Bob Dreyfuss ’70 Remembers “Good Times” at the College

Bob Dreyfuss
Bob Dreyfuss ’70 is a semi-retired independent journalist who’s spent the last 30 years writing about politics and national security for national magazines, including Rolling Stone, The Nation, Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic and many others. Dreyfuss has done countless political profiles, written about the U.S. intelligence community and its transgressions, covered the post–9-11 war on terrorism and its excesses, and reported from Iran, China, Vietnam and Tanzania. He’s made frequent appearances on radio and television, from Pacifica’s Democracy Now! to Fox News’ Hannity.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was in transition, from a small-town, central New Jersey upbringing with Catholic schools and a Republican, conservative household to a New York atheist with radical-left politics. (I was halfway there by 1966, when I arrived; Columbia and the city did the rest.) By the time of the 1968 Columbia strike, I was all in.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

My grandmother thought it was a good omen that I ended up in Carman, because my late grandfather’s name was (and my middle name is) Carmen. I remember card games in the hall after late-night runs to Ta-Kome, which we called “Ta-kome-ee.” My roommate went home every weekend, which meant my girlfriend and I had the room to ourselves.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

I fondly recall a writing class in which I insisted on writing terrible pieces in an impressionistic, ersatz E.E. Cummings-like style, until finally the professor wrote on one essay, “OK, I give up,” and gave me an A. Good times.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I can still smell the musty location deep in the Butler stacks where I had a campus job opening up vacuum tubes with book requests in them. Otherwise, yeah, I enjoyed sitting on the Sundial and people-watching. And the dark little coffeehouse in the basement of St. Paul’s Chapel, listening to acoustic music, was like heaven.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

My biggest regret is that when I applied to Columbia I knew almost nothing about college — neither of my parents had been — and I didn’t know what I wanted to be. So I applied to Columbia Engineering and ended up switching to CC at the start of my junior year when it finally dawned on me that I didn’t want to be an engineer. I remember sitting with the CC dean, who told me I could major in sociology because a lot of my math credits could apply to a sociology degree — but not to political science or history — and I could still graduate on time (so my four-year ride wouldn’t expire).