Art Levin · 2003
By Howard Caldwell
Art Levin decided back in the sixth grade that he would be a journalist. Actually the interest was taking shape before that, thanks to his parents. They were vitally interested in current issues and discussed them with friends and family. Primary sources were radio and newspapers. This was during the pre-World War II era.
The Levin family didn’t have a daily newspaper delivery. They just couldn’t afford that luxury. Art’s father commuted to his Chicago job and collected newspapers on the elevated train ride home, discarded by fellow travelers after they read them. This was a very important part of the family routine. Neither of Art’s parents had graduated from high school, but both were convinced that reading created a path to education and success for their son.
When Art’s grade school teacher invited him to become editor of the school newspaper, he was ready and eager. Without hesitation, he accepted and proudly proclaimed he was going to be a journalist when he grew up. However, something else was happening, perhaps more subtly. The way certain teachers imparted knowledge and guidance to their students also didn’t escape young Art. Those impressions would surface later – impressions that were born early in Art’s academic career, the first grade, in fact. He remembers Mrs. Hett as someone who "saw her little charges as lumps of malleable clay to be molded and shaped and turned out to learn, armed with garlands of encouragement."
He was still sensitive to and thus benefiting from superior classroom experiences when he reached the halls of higher education At Bradley University he remembers, "a circuit riding philosopher-preacher explored with his class the world of ideas and for the first time I learned to think critically as I sat in awe of the passion a professor could bring to his classroom." Then there was the English professor with a doctorate from Harvard who "brought beauty into my life and gave me a live-long love of Chaucer and Shakespeare."
At the University of Minnesota, Art recalls "an aging, unapproachable pioneer in communication law who taught his doctoral students how these without a voice had pursued their rights under the First Amendments and thus insured those rights for everyone. Under Dr. J. Edward Gearld’s influence I would teach law of the press for the next 35 years at three universities." Levin earned both his B.S. and M.A. degrees at Bradley. He completed all course work for a doctorate at Minnesota where he also taught classes in reporting and editing.
Art was still in high school when he was hired by the Chicago Herald American to be a copy boy and write for the sports department. His first teaching experience occurred during active duty in the U.S. Army. He was a high-speed radio operator of a signal battalion in Korea and Japan. During this time, he volunteered to teach a course in journalism to a group of officers who needed additional college credit. Some of his "students" were difficult. They believed all news needed censoring. Art said he had fun trying to change attitudes. Back in civilian life, he was free of those problems when he was hired to teach English and journalism at high schools in East Moline (1 year) and Hillside (9 years) in Illinois. He doubled as track coach and public relations director at the latter school.
His first university assignment found him at Mankato State University in Minnesota, where he created a journalism department and a daily newspaper. Success there got Michigan State’s attention. He became an Assistant Professor and publisher of what at the time was called the "world’s largest college newspaper." Two years later, in 1973, he came to Butler University as Professor and Chair of the Journalism Department. The Department rose from one faculty member and thirty journalism majors in 1973 to six faculty members and 200 majors over the next twenty-five years.
During those busy years, he always found time to counsel, encourage, motivate and advise any student who asked for his time. He also continued to be available for them in applying for jobs and in making career decisions. Former students confirm this: These are some of the quote from former students now following careers in journalism: 1) "Professor Levin is a conscientious, well-informed and thoughtful journalism teacher. He is rigorous in his demands, kind in his interactions with students and very motivational." 2) "Art’s journalism law class was famous on campus. For many of his students, it provided the most enduring memories of him as a champion of the First Amendment." 3) "I enjoyed swinging by Levin’s office to talk about topics ranging from the challenge of running a student newspaper to the joy of raising his young daughter." (Note: wife Stephanie had a hand in that too.) "No matter what, Levin always had a smile and a kind word for me."
Levin has frequently been recognized by colleagues for his expertise in the field. Twice he has addressed visiting foreign print and broadcast journalists in visits sponsored by the U.S. State Department. His title: "Free speech and a Free press." He has made dozens of appearances before local communication organizations, including Indiana chapters of Sigma Delta Chi (now the Society of Professional Journalists) and to both high school and elementary school audiences.
Six years ago, Art stepped away from his administrative duties to concentrate on his first love, teaching and guiding new prospective journalists. He admits concern that more students today don’t find working on a newspaper very desirable. Levin says they are indeed intelligent, idealistic, sensitive and receptive to learning how to write and communicate better, but he suspects "with some sadness that they probably will never write nor communicate to a newspaper audience." Art retires at the end of this semester.
That decision he made back in the sixth grade has survived the test of time. Who but Art could express it better? "Teaching has provided me with a lifetime of thrills and satisfaction. I have never tried to do ill and I have always encouraged those students who needed a lift in life. I have shared my dreams for journalism, shared my passion for literature and for great ideas with thousands of students and through it all helped some of them find a more comfortable path on their life’s journey. In truth, through teaching, I have traveled the ‘yellow brick road’ and found my own personal rainbow. In my 70 years, I have needed no more than that."