about it, that I’ve seen that. And one after another of us came up at an older age, came into these programs—and we were not welcomed in with open arms. We were, you know, accepted. It was one of those things—I guess society requires that we let the gals in.
MR: So there were very few of you?
MR: Do you remember any of your peers in particular?
CR: Well, those that I remember—I’ve been thinking about that since we talked—many of them became deans, one became a provost at a university. These were people who really had the moxie to do things, but they were held back until they could be seen succeeding through these doctoral programs—and then some. We didn’t have a direct route.
MR: So you were teaching and studying at Loyola?
CR: At Loyola, no. At that time I had finished my doctorate—and I just finished it. And so, I taught only there. I also — when I was at Loyola—I lived on campus, and I helped with advising. I was around for kids who needed counsel, without having a counseling sign hanging outside my door. You know, you’d see them and you’d say, “Are you okay,” and they would say, “No.” And so, you know, you use your talents in different ways. I had a great time at Loyola.
MR: So why did you decide to come to Chapel Hill?
CR: Because there was an opening here that I had heard about—I was active in the journalism educators group. And I heard about this opening here, and I thought, “Gee, that’s a nice place.” So I applied for it. And I – you never met Tom Bowers? He’s retired.
CR: Okay, I saw him a couple of weeks ago at a funeral, but Tom, we kid. I said, “Tom, you’re the first North Carolina person I met when I came,” because he came to pick me up from the airport, and we have been close ever since, and his family—I keep track of his kids and stuff.
But anyhow, I got the job here–and again, here, they were saying, “We got to get some women in here.” And not everybody at the J-school was for that. They didn’t say it—but you could tell. And others in other departments ran into the same thing, that yeah, we were accepted—and many of the women who came in, didn’t come in on lines, professorial lines, they came in as lecturers, because–administrators thought–“We’re not sure we want these women around.” And so, we can laugh about it now—and at the time, my experiences having worked with all men at the magazine and all women at the college, molded together so that I could pretty much be my own person and do what I wanted to do.
But, when most of us came in those days, we didn’t come out and say, “Hey, I’m so-and-so.” We just worked our way, until you were accepted.
MR: When you say you feel like some people weren’t very accepting or excited about women entering, what made you feel like that?
CR: Well, they made comments—“What are you doing now?”—or, there were a group of – the faculty at the J-school was very small, probably about a dozen. I know it was under 20, and we had Peggy Blanchard, was a doctoral student in history, and she was teaching there—but I was on a line and I came in associate professor because I had all the other experience. But, there was a group of us who were single and had fewer family obligations, and we’d go to lunch every day. And so they’d go down the hall and go like this with their hand (gestures) like, “Eating?” and we would look up. And so, we just did it with that group. The others, many of them brought a lunch or went home for lunch, but it wasn’t the same social thing. And so, fortunately, I was able to get along with some really good people, supportive people. And Richard Cole was one—he became a dean—you know Richard. He was very accepting, too. But some were not. They’d go, “What are you doing now?” I didn’t tell them I had experience in sports and experience in engineering and stuff like that, because it wasn’t worth it.
MR: Yeah. Now in the Hall of Fame, you are known for kind of re-doing the PR curriculum and making it a lot stronger. Could you explain how you ended up going from a teacher to being able to change the curriculum?
CR: Well, you do it as a faculty member. It wasn’t – well, you’ll get a kick out of this, I think—PR was not looked upon as a great field. “We’re news, we’re going for truth;” that was the attitude of the faculty. It wasn’t only here, but it was elsewhere, too. And so, when it came time to teach PR, we did it real quietly, and instead of calling the course Public Relations Writing or Public Relations Principles, the first one was called Business and Organizational Communication. It was really PR. As our students got into it, and liked it, and became good at it, then we put the real label on it. And now, the PR industry is trying to think, “Should we change our name?” And I thought, “I did it a long time ago — and it worked.” But because we had the types that were the newspaper types, the alumni that were at the Times and the Charlotte Observer and in Raleigh, they were real straight-backed. “PR? What are you doing?” Because they worked with PR people all the time, but didn’t know it. But, in doing that, we started with one course, and a lot of the things you can learn in other courses. Little by little, we added courses. And so, we started the program very, very easily, quietly—with humility, you might say, because we didn’t want to upset these old guys. Not only on the faculty, but some of our critics in the state.
