Popular rock critic, writer to be lecturer

By BenitaZepeda

When Jim DeRogatis, a current adjunct faculty member, expressed interest in becoming a full-time faculty member at Columbia, it just so happened there was a position in the English Department available beginning in fall 2010.

DeRogatis decided to leave his position as pop music critic at the Chicago Sun-Times after 15 years. His last day at the paper will be May 5. He will continue to host his WBEZ radio show “Sound Opinions” alongside Greg Kot and will become a blogger on Vocalo.org, in addition to teaching at Columbia full time.

He is the author of nine books, including a biography of Lester Bangs, which inspired the 2000 film “Almost Famous.” He has served as assistant editor at Rolling Stone and Request magazines.  In addition, DeRogatis has written for Spin, Guitar World, Modern Drummer, Penthouse and GQ magazines.

“I have had the privilege over the last 15 to 20 years in Chicago to speak at pretty much every school in town,” DeRogatis said. “All these classes have never held a candle to the kind of energy, enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, diversity of interests and the fire in the belly I get any time I’m in front of a class at Columbia.”

Deborah Holdstein, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said his résumé, in addition to his personality, makes him a great fit for Columbia.

Holdstein said DeRogatis will bring distinction and practical experience to the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the English Department.

Ken Daley, chair of the English Department, said DeRogatis currently teaches the course Reviewing the Arts and he will be developing an honors section. This is in addition to various other classes he will take on while teaching full time.

“We offer Careers in Writing, which is in the Professional Writing program and we expect Jim to be teaching that,” Daley said. “We have Writing for New Media, which we also think he would be really great at. We are developing a course called Writing for the Worldwide Web and we hope that he will be offering a course in our creative writing program, perhaps in biography.”

Daley said that DeRogatis’ compensation will be slightly different as well. When he was an adjunct faculty member, his pay was based on the amount of credit hours he taught. Daley said now DeRogatis will receive a salary that includes benefits.

Holdstein added that DeRogatis’ salary is nowhere near what he made at the Sun-Times and is far from six figures.

“He is getting a very reasonable salary, but somewhat less than a tenure-track faculty member,” Holdstein said. “This proves his commitment to Columbia is not based

on money.”

Daley said DeRogatis initially approached him and expressed interest in coming to Columbia full time. When a full-time position opened in the English Department, Daley, along with his colleagues, found the opening an appropriate fit for DeRogatis.

“A lecture line became available in the department of English,” Daley said. “We have a number of those lines that are part of our budget already, and this is not a new line. He is replacing someone who has been here for a number of years and has finished a term.”

DeRogatis said he prefers teaching in the English Department as opposed to teaching in the Journalism or the AEMM departments because of the diversity of various majors available in those classes.

“All these kids need to learn how to write,” DeRogatis said. “At some point, you are going to have to make a pitch to get the couple million dollars you need to make that movie. To me, it is just a joy to help students learn how to do that right, and I think its going to help them no matter what they are doing.”

Greg Kot, music critic at the Chicago Tribune and co-host of “Sound Opinions,”said DeRogatis’s departure is definitely a loss for the Sun-Times and a great gain for Columbia students and the college.

“I’m actually surprised the Sun-Times is letting him go without a bigger fight,” Kot said. “I think it makes a natural fit for him to be in academia because of his interests and curiosity for the world.”

Kot said he thinks it was definitely a hard decision for DeRogatis to cut ties with the Sun-Times, but feels it was perfect timing for him to make a transition. He added that he believes DeRogatis was ready for a new challenge, especially because the Sun-Times  is financially strained, resulting in massive pay cuts.

“I would say that the Sun-Times got more out of Jim than they gave to him,” Kot said. “I think from Jim’s perspective, the decision was made a lot easier by one, there was a sense there was grave doubts about how long the Sun-Times was going to be around. And two, he was comfortable teaching at Columbia and got an excellent offer to be a full-time faculty member. Those offers don’t come around often and I think the timing was good.”

Daley said any full-time lecturer positions in the past have only been offered in the First Year Writing program, which is part of the core curriculum in the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The English Department has been looking to expand offerings  in the Professional Writing program, which is a concentration in the English Department.

“A lecturer helps bring some consistency to those offerings,” Daley said. “[That is] someone who teaches a number of courses every year, often the same course. It just made sense.”

Doug Richert Powell, assistant professor in the English Department and director of the Professional Writing program, said DeRogatis’ range of experience will help students engage with the way print media is in a transitional state in regard to online mediums.

“We’re going to work on courses for the Professional Writing program that will explore the longer-form work [DeRogatis] has done that combines reviewing with research and even biographical writing,” Richert Powell said. “Now we have someone with such a high professional profile that will help anchor some of our course offerings.”

Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, said Columbia has asked DeRogatis to have a role in Manifest by doing a critical appraisal of bands’ performances there, and to announce the band that wins the contest.

Daley said he has spoken to many individuals in the college who are excited about DeRogatis’ future contribution to the college as a full-time lecturer.

“I think in addition to helping us really create a lot of energy and dynamism with the offerings in Professional Writing,” Daley said, “I think his presence here is going to be attractive to the students and the college which fits right in with the mission of the college. Jim is a perfect fit for Columbia College.”