Newtown Bee does another story!

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A couple weeks ago, I talked to my daughter’s sixth-grade cluster about memoir writing. It was a wonderful surprise to find a Newtown Bee reporter in the class that day, because she was there to write a story about my class visit.

Here is the story that ran online on October 5, and then in print on Oct. 12!

“With sixth grade students in Michelle Vaccaro and Courtney Martin’s cluster seated before him, district parent and local author Matt Tullis discussed writing and his recently published book, Running With Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer, on September 25.

“’We’re so happy that you are here to talk about writing,’ said Ms Vaccaro, adding that the students were lucky Mr Tullis’s daughter Lily was in the cluster to arrange the first guest speaker visit of the school year.”

Running With Ghosts: 1 Year Anniversary!

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One year ago today, I was celebrating the fact that Running With Ghosts had just gone on sale when I received a message via Facebook from a Maryanne Gabriele. The name didn’t look familiar, but I went ahead and read it anyway.

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She included a photo, along with the sentence, “That’s me and Melissa right before she was diagnosed.”

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The first sentence gave of her message me chills. I knew of Maryanne, from my talks with Melissa’s mom, Louise. But I had never pushed further, never tried to get in touch with her. It was a lapse in my reporting, because if I had, I would have learned so much more about Melissa. But I was also leery about reaching out to another stranger and asking them to talk to me about someone who had died so long ago. I told myself that I didn’t really have time; that I had to get the book done and that was that.

I read Maryanne’s message a couple times, thinking that she must have sent it because she knew Running With Ghosts had just come out. But there was nothing in the message saying anything about the book, and I realized that she probably didn’t know about it, which made her message to me, on that day, all the more incredible.

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Her response: Screen Shot 2018-08-30 at 2.54.02 PM

I still don’t know what to make of the randomness of Maryanne reaching out to me about a story I wrote about her best friend two years earlier, and having that message land in my inbox directly on the day that story became a book. I don’t believe in the afterlife, but Melissa did. She kept her faith even as her hours waned, a faith I gave up the moment I learned she had died. Melissa was also a planner extraordinaire. She planned her father’s 50th birthday party from her hospital bed. She planned her own funeral.

If anyone could ever pull something like this off twenty-four years after she died — somehow connecting the best friend of her life with a kid she knew while battling cancer, all on the day that kid’s book came out, it would be her.

Running With Ghosts is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and anywhere else books are sold.

Media Coverage

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RunningWithGhost_FC_F[2] (1)Running With Ghosts: A Memoir of Surviving Childhood Cancer got a lot of wonderful media coverage. Below is a list (with links) to all the stories that were done on Matt and the book.

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• The Newtown Bee did a nice story on Matt’s visit to his daughter’s sixth-grade cluster to talk about memoir writing.

• News@Fairfield had this piece online today about the upcoming reading and book talk at the Fairfield University bookstore.

• Matt wrote this piece for Fairfield University’s blog, ThinkSpace. It’s focused on the writing of Running With Ghosts.

• News 12 in Norwalk, CT, did this package on the book on Sept. 25. Earlier in the day, they aired this segment earlier.

• Cleveland.com stopped by the Running With Ghosts table at the Akron Marathon Expo and did nice, short story.

• The Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com ran a story (Running to Remember) about Matt and other patients who have been named Heroes for the upcoming Akron Marathon.

• The Daily Record (Matt’s first full-time newspaper gig!) and the Ashland Times-Gazette (where Matt first covered high school football) ran “Running With Ghosts: Tullis’s memoir Recalls his Childhood Fight With Cancer.”

• Matt was a guest on Gangrey: The Podcast, talking about the book. Matt has hosted 53 episodes of the podcast. This is the first time he was a guest.


Cleveland Magazine called Running With Ghosts “an unflinching memoir with an air of documentary reality and emotional self-reflection.” Read the magazine’s Q&A with Matt Tullis here.

• You can listen to Matt talk about the book with Brendan O’Meara on the Creative Nonfiction Podcast by clicking here.

Big raises for some administrators at Ashland University; job cuts for the faculty

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By Matt Tullis

Eleven days before about 23 Ashland University faculty — many of them tenured — received letters letting them know their jobs were being terminated, the university announced that Scott Van Loo was being promoted from vice president of marketing and enrollment to executive vice president.