MR: And the journalism education was just a department, it wasn’t its own school then, right?
CR: It was a school. It was a school, yeah, a School of Journalism. We added Mass Comm [Communication] later.
MR: Can you describe what the classroom environment was like in the journalism school?
CR: Well, it varied with the subject matter and with who was teaching. But, we didn’t have the sophisticated equipment or methods that they have now. They were just starting to do polling in a big way, and Bob Stevenson was on the faculty—he died too early—was the one who did the Carolina Poll. And we don’t do that anymore; Elon is doing the equivalent. I saw someone from Elon not too long ago, and I said, “Yeah, I’m so glad you’ve got a good school over there now,” because it relieves us from having to do some of the—I was going to say scut work, but I didn’t. But, the polling, that cut into a whole lot of time every semester.[Note: The Carolina Poll, a public opinion survey, was conducted twice yearly from the 1980s through the spring semester of 2000. The archives are held by the Odum Institute. http://arc.irss.unc.edu/dvn/dv/odvn/faces/StudyListingPage.xhtml?mode=1&collectionId=74]
MR: What did that involve?
CR: It was telephone interviews—
CR: It was calling about any topic. They had a topic every term and do it. But, in a political year, it was a lot of work, as you can imagine. And they didn’t do robo-calls at that time; it was a different world. But as things had gotten more sophisticated, we’re not bothered by a whole lot of that stuff, as citizens.
MR: Did you have many female students, or–?
CR: Not at first. I don’t know what the numbers were, but you can probably find them from somebody. It was mainly a male school, and then women came in and women succeeded. And the salaries were lower in this school than a lot of other fields, and so guys would say, “I’m going to go into law.” And, it was things like that, but, even now among our graduate students, who were in at that time, the early ones—we got more and more women and they have done very, very well. They are fun, they come back every once and a while, and we laugh about some of the situations that were prevalent because of this tension. It was a bit of a tension between subject areas and male/ female.
MR: And, just for the record, what year did you come to UNC?
CR: I came to UNC in (shuffles papers) in ‘75 and retired in ‘95.
MR: Did you see a lot of changes in that period?
CR: Mhmm. Major Changes.
MR: What kind?
CR: Students willing to take on bigger projects, looking for bigger projects to do. It wasn’t just going to write news, it was going to find out what’s behind the news; so more investigative reporting. All reporting is investigative, but it became deeper. We had, at that time when I came, there was an area of advertising and there were a couple of faculty members who taught advertising—most of it was methods: writing, planning, etc. Now, those two areas are pretty close. There was photojournalism, and now you’ve got the multimedia aspects, and it’s keeping up with the times—you have to do that.
MR: How do you think – what exactly prompted you to work with the AWF [Association of Women Faculty] and help establish that organization?
CR: Well, there were some of us who were not newcomers—most of us were a little more aged than the new, young faculty coming in, and we could see that they were flunking out the faculty.
MR: The women in the faculty?
CR: There was a group of women, just ahead of me and some of these others who worked on the AWF, who saw that they were set up. They didn’t get tenure–one or two did in the whole university in this side, not on the med side. And so, it was tough for women to be seen and to be accepted. And so, this one woman who was in education—she was a very, very charming Southern, tall lady. I always laugh about Mary Turner—Mary Turner Lane was her name– and Mary Turner had the way of putting on the pizzazz and that. And so, I’d work and I’d say, “I don’t want to be the head of this, Mary has to do it.” And it worked. So, what we were looking for was acceptance. We were looking for salary equivalence, we were looking for the way they were treated– the way we were treated—etc. And those with families had a harder time because they had the tension of the family and they had the tensions here of trying to get into a steady line, and to get research money. So, I got involved in doing that and I had a great time doing it.
MR: What kind of activities did you guys do to–?
