San Diego A popular part-time teacher of advertising in the School of Communication at San Diego State University has been dumped, and he claims it's because old-line professors were upset that he criticized the system that guarantees their jobs. But there may be another reason, having to do with the byzantine politics surrounding SDSU president Stephen Weber's development plans for Adobe Falls in Del Cerro. "The fact that they are getting rid of me has nothing to do with my performance as a teacher! My student evaluations are the highest in the School of Communication," said Howard Oleff in an e-mail to supporters last week. A veteran advertising and marketing executive, Oleff currently serves as "new business development consultant" at Channel 10. "So why are they getting rid of me?" the e-mail continued. "It is because I dared question the tenure system!"
According to the SDSU website, communication school offerings include undergraduate majors in communication, with a focus on advertising or public relations, and journalism. Oleff teaches Advertising 496, a hands-on preparation for the annual American Advertising Federation's National Student Advertising Competition, in which colleges compete to create an advertising and marketing program for a company that agrees to sponsor the contest. In the 2004 contest, Oleff's class placed first in regional finals.
That was the year SDSU cut funding for the class, blaming budget constraints. Oleff, ever the promoter, fought back, raising $4000 from the San Diego Ad Club to defray expenses and using his large e-mail list of local media contacts to generate a wave of protest to SDSU administrators. The university backed off, and he was later given a three-year contract, but the ill will toward Oleff, who says tenured professors aren't in touch with today's advertising business, went on unabated, resulting, says Oleff, in last week's termination.
He was given the word in a May 10 e-mail from Diane Borden, the school's interim director. "The University Senate yesterday gave final approval to a proposal for the School of Communication to separate into two distinct academic units," says Borden's missive. "As part of the restructuring, the faculty in a newly created School of Journalism and Media Studies has decided to take the next year to reassess its curriculum and make any necessary revisions." The class Oleff taught had been canceled, and, wrote Borden, "There is insufficient work for which you are qualified."
Oleff was not happy. "Right now, many of these tenured professors are not preparing their students for the real world. We all know that, but no one does anything about it," according to his e-mailed statement. "They will continue to push out anyone that wants to bring the real world of advertising into the classroom, and has a passion for the business of advertising, because it threatens these tenured professors."
He adds that another force may also be at work. Oleff, who worked at Channel 10 for many years before retiring as sales manager in 1997, remains there as a consultant; he's also a member of the station's editorial board. A resident of Del Cerro, Oleff says he authored a station editorial blasting controversial plans by SDSU president Weber to develop a hotel and condo-style faculty housing in the neighborhood, across I-8 from the SDSU campus, a move rapidly opposed by residents there.
"Disregarding objections from residents as well as the City, the Fire Marshal and CalTrans, SDSU intends to push forward with the development of a massive 540-unit apartment and town-home complex which it will site at the end of two Del Cerro cul de sacs," the editorial maintained. "To add insult to injury, SDSU refuses to mitigate safety hazards the additional traffic will create on the winding Del Cerro streets, even in the vicinity of two elementary schools." It ended, "No private developer could get away with this, and neither should SDSU."
In a telephone interview last week, Oleff said he was positive that the editorial had something to do with the loss of his teaching assignment. "Absolutely," Oleff said. "They are retaliating because I took a stand on Del Cerro." A spokesman for Borden said the university could not comment on Oleff's allegations.