Van Loo held the job of executive vice president for a little more than a year before leaving to become vice president of enrollment at Cedarville University, but that job came with a hefty pay raise, according to the 2015 IRS 990 form filed by AU with the federal government. That form covers AU’s fiscal year, which ran from June 1, 2015-May 31, 2016, however the figures in the table below, according to IRS instructions for Schedule J (which is where the table below appears), include salaries for the calendar year ending within the organization’s fiscal year, which in this case was 2015

According to those forms (both the 2014 and the 2015 filing), Van Loo’s reportable compensation went from $115,902 in 2014 to $154,799 in 2015, the year he was promoted, an increase of $38,897, or 33.6 percent. His total compensation jumped from $137,848 to $180,453, an increase of $42,605.

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Taken from page 47 of Ashland University 2015 IRS 990 form

This raise came at a time when Carlos Campo, who had just taken over as AU president in June of that year, was saying that the university was not OK financially.

“Here’s an institution that frankly was in peril of defaulting,” he said, according to The Collegian, AU’s award-winning student newspaper. “We were in peril of being the next Virginia Intermont (a private liberal arts school that closed in 2014). We’re not there; we’re not in danger of closing our doors.”

And yet, Van Loo received a raise that was close to the amount that AU paid newly hired professors for an entire year. For a little bit of perspective, consider that my first contract as a faculty member at AU came in at $47,000, just about $8,100 more than Van Loo’s raise.

I spent eight years at Ashland University as a professor. I was originally hired in the English Department. At the start of my third year, I helped form the new Journalism and Digital Media department. I obtained tenure and was promoted to associate professor in 2014, the year before Van Loo’s promotion. All told, my base compensation increased a grand total of $7,875 from 2007 through 2016, a 16.75 percent increase. The vast majority of that increase came from the 10.5 percent raise, or $5,214, that I got when I was granted tenure and was promoted to associate professor.

Because the university was in dire financial straights in 2015, faculty didn’t get an across-the-board, cost-of-living raise for the second straight year. The only faculty who did get a raise were those who were tenured and promoted, a decision that is made by the Board of Trustees, usually in January (one of the professors who was tenured and promoted in January 2015 was terminated eight months later in Campo’s cuts).

Despite the fact that faculty were not getting raises, other university administrators did in 2015.

Stephen Storck, the vice president of finance and administration, received a 2.8 percent raise that year. That took his pay up to $165,550. Margaret Pomfret, the vice president of development saw her pay increase by 3.4 percent, up to $149,096. Just two years earlier, in 2013, Pomfret had made $137,095, meaning that in the two years that faculty received no raises, Pomfret’s pay increased by $12,001, or 8.8 percent.

Even the position of provost, which in 2015-16 was an interim position, saw a significant increase in pay. Douglas Fiore was hired originally by AU to be the new dean of the College of Education, but he took over as interim provost when Frank Pettigrew was “pushed out” by the board after a nearly unanimous vote of no confidence against him and former president Fred Finks by the AU Faculty Senate in May 2014.

I use quotation marks around pushed out, though, because Pettigrew remained on the payroll. He received $153,682 in 2014 despite having no job responsibilities other than being a consultant for the university. The following year, despite being interim, Fiore was paid $166,527, an 8.4 percent increase over what Pettigrew’s final full-year contract paid him.

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Taken from page 17 of Ashland University 2015 IRS 990 form

And even though Fiore was doing the provost job full-time, Pettigrew was still paid $59,760 in 2015, an amount that far exceeds what many AU professors, particularly those in the College of Arts and Sciences, make in an entire contract year. I never made more than $56,883 (which was my base compensation plus supplemental contracts for things like advising student internships in 2014-15) in a single year at AU.

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Taken from page 16 of Ashland University 2015 IRS 990 form

And, of course, AU was paying at least two presidents in 2015. Campo was paid $204,354 during his first semester as president, which means his annual contract probably comes out to more than $400,000 (which in and of itself should infuriate faculty, given the fact that’s about a 14 percent raise over what Finks made in his final year as president.

William Crothers, who served as interim president in 2014-15, made $140,727 in 2014 and $144,382 the following year. It’s not ridiculous to assume that that means he was paid $285,109 to be president (which is a bargain compared to what Fred Finks was being paid before him!). Crothers kicked off the faculty cuts in October 2014 when he informed 15 faculty members they were losing their jobs.