CR: Well, it was a matter of getting together. Part of it was knowing one another, because you’d have people over in arts and sciences—a little department—not a little department but a separate department—who really didn’t know people around. And now, some of my friends who are the senior faculty on campus—women—they knew everybody. It’s only because we started tearing down walls a long time ago. So, I’m pleased that the AWF is still functioning. It’s interesting, we said at that time—we had many a meeting—it’s for faculty; we don’t want to get anybody beyond faculty. Now, it’s AWFP—professional staff, because it is steady enough that these other women who needed a crutch — or needed some help more than a crutch—needed encouragement, could also benefit from the togetherness of a group of women.
MR: And what years would you say you worked on that?
CR: (Thumbing through papers) I have everything else written down except for that. It was not my first couple of years, you can be sure of that. I had to get my own stability settled there. I have never been one to worry excessively about promotion, and I think part of it was the strength of those nuns who taught me a long time ago. We just did things. They did, and I ended up doing it too. And so you did it with a sense that you were going to be able to do things. And so—you’ll see that if you know me very long—you’ll see that I’ll say “Oh yeah, I’ll take a cruddy thing, but lets look at it from a different standpoint.” And so, the AWF, now, is over 20 years old — it must be 37 years old and its still around. A couple years ago I got sick and I was totally out of it. My friends from the J-school and other places would come and visit me, and they thought for sure I was gone. But, I happened to survive. When I woke up, it was like Rip Van Winkle. I had to be reminded of some of the things that were happening—but they were still functioning. And that’s a real revelation; the AWFP is still functioning. And there are other things—I spent six years in the provost’s office. And that was a great experience because the difference between a school and the university as a whole is that if you made a phone call from the provost’s office, people would answer it. And so, I had some great responsibilities and I got to know more people. Jane Brown—I was talking about her the other day– was somebody. She knows everybody, and we were trying to figure out how come? It’s Jane’s personality, a… b., her willingness to do things without wanting to get acclimated—being paid homage—being acclaimed. She was chair of the faculty for the whole university. You see little Jane Brown, and everybody knows that she gets things done. Well, that’s the kind of people you like to associate with, and you should do that to.
MR: Yeah. Was she one of the first women—?
CR: She was right after me. Yeah, she came the year after I did. And she was brand new, fresh from the University of Wisconsin—and an excellent teacher.
MR: What was the climate of the office of the provost?
CR: The provost’s office was an interesting place because we had several changes of leader during those years I was there. And so, I got to study some real management types—some good and some not so good and some that were fine and we moved on. But, I happened to have gotten an assistant—a secretary—who was fantastic. So, that was a part time job for me, but her name is Linda Nadler. She is now retired, but she is called upon to do all sorts of things. She does the secretary work for some of the big searches, and that is very, very complex work. And so, she knows how to do these things. So, with her there– and the units that I had reporting to me were the Botanical Garden—which I still love– the Ackland, the Planetarium, things like that. And so, I had the nice ones. I didn’t have to worry about who was in class and who was not in class. We were worried about bigger things, and much of it tied in with the background in PR.
MR: So, you worked on kind of dealing with the administrators of those–?
CR: Of those schools, yeah. And we were hiring—at that time there was a changeover—and I laugh—Peter White is the director of the Botanical Garden. He came while I was at the provost’s office, and he now is probably ready to retire—a super, super guy. We were able to hire some very good people, and I hope the university continues to be able to do that because it makes everybody’s work easier.
MR: Yeah. You mentioned Jane Brown and Richard Cole. Do you remember any other significant colleagues or students that you have dealt with?
CR: Tom Bowers, who became the associate dean in advertising; Jim Mullen, who headed the advertising program—I’ve pretty much remember all of them because we were small. Jack Adams was the dean—great guy—worked very quietly, and worked well. And, Richard (Cole) was a great guy, too, because he took the vision out to a bigger world.
MR: Going back to the AWF, how was it received on campus?
CR: Again, we did it very quietly.
CR: We had meetings, we invited people to speak—mostly, my view of it was to help one-on-one. You could see what was happening, and you could say, “Oh, I would do such and so, make it a little nicer for this to go on.” And it worked. But if you came in and said, “Here’s our structure, this is what we’re going to do”—it’s sort of like the political scene—“You promised.” We made no promises.
MR: Did many—or any—of your female students get involved with the organization?
CR: They didn’t get involved with the organization, but they’ve gotten involved on campus. There are a number of our J-school students who are working on campus. It’s interesting when I go down there, I go, “Yeah, I had that one, that one, that one and that one.” They’re all over the place, as well as beyond here.
