I was saddened to hear of the passing of David Adamany, who was president of Wayne State University when I was a student there three decades ago. Through the years, I remember him as a thoughtful, kind mentor.
In 1986, I was a Journalism and English major at WSU, and news editor at The South End, where I regularly put in late hours. I knew I wanted to be a journalist, and I considered my work at the student newspaper to be vital training for my future career. Unfortunately, I was also too young, or too careless, to fully realize the dangers of walking home to my Cass Corridor apartment late at night in what was then not the relatively safe campus area it is today.
On my way home one night, I was attacked and stabbed in a parking lot at Second Ave., and Prentis, just a few hundred feet away from my apartment. I spent a frightening night at Detroit Receiving Hospital. After I recovered, I wrote a front-page piece about the incident in The South End.
At the time, campus safety was very much in the news. Not only were parts of the Cass Corridor dangerous, there were unsafe, unlit "mud lots" for students on the edges of WSU's campus, where female students were regularly assaulted. I loved Wayne State, loved attending college in an urban environment, but safety was an important issue.
It was also an important issue for President Adamany. After my description of the attack appeared in the paper, I received a personal invitation to have brunch in his home to discuss the incident and campus safety.
I had previously known Adamany only on an official basis, as I covered Board of Governor's meetings for the paper. I had talked to him in a semi-adversarial way the previous year when he met with staff at The South End during a controversy. Our editor-in-chief had decided to no longer accept military recruitment ads in protest of U.S. policy in Central America. I say "semi," since I was among the few staffers at The South End who did not agree with our editor's decision. Adamany struck me as quite intelligent, but seemed, at first impression, to be a bit cold.
I changed my opinion of him drastically the following year, when we met at his campus residence to discuss my attack. I was greeted at the door by his partner. Adamany was among the first openly gay presidents of a major university, and I found this openness to be refreshing. Remember, this was 1986, and there was a certain amount of bravery involved in any public official openly admitting he's gay.
What struck me even more, though, was how his first questions, his first area of concern, was how I was feeling, how I was recovering physically and psychologically after my attack. He was not defensive about campus safety, did not accuse me of shining too negative a light on the campus community (as some did in angry letters to the editor after my article appeared).
He wanted to know if I was okay. Then we talked about his focus on campus safety and his larger dream of creating the kind of university-urban partnership WSU is today. I walked away from the meeting feeling like I knew this man whom many people thought of as aloof.
A few years later, after I embarked on my journalism career, I wrote to Adamany asking him for a job reference. He not only remembered who I was, but sent me a warm personal letter and gave me the job recommendation I needed. Today, I'm executive editor at a magazine based in Traverse City, and I feel I owe Adamany a debt for teaching me, during my college years, not only the value of vision and intelligence, but the importance of personal kindness. He will be greatly missed.