Slice of Life

Dean Emeritus and Professor retires after 28 years in Newhouse

Ally Moreo | Asst. Photo Editor

Dean Rubin has an affinity for the arts -- opera in particular.

David Rubin often goes into New York City to meet with media mogul Donald Newhouse, a man worth $10.8 billion. Both fans of the opera, together they go to the Metropolitan Opera for a show, or to dinner to talk about politics and the media industry.

Rubin’s retirement at the end of the semester will end his 28-year teaching career at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. This includes a 19-year tenure as dean, during which the infrastructure of the school was transformed. He orchestrated the expansion of faculty and services for students and has developed a crucial friendship with Donald Newhouse, helping propel the communications school to become one of the best in the country.

Rubin sat at his desk reflecting, piano music floating softly around the room. He concluded that he never planned for any of the directions life has taken him in.

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Ally Moreo | Asst. Photo Editor

After moving from the city, his family settled in a suburb on the East Side of Cleveland, where Rubin received a good public education and an acceptance to Columbia University for his undergraduate degree.

While in school he took on the role of the voice of Columbia sports, broadcasting football, basketball and baseball games. He considered going into the media as he approached graduation.

But his draft number was called, and he faced in a decision — fight in the Vietnam War or continue his education. He chose to accept a fellowship at Stanford University through the U.S. Department of Defense to study communications, which would allow him a deferment.

After Stanford, he once again abandoned thoughts of working in the media as he accepted a faculty position at New York University.

While teaching at NYU, Rubin started volunteering with the American Civil Liberties Union, helping create policies on first amendment issues. His committee had to think through things like obscenity regulation, child pornography and libel.

This sparked a passionate advocacy for freedom of speech and press that Rubin would carry with him from then on.

“I quickly began to realize that without the first amendment, without the freedom of expression, democracy cannot work,” he said.

In the city, his love for the arts frequently brought him to Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera, inspiring him to start writing about the music business.

An editor at Harper’s Magazine reached out to him in the early 1980s about doing a piece annotating a Carnegie Hall ticket and analyzing the economics of classical music concerts.

“That led other magazines to realize I was the guy who could write about this obscure subject of the music business, and so I got a lot of assignments,” Rubin said.

He found that many people in the industry shared a common pent-up frustration with the way music business worked. They wanted to have their thoughts published. One particular interview with an artist’s manager, lasting for nine hours, turned into an 8,000-word piece titled “All the Maestro’s Men.”

“The reason they named it ‘All the Maestro’s Men’ was because it turns out that the fulcrum of the music business hangs on conductors, and ‘maestro’ is the Italian word for a conductor, the leader, the master,” he said.

He didn’t know it yet, but soon Rubin would become the maestro for the Newhouse school.

Rubin didn’t seek out the deanship at Syracuse University — instead, he was recruited by the Newhouse search committee. After he visited the school and met some of its students, he decided to take the job.

When he arrived at Newhouse, he encountered enthusiastic students, a dedicated faculty and prestigious alumni. He also found a school that had essentially no infrastructure in place.

Only one staff member, Rosanna Grassi, was holding the school together administratively, and there was no alumni outreach or development center for students.

“In a way that was good, because then it meant that I didn’t have to undo anything,” Rubin reflected. “Because there was nothing to undo, I could just start.”

He did this with one mantra in mind: everything is about the students.

A center for career development was created, an effort Rubin cared so deeply for that the center is now named for him, Grassi said.

She recalled when Rubin created a committee of faculty called “the kitchen cabinet” because they met in his kitchen on Saturday’s to discuss the direction and needs of the school.

“He took an interest in us in ways that made us feel very much a part of the school and I think that was a kind of a unifying factor,” Grassi said.

Using the support and guidance of his faculty, Rubin immersed himself into additions to the school: alumni relations and fundraising operations, diversity efforts, an advisory board and, the most physically visible of his accomplishments, the construction of Newhouse 3.

One of the most difficult challenges, Rubin said, was thinking about how to navigate the digital disruption of the 1990s and 2000s, a movement he described as a “revolution” of technology.

He realized new equipment and new labs were needed for students to be able to leave Newhouse with the skills they would need, and he knew another building would be necessary to accommodate it.

So the school made the case to Donald Newhouse, who Rubin had been fostering a relationship with since he arrived as dean.

“The way the Newhouses work is they don’t believe in paper, they don’t want written requests, they don’t want a lot of reports — they don’t want any reports,” Rubin explained.  “They watch you — as they watched me — and when they trust you, when they think you know what you’re doing, that’s what matters to them.”

Donald and his brother Si were pleased with the direction Rubin had been taking things and agreed the school needed a new building. The Newhouses donated $15 million to help construct Newhouse 3.

Also aiding Rubin through this addition was his assistant Susan Nash, one of the few administrative staffers already working at the school before he arrived.

Nash described Rubin as a remarkable mentor and coach, who encouraged her to be instrumental in the construction of the new building.

“I think it’s a rare boss that understands that if they have somebody good, it’s the wiser path to help them grow,” she said.

Along with helping foster his staff professionally, Nash said, Rubin welcomed them into his life on a personal level too.

He and his wife would host barbecues in their backyard and invite the staff and all their families.

When a staff member’s father passed away, Rubin drove to Rochester to go to the calling hours. When another faculty member was sick in the hospital, he took the time to send a book he knew they’d enjoy.

“He helped build the culture of a family,” Nash said.

Rubin also saw a connection with the students of Newhouse as very important. It was by no means an obligation, Rosanna Grassi said, but a desire he had to interact with students on a personal level.

So Rubin chose to teach courses of 50-70 students every semester he was dean. He continuously repeats that all that matters is what happens in the classroom.

“He chose to stay close to the students,” Grassi said.

So as the notes of Pomp and Circumstance fill the air at graduation every year, Rubin watches students cross the stage knowing he has taught just about a third of them.

And he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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