Dean Pullen’s 37-year career comes to a close

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Dean Rick Pullen behind the wheel of his Hugger Orange 2007 Roush 427R. Photo by Don Stefanovich/Daily Titan News Editor

Dean Rick Pullen dropped the hammer on State College Boulevard.

The Eaton M90-based Roushcharger howled beneath the hood as all 427 ponies screamed to life and the pavement seemed to disappear into the Hugger Orange hood scoop.

The dean ripped the short-stick shifter back into second gear, the chrome 18-inch wheels broke free and the rear end of the 2007 Roush 427R began to dance.

We greeted Yorba Linda Boulevard in third gear, and as Pullen let off the gas the custom exhaust burbled with backpressure – the Mustang’s guttural chuckle of delight after being allowed to gallop.

“I think I burned my clutch a little bit,” he later observed, sniffing several times to inhale the hot, sweet scent with a boyish grin. “I actually did some pretty decent shifts.”

With the Roush parked safely away from other vehicles, Pullen grabbed his briefcase from the backseat and headed into the Titan Student Union for the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Daily Titan.

It was here, only two days before his official retirement party, where he would offer closing remarks, as well as receive an unexpected tribute by several former colleagues and students.

After 37 years of serving in various capacities at Cal State Fullerton, this would be one of the last events during which Pullen would officially serve as Dean of the College of Communications.

“I thought, ‘You’re kidding, I thought that was a freshman,’” quipped former student, Ed Zintel of when he was introduced to Pullen, then adviser of the Daily Titan – a position Pullen recalls as his most enjoyable. “Well, here we are, 37 years later and we’ve all aged, even Rick has. I understand last year they started carding him,” Zintel said.

As five decades of alumni, faculty and Daily Titan staff laughed and cheered, the college’s dean of 15 years looked on fondly.

“We thought newspapers would never end and certainly thought Rick Pullen would never end, and he won’t,” added Peter Schmuck, former Daily Titan staff member, alumnus and current Baltimore Sun columnist.

Pullen’s passion for the field of communications, journalism specifically, is perhaps the only rival to his long-time affinity for automobiles that began with a Pontiac GTO in 1966, only a year before he graduated from Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon with degree in journalism. He was named Outstanding Journalism Student in his class and would receive his master’s in education from Linfield a year later.

“It’s kind of like you have to have a heart for journalism,” Pullen said. “You have to have a heart for that – gathering information, writing – you have to have a decent ability to write. I sort of had all that.”

For Pullen, it began in high school, working on both the newspaper and yearbook staff, as well as writing sports for the town paper. It continued through college where he was an editor at his college paper as well as working in its news bureau and sports information offices.

“When I graduated … I decided to go teach,” Pullen said.

He worked as a reporter and taught high school journalism in Portland before returning to school himself at Southern Illinois University where he received his doctorate in communications while working on the school paper, the Daily Egyptian.

“My whole life has been journalism,” recalled Pullen, who headed west shortly thereafter to take his position at a California school he had never heard of.

He was admittedly apprehensive of the city life and smog of Los Angeles, but found CSUF nestled among lush orange groves and farmland of 1970s Orange County.

This, he thought, would suffice for a few years before returning to teach in his home state of Oregon.

A few turned into 37.

“I think he’s had a wonderful career here at Cal State Fullerton,” said Pullen’s wife, Jill. “It’s become family. It just isn’t a job, but it’s family.”

Her sentiments are echoed among colleagues.

“He also is a close friend,” said Anthony Fellow, department of communications chair. “And I have always enjoyed when he begins his sentences with, ‘You are like a son to me.’ I then have to think, did this son do a good thing today or a bad thing today?”

From the time he first accepted his position as an assistant professor of media law and adviser to the Daily Titan in 1973, he quickly advanced both himself and the department.

“He is truly a transformational leader who not only transforms others, but is transformed in the process because he continues to learn from others,” said Assistant Dean of Communications Irene Matz.

In 1982 he was promoted to professor and was named Outstanding Journalism Professor by the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

From 1991 to 1995 he served as associate dean of the communications department.

“His first challenge was to establish himself, which he did very well,” said radio-TV-film chair Edward Fink. “But probably his biggest challenge was finding time to work on his MG cars with all the demands of being a dean.”