Finally, in 2015, AU paid Fred Finks $349,959, which is a little less than the $350,972 he made in 2014 (which included one semester — the spring — in which he was president, a semester that ended in Faculty Senate’s vote of no confidence).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lake Effect: Lessons Learned from a Life Well Written

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The following was written by Fairfield University senior Nicole Funaro for my Sports Journalism course. The assignment called on them to interview a nationally-recognized sports writer. Nicole talked with Thomas Lake. — Matt

By Nicole Funaro

Thomas-Lake1-171x300It only took two rings before I was greeted with a cautious “hello.” His voice sounded like he had been debating whether or not to pick up, and understandably so, considering an unknown Connecticut number lit up the screen of the Atlanta-based writer’s phone. But once I nervously, yet proudly asserted that I was one of Matt’s students, his voice smoothed and softened. Our introduction and opening pleasantries gave way to my first question, and then I, the novice, was tasked with interviewing the seasoned professional. And this “seasoned professional” wasn’t just anyone; it was CNN Digital’s senior writer, Thomas Lake.

While Lake now sits atop CNN’s digital news outlet, he never dreamed of holding such a title — that is, he never dreamed of it because he never set out to pursue journalism in the first place. As a student at Herkimer Community College in upstate New York, Lake was a general studies major with little idea of what career he’d pursue, something that followed him even as he began Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts a few years later. However, inspiration finally came when he took a feature writing class with a professor named Steve Crowe.

“I’d always enjoyed writing, and taking this class sort of showed me what the possibilities were,” he said. “That someone could spend their career and actually get paid telling exciting stories — it sounded very appealing to me.”

That wasn’t the only thing Lake got out of Crowe’s class: Crowe helped him land an internship in the fall of his senior year at the Salem News, a paper for which Crowe previously worked. Following his senior year, a young Lake bounced from working at a twice-weekly newspaper in rural Georgia — a paper where he said he “got to make some of [his] worst rookie mistakes on a very small stage” — to serving as a full-time staffer at the Salem Times, to finally landing what he thought was his dream job with the St. Petersburg Times.

But by 2008, Lake was already eyeing his next move and decided to send an email to one of his favorite writers, Gary Smith.

“Amazingly,” Lake said, “he wrote back. I sent him a story I had done at the St. Petersburg Times, and he liked it well enough that he got on the phone to the big boss, the editor of Sports Illustrated in New York, and said, ‘Hey, you should give this kid a chance.’”

And the rest, as they say, is history. He stayed with the magazine until 2015 when his position was eliminated due to budget cuts, then taking his knack for storytelling to CNN as an “outsider” looking in on the complex world of politics. With a book about the 2016 presidential election (“Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything”) under his belt, a circuitous career to look back on and more still to come, Lake said the topics he writes about are of little importance; in fact, he doesn’t much care for sports or politics. Instead, he looks for universal themes to transform into rich stories.

“I love finding moments of human drama and split-second decisions people make that have long-term consequences,” he explained, something he certainly achieved in his most famous work, “2 on 5.”

A time-hopping wonder that simultaneously foreshadows and reflects, Lake’s omniscient approach to telling the story of an underdog Alabama basketball team in “2 on 5” shelves the traditional Cinderella story and talks fate, hardship, redemption and demise. For Lake, weaving the intricate tale required some contemplation of his own.

“I think a huge part of the best writing is thinking — stopping and thinking,” he said. “There was so much that I did on that story in particular, just sitting there in silence with no distractions, nothing fragmenting my attention at all and sitting alone in a cheap hotel room.”

It seems that minimizing distraction has been Lake’s MO all along; once he decided to pursue journalism, he’s never once broken his focus, always keeping his eyes fixed on his next move. Even when considering budding journalists, Lake offered more of the same.

“Report and write as much as you can,” he said. “Keep a journal or some other kind of notebook. Sit on the quad and just write descriptions of what you’re seeing — your sensory experiences — because all that just flexes those muscles. Ultimately, you’re only as good as your ability to put experiences into words, and so you’ve got to be practicing that and then reading the best writing.”

I hung up the phone and sat in amazement. “I just spoke to a writer for CNN, a place that maybe I’ll work some day,” I thought. After all, that’s why I wanted to interview him in the first place: to make a connection at an organization where maybe I too could catch one of the lucky breaks that seemed to mark Lake’s own career.

As I reflected on our conversation, a wave of mixed emotions consumed me. I was at once hungry for the experiences he’s had, envious of his writing abilities and hopeful. Hopeful that if I keep writing just like he advised, maybe I could carve out a similar place for myself in journalism. I ran through the rest of the day hearing two rings of the phone and three words echoing in my head: just keep writing.

 

 

Lawsuit against Ashland University will define value of tenure

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Ashland University recently announced that it granted tenure to three faculty members.

I worked with two of the faculty who received tenure prior to leaving for Fairfield University in Connecticut last year. While I am incredibly happy that the hard work these faculty have done has been recognized, I worry that the reward of tenure is meaningless at AU.

