Across the table is a senior English professor. He’s losing again; English is his thing, not the game of bridge. A dog lies by the door, whining for attention. It’s the roommates’s pup, one of many in the Quonset huts–miniature airplane hangar-like corrugated steel buildings. Jim Duffy’49 steps outside. To one side is Pearsons. To the other, and down the oak-studded hillside is the Rock River. The year is 1949 and aside from a few buildings, flora and the dress of the characters crossing its paths, the Beloit College campus doesn’t seem much different than today. It’s still quaint and beautiful, professors’ doors are almost always open, and academic discussion fills the classrooms and living spaces. That’s how Mr. Duffy remembers Beloit.
He also recalls working on the Fairbanks Morse Engine Company assembly line after classes, the odd jobs business and the pre-McDonald’s hamburger business he and a buddy started, his days writing for the Beloit College News Service, the Beloit Daily News and various other regional newspapers, and announcing sports games and evening shows on two different radio stations.
In other words, Mr. Duffy’s Beloit education was replete with experience beyond the classroom, experience he says was vital to his development. Working on the assembly line assured him he didn’t want that for a career. He found washing cars, cleaning floors and painting houses to be tedious as well. Selling burgers was fun, but they just couldn’t pull off the business. Mr. Duffy finally hit his stride in journalism and broadcasting.
“That was all while going to school, and my grades just got better and better, and I grew more interested in the classes. I think part of that was the influence, even the energy, coming from practical learning–action and reflection,” says Mr. Duffy.
It was this ongoing process of learning and the diversity of what he learned at Beloit that he says made for his successful career. Between 1949 and 1995, Mr. Duffy worked in nearly every sector of radio and television broadcasting possible–as a journalist, commentator, publicist, salesman, programmer, spokesman, statesman and public servant–which culminated in his 15-year stint as the president of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and the industry’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.
“I moved with the tempo of the times. I just had to accept new factors and adjust to them,” he says.
His Beloit-inspired thoughtfulness and reflection also led him to recognize the power and consequent responsibility of mass media. In his final years as president, he led the broadcasting world in calling for programming and public service announcements to address social issues. Around that time, he also co-founded Project Literacy U.S., a renowned national campaign against illiteracy.
Reflecting back on how his Beloit education prepared him for his career, Mr. Duffy realized that no matter Quonset hut or dorm, 1949 or 2012, Beloiters should receive the same hands-on, heads-engaged education. So he created the Duffy Community Partnerships Program–a program dedicated to action and reflection and his legacy of effective public service.
For more info on the Duffy Program and the upcoming seventh Annual Duffy Colloquium featuring non-profit visionary Robert Egger, please visit beloit.edu/duffy.