The other day there was an item in the paper about some professor who evidently has said that we don’t get credit when we advise and counsel people for internships. To me, that’s part of teaching. So, I went through the ceiling and though, “Ugh, who is that.” Some day I want to meet him.
But anyhow, I was talking to somebody who was one of our first African American women students. She left here and took an internship at Dow Chemical Company, which is not small—did well. Over the years, she’s back here. She’s raised a family and still has one little one at home, and she’s working on campus. I said to her, “Rhonda, why don’t you respond to this? You saw what it was like to get help on getting an internship.” And our people do that all the time.
CR: Um, you know, we’re getting off track a little bit. But, when you teach at a place like this, and in a field like ours, which has all of these same students all looking to work in the public arena, you have to have your eyes open for the students to have opportunities to learn the real world. I had learned the real world, in part, when I was in high school and worked summers—I was going to be a chemist—I worked summers for a chemical company. When I realized that women couldn’t get into the really good scientific schools, I soon lost that desire. It was to everyone’s benefit that I did because I probably would have made a lousy chemist. People would say, “Well, such and so is open,” and you learn a lot on these summer experiences. I don’t know if you’ve had that.
MR: Not yet.
CR: Okay, well do it—even on campus. Work for—what’s that TV program? Carolina something or other. It’s on every day.
MR: Reese news, or–?
CR: Reese news is one thing, then there’s a channel on the TV station that does Carolina—but, you know, go and volunteer at one of those to do some of these things. And, don’t hide your stuff. If you’ve got something that is decent, go show it to somebody and get to know them. Don’t be afraid to give them a firm handshake.
MR: Which of your jobs—or aspects of your life—do you feel most made you qualified for working in public relations?
CR: Well, I’ve done PR work and I laugh and think, “Well, probably all of us do in a school like journalism.” It’s being able to make links with people and organizations—we’re all doing public relations work. And so, it’s just become part of your daily routine. At Saint Mary’s, we had a 125th anniversary and I found a report from a – I was on a committee to plan the PR for it—and it was a people planned event. Everything we did involved people. Nothing was, “Oh, look at us,” but rather, “Why don’t you come be with us?” And I did things on campus the same way.
Part of what you do, too, at a place like this, you prepare a student to go on and take on a challenge. You’re with them indirectly.
MR: I’m sure one of the ways you had to prepare students to take on the challenge of a career changed a lot during your career because of technology.
CR: Oh yeah.
MR: Can you describe what you saw?
CR: I couldn’t do what you are doing. My fingers wouldn’t hit the buttons right. But, you learn to go along with what’s happening, and pretty soon, if I had stayed in that kind of work, I would be better with these keyboards than I am. But, I don’t have to do it, so I don’t.
MR: What kind of technology were students using when you first got there?
CR: Cameras with sheet film—which are fun to work with. Typewriters—manual typewriters. You know, that affects the writing. I write notes to the faculty periodically, when I see an article that is good or one that I don’t like, and one of the realizations I had is that computers make it far easier for you to write long paragraphs, because you just keep going. We used to have to change the paper. You’d say, “Oh, I’ve got to start another one.” And then, your paragraphs would be much shorter. But, you’ll have to come back to the shorter paragraphs because people are not going to put up with these complex, complex sentences.
MR: And then, when you left, in 1995, what kind of technology were you seeing?
CR: We had computers, very primitive computers compared to what we have now. We had colored photography—which, it was all black and white for years. They had portable phones—you know, you used to go and have to find a phone to do anything. The wire had to be connected– now, you sit there, and as you sit there, taking it down by osmosis.
MR: Do you have anything else you’d like to share about your career?
CR: It’s been fun. I feel positive about what I did–and I didn’t plan it. So you have to be open minded when anything comes along. You know, working across campus, I didn’t plan that. But, someone asked me to do it and I though, “Oh sure, why not?” It was a great experience.
MR: From what I understand, you were also a nun for a little bit?
CR: 16 years.
MR: How was that? What was that like?