Pullen took the reins of a wobbly communications department (then “school”) in 1995.

“Probably, the greatest thrill of my life was actually, after a national search, being named dean of the college,” reminisced Pullen. “I was one of the very first internal candidates to be named to a high-level position. And so, when I was named dean, I probably have to say that was the very best thing that could’ve probably ever happened to me in my career.”

As dean, Pullen solidified the newly formed College of Communications, oversaw its move across Nutwood Avenue into its current home of College Park and diversification to encompass many new majors under the communications umbrella including the RTVF department.

During his time at CSUF, Pullen authored, “Keeping it Legal: A Handbook of Student Press Law in California,” and co-penned, “Media Law in California” and “Major Principles of Media Law.”

He also received the Sky Dunlap Award for a Lifetime Achievement in Journalism from the Orange County Press Club in 2009, an honor usually reserved for active journalists, not educators or administrators.

“He ran two statewide First Amendment Coalition Assemblies at CSUF, which were enormous challenges in logistics and diplomacy,” said Communications Professor Mel Opotowsky.

His commitment to the freedom of speech is another echoed sentiment among colleagues.

“Rick felt it was his job to explain the First Amendment to people who should know it already,” said Professor Tom Clanin of his time as adviser of the Daily Titan under Pullen. “He was a huge, huge defender of the paper, even when it made mistakes. He was a big, big supporter of the paper. I’m just hoping whoever replaces him has a journalism background and the same values that he has.”

He seems to remain humble, even when confronted with the often-expressed sentiment that he helped save the College of Communications.

“It takes a lot of teamwork and you’ve got to have good people,” Pullen said. “I’ve had good people working with me. We’ve had great students who we’ve helped achieve their potential.”

The gentle notes of a piano flutter through Pavillion C in the Titan Student Union on Monday afternoon. Pullen stands in the doorway, greeting friends, colleagues and family as they enter, then mingle beneath a smiling photo of the retiree projected larger than life.

This is the end.

After today, Pullen will be able to enjoy his cars (in addition to the Roush, his stable counts a 1931 Ford Roadster, a 1948 MG-TC show car and a 1952 MG-TD), relax at his beach house in Oceanside with Jill and volunteer his time at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, something he says is a way to give back after surviving a childhood bout with polio.

It’s not difficult to imagine his mind wandering to these as he sits humbly, hands clasped on the stage as his many accomplishments and accolades, among other anecdotes, from friends and family are recounted.

Pam Hillman, Vice President of University Advancement, serenades Rick Pullen, Dean of the College of Communications on stage during his retirement celebration. Photo by Camille Tarazon/Daily Titan Staff Writer

He sits in a chair adorned by a commemorative plaque that he frequently has to reposition to see the various videos and photographs flashed on the screen behind him.

Presented by Vice President of Academic Affairs, Ephraim P. Smith, the chair was one of an odd assortment of souvenirs Pullen would receive including an inflatable car-raft, Titans baseball jersey signed by the entire team and Mike Sciosca autographed baseball from Acting Associate Vice President of Undergraduate Programs and Master of Ceremonies, Ed Trotter; designated emeritus status by President Milton Gordon; a 1st Amendment Coalition acknowledgement from Opotowsky; and a $22,000 check representing donations to the Rick D. Scholarship fund presented by Matz.

Following heartfelt tributes, toasts, roasts and even a musical tribute, a choked-up Pullen offered six sincere yet simple words to sum up his sentiments.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

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3 commentsOn Dean Pullen’s 37-year career comes to a close

  • Congratulations to Dr. Pullen, my Daily titan adviser, mentor, and friend. Thank you for everything.

    Ed Zintel
    Daily titan executive ditor
    Fall 1974

  • Gotta send my congratulations to Dr Pullen as well. We started on the Daily Titan together in 1973 and we’ve been friends ever since. Thanks for everything you have done for me over the years, and it was great seeing you again at the 50th Anniversary reunion.

    Bob Rohwer
    Daily Titan executive editor
    Spring 1975

  • Sandy Phelps

    Excellent piece. Enjoyed it.

Comments are closed.

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