Everything I learned about journalism, I learned in Ernie Pyle Hall.
The unimposing limestone building, nestled in the middle of the most beautiful part of Indiana University near the Indiana Memorial Union, was where I spent most of my waking hours while working on my master’s degree.
I never gave much thought to the physical building while a student at IU, but I sure knew all about Ernie Pyle, whose name has been the face of the School of Journalism since 1954.
Ernie Pyle, an Indiana native from Dana and nationally syndicated columnist, wrote his columns in a folksy, down-to-earth manner, always focusing on the common man, the common situation, the common place.
Many of Pyle’s war time columns can be found on the IU School of Journalism website. The snippets about Captain Henry T. Waskow of Belton, Texas, and Sgt. Bill Mauldin of Mountain Park, N.M., are two of my favorites. Columns such as these earned Pyle the Pulitzer Prize in 1944.
He was the country’s first aviation columnist. Amelia Earhart said, “Any aviator who didn’t know Pyle was a nobody.”
Pyle was also one of the first to report the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach on the coast of Normandy.
It was just 10 months later, when Pyle was 45 years old, that he died after being machine-gunned by Japanese forces.
I looked at Ernie Pyle’s larger than life photograph every day when walking through the front doors of the hall that bares his name. I read his columns and listened to professors talk about him in my classrooms. Pyle’s papers and archives are held primarily by the Lilly Library at IU.
I decided back then that Ernie Pyle was my kind of journalist. If I could spend my days writing columns like Pyle, well now, that would be a career well spent.
So, it is with great sadness that I come to learn that plans are being made by IU trustees to merge the School of Journalism with the College of Arts and Sciences, doing away all together with the name Ernie Pyle.
In July 2012, IU President Michael A. McRobbie told the Bloomington Times-Herald that “There’s no point in saving a school that trains people to manage fleets of horses if the motorcar has taken over horse-drawn transportation.”
As a graduate of Indiana University, a former resident assistant at Collins Living-Learning Center, and a life member of the IU Alumni Association, I take great offense at McRobbie’s comment. It is both disrespectful and offensive.
There are some things in life that you don’t mess with. Ernie Pyle is one of them.
Any man who donned army fatigues, put himself in harm’s way on the battlefields in Italy and Germany during World War II, and sent stories home about our brave men in combat is just the kind of role model our young journalists need in 2013.
Instead, McRobbie and the trustees want to expunge Pyle’s name from the building itself and IU as a whole.
Shame on them.
Ernie Pyle once said that war had become “a flat, black depression without highlights, a revulsion of the mind and an exhaustion of the spirit.”
The present situation at Indiana Universtiy is just that — a black depression, a revulsion of the mind, and most of all, an exhaustion of the spirit.
Alvia Lewis Frey is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.