CR: Well, it was—at the beginning—I’ll go into more than you’ll ever want to know—but in the beginning, I had entered about the time that the Vatican II had occurred, which was 50 years ago. The communities were changing, and the women—the nuns were being encouraged to be educated. It used to be that they had to go a summertime and learn what they had to do to get a master’s degree or even an undergraduate degree. From Vatican II on, the routines were put in place that you had your bachelor’s degree while you were in training. Often, it went beyond that even, so that women in the teaching organizations really went into the classroom and had some sense of security in knowing what you were doing. “Oh, what did I learn yesterday that I put into place today?” And I already had my degree anyhow—I had my bachelor’s degree when I entered, so I had 10 years of experience. I didn’t look at some of these things the way younger people did.
But, the group I was with was up with what was going on. They were hard working, they weren’t afraid of taking on new activities. It was a good experience.
MR: Were you still in the sisterhood when you came to Chapel Hill?
CR: I had just left. Some people knew that I had been a nun — but they’re kind in this part of the country, nobody said a word. I would rather play it that way, you know.
MR: How did it affect your career while you were at Saint Mary’s or at Loyola?
CR: No problem. No problem. Loyola is a Jesuit institution; they have nuns around all the time. I went through all the steps, too. I wore all black for years and then they modified the habit, and so—you know, you just did what came along. It became nicer each step of the way—a lot cooler too.
MR: Do you think it helped your career at all, being with the discipline of the Church?
CR: No—well, who knows?
CR: Yeah, I’m not one who likes a lot of discipline being put on you. That is why when I entered, people would say, “What are you doing?” And I said, “I don’t know, but I think it’s time to do it.” And I did it, and I grew because of it.
MR: I’m sure a lot of people also kind of discriminated against you as a woman who was a nun.
CR: They discriminated more against me as a woman, before I was a nun. They accepted more when you were a nun.
MR: Even in the professional world?
CR: Well, the areas I was, it was—see I as teaching and I was in a Catholic institution—no problem. But, as far as—that’s an interesting question. The discrimination was probably one of the reasons why I became one. You know, I thought, “I might as well work with people who are positive.” And, you know, there weren’t a whole lot of single women out doing career things, unless they were really the—oh, who were those magazine editors that had these really sexy lives and things?
You know, if you just wanted to work and be with people and that, there weren’t a lot of places.
MR: So overall, how do you feel that you experienced the field of journalism throughout your career?
CR: Well, I was accepted, my students were accepted in the field—they’ve done well—most of them. I don’t know of any that were just outright no good. I never looked at that. You open new ideas.
MR: And, do you have any advice for people entering the field?
CR: Do what you think is right. You’re going to stay up late sometimes catching up, but it’s worth it. I marvel at the women who can raise families as well as have these active lives—the ones on the networks all have help. But, in a small town, it’s like—did you go to public school?
CR: Okay, I went to public school too. I had some teachers who had hellish kids, but they were wonderful with the students. You can have that in journalism too, where a woman can be a tremendous writer/editor/reporter—whatever it is—and not be able to keep touch on her kids.
MR: Did you experience a lot of your co-workers dealing with those issues?
CR: Well, I was with a bunch of old men when I was in the magazines– and when I was in academia, I had a variety of kinds of people. Teaching at the private schools, you had families who paid attention to their kids–I shudder to think of the way some kids were just put out to succeed or not succeed and don’t have family backgrounds or family close to them.
MR: Kind of tying in with that, I know you’ve done some writing on ethical issues in media. Can you describe a little of your work in that area?
CR: Oh gee—I gave away all my books. I don’t keep stuff. Knowing I don’t have a close family to want to keep that stuff, I’ve gotten rid of it. The basic principles are: is it honest? Is it helping or hindering the rest of the people around you? You can find all sorts of articles– if you wanted to go through the slime to find them– but is it worth it?
MR: Did you deal with any major ethical issues during your career as a public relations–?
CR: I probably did, but I don’t keep them. I had a pretty serene life.
MR: Yeah. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
CR: No. I have all these notes because eventually I think I should probably write this down, and I think, “Oh, well, what else happened there?” And each time someone asks me a question, I come back and think, “What did I do then? What can I fill in?”
MR: Well thank you! I really enjoyed—
CR: Good luck to you. Don’t lose touch!