In August 2015, several tenured faculty — the university has never actually said how many — were told their jobs were being eliminated. As of January 2017, they are no longer employed by AU. This move on the administration’s part is the primary reason I left AU. I no longer felt the tenure I was granted in 2014 meant anything.

Fortunately, seven faculty members whose jobs were eliminated have filed a lawsuit against the university claiming administrators violated the rules and regulations that govern the university when it comes to this type of act. (You can read the entire complaint by clicking here.)

This is an incredibly important lawsuit, not just for Ashland University, but for universities in general. It boils down to what the definition of the word restructure is, and it has the potential to destroy tenure, the staple of academic freedom that has made American universities the great institutions they are.

The university’s rules and regulations contain wording that allows the administration to eliminate tenured faculty members. The first reason is because the university is on the verge of financial collapse. Here, the Board of Trustees would have to declare something called “financial exigency.” Once a board declares that, it’s open season on tenured faculty, all in the effort to save the university.

It’s no secret that AU has not done well when it comes to managing money over the last decade. However, the trustees have not declared financial exigency.

Other than dire financial straits, according to the rules and regulations, the university can remove tenured faculty members because of the “formal discontinuance of a program or department,” or the “formal restructuring of a program or department of instruction.”

The seven faculty members claim, according to their lawsuit, that the university has not restructured anything. No departments have been eliminated. Curriculum has remained virtually the same. The classes these faculty taught are still being offered to students, albeit taught by significantly lower-paid, part-time faculty.

The university, on the other hand, has claimed that a prioritization process conducted in 2014-15 identified departments that could possibly be restructured, and that was in essence a restructuring. I know this because I heard it many times when faculty questioned the administration about the firings before I left AU.

Basically, AU is arguing that simply saying the university should restructure is an act of restructuring.

Why is this important?

If the university prevails in this lawsuit, then tenure is dead at Ashland University. It would mean that any time the university felt the need to get rid of a faculty member, for any reason at all, they could simply say “We’re restructuring. You’re fired.”

This is chilling. In higher education, faculty need to be able to question the moves administrators make, and vice versa. Universities depend on shared governance, where the faculty and the administration make decisions together for the betterment of the institution.

Why do I care about this? I’m an alumnus, and I care about AU. This is something all alumni should care about, because if the administration prevails, AU will no longer be able to attract the type of faculty who made us who we are today.

It won’t be the AU that we know and love. It probably already isn’t.

Sincerely,

Matt Tullis, ‘98

Sandy Hook, CT

 

The Bridge

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The actual pedestrian bridge.

There’s an enclosed pedestrian bridge that spans Locust Street in Akron. It connects a parking garage and medical building to the third floor entrance of Akron Children’s Hospital. I crossed that bridge on January 4, 1991. I was scared, tired, still not sure of what was going on. I didn’t know why I was in Akron, other than the fact that I had been exhausted for the last couple weeks, that I had a severe pain in my back, and that doctors in Wooster had said something about leukemia. But I didn’t know what that was or what it meant. I didn’t know how long I would be there. I didn’t know what I would face in the coming days, months and years. I couldn’t comprehend all of the ways in which, in crossing that bridge, my life would change. I couldn’t comprehend that I would never be the same, or, that it would take me nearly a quarter-century to realize that my life was never the same, and any attempts to get back to the Matt I was before I crossed the bridge were futile.

I think about how that bridge can never be uncrossed. Indeed, trying to uncross it, trying to understand and unpack everything that crossing it that first time meant, has caused me to cross that bridge — both figuratively and literally — hundreds of more times. Because when I go to Akron Children’s Hospital to visit with my old nurses or to look at my medical records or to participate in an event the hospital is having, I always park in that same old parking garage and enter the same way, despite the fact the hospital has built a new parking garage and created a new, much nicer, main entrance. I can’t park anywhere else, because I feel I have to always enter the hospital the exact same way from which I initially came.

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The view, toward my old room and the Ronald McDonald House.

I walk across that bridge and I look out to the left and see the Ronald McDonald House. I see the space where Room 462 used to look out on the intersection of Locust and State. In my mind’s eye, I can see it exactly as I saw it when I crossed over the first time. And when I look forward, I see the same teal and pink carpet leading straight ahead to a welcome desk that is still staffed by elderly volunteers, and I see those orange elevators behind the volunteers, elevators that sometime around 9:30 a.m. on January 4, 1991, took me up as I sat in a wheelchair to the fourth floor. I still take those same elevators because I don’t know any other way, nor do I want to. When I am in that space, on that bridge, walking past that desk, standing in the elevator, my heart races and everything comes back in clear bursts. And instead of making me scared or confused, I feel calm, like that is the place I am meant to be.