Every year the yearbook shows seniors sipping Cokes in the dorm rooms, and the little security guard ticketing cars in the parking lot. If you show those things, then you should also show Vassar men and women taking showers together. That too is part of our daily life.”
Few campus insiders would seriously quarrel with this assessment of life at Vassar from 22-year-old Terry Gruber, editor of the college’s 1975 yearbook, Vassarion. But Gruber has triggered a lively spring scandal at the famed Poughkeepsie, N.Y. school—now one-third male—with an adventurous editorial policy based on his views. To show the “common ground of Vassar experiences,” Gruber tried to spice up this year’s Vassarion with photos of one couple showering in a co-ed dorm and others making love, including a picture artfully shot through a mock keyhole.
Shortly after Gruber delivered the yearbook copy and pictures for publication, the college got a call from the Pennsylvania printer. Before the presses started to roll, perhaps an official might want to look at some of the layouts. The printer also advised that cost overruns under Gruber’s editorship were spiraling toward $15,000—dwarfing the $3,000 budget. (At one point, Gruber tried to demonstrate good faith and even his ability to go it alone by giving the printer a $3,750 personal check written by a rich Vassarion staffer.)
Student Government Association President Erica Ryland and Senior Class President Rosalind Fultz, along with two representatives of the college, decided to go to Pennsylvania for a look. Even before they left, however, President Ryland called Gruber to tell him “you are off the yearbook.” One glimpse of the questionable pictures was enough. Dismayed as much by the economics as by the impropriety, they deleted some 30 pages, including $3,000 worth of color photos, and a fairly precious 12-page “History of the Class of 1975,” which described the college’s mood during Gruber’s years as “delicious decadence.”
“There are over 2,000 people on this campus,” says Erica Ryland, “and what we saw was the four-year history of Terry Gruber and his clique of glib, witty friends. They present a very slanted view of Vassar—a sordid life, of carousing, blowing their minds, definitely a nonintellectual view. It was a judgment we felt we had to make because Terry abused his power.”
Gruber, a senior who wants to be a filmmaker after college, replies that he solicited student participation in the yearbook, but received almost none. “We were never sure we had enough perspectives,” he says, “but that was what we had to go to press with.”
The campus quickly polarized after Gruber’s dismissal. A ripoff by Terry and his pirates, some students said. Prudish censorship, others charged.
Within days the student senate, agreeing due process had been violated, reinstated Gruber as editor. But it also cautiously voted to entrust editorial responsibility for the yearbook to a committee of which Gruber is only one of nine members.
“Editorship by committee just can’t work,” complains Gruber, the son of a sculptress and a Pittsburgh steel executive. “I’m sad about the whole thing. I did the book because I really liked Vassar, not to disgrace it. Students are taking offense at things that go on, but which they’d rather not see.
“It’s a very freshman thing to take co-ed showers. My best memories, in fact, are of showers in my freshman year. It’s also interesting,” adds Gruber, “that the longest line I have ever seen at Vassar was in the office where all the deleted material was put on display.”