The Last Syllabus: David Carr Shows How It’s Done


To My Hunter College Students:

About a year ago, I mentioned the extraordinary biography written by journalist David Carr, Night of the Gun. It’s the riveting story  of a guy who, despite doing everything possible to destroy himself (and I’m telling you: David worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever known to do himself in!), survives and thrives  as a friend, father, husband, and distinguished journalist.

David survived self-destructive experiences that no one should be able to survive, but —  to his eternal credit  — used his “post-jerk,” recovery years to do the hard work of becoming a living, breathing, authentic, human being capable of extraordinary acts of compassion and civility.

David passed away from lung cancer and other maladies on February 12, 2015. And among the gifts  he left was the syllabus for a course he taught this past fall at Boston University. I thought that you  might appreciate seeing and reading one of the most amazing examples of this kind of document that I have ever seen. It is packed with all sorts of “jewels” about  life, civility, teaching, and the future of  journalism in the digital age.

I think you’ll really enjoy it.

This excerpt from  the syllabus, in which David introduced himself to the class, is itself a mini-masterpiece:

Not need to know, but nice to know: Your professor is a terrible singer and a decent dancer. He is a movie crier but stone-faced in real life. He never laughs even when he is actually amused. He hates suck-ups, people who treat waitresses and cab drivers poorly, and anybody who thinks diversity is just an academic conceit. He is a big sucker for the hard worker and is rarely dazzled by brilliance. He has little patience for people who pretend to ask questions when all they really want to do is make a speech.

He has a lot of ideas about a lot of things, some of which are good. We will figure out which is which together. He likes being challenged. He is an idiosyncratic speaker, often beginning in the middle of a story, and is used to being told that people have no idea what he is talking about. It’s fine to be one of those people. In Press Play, he will strive to be a lucid, linear communicator.

Your professor is fair, fundamentally friendly, a little odd, but not very mysterious. If you want to know where you stand, just ask.

I didn’t know David, only met him briefly. I do, though, know that — just over a month after he left us — this world is a whole heck of a lot less interesting without him in  it.


4 thoughts on “The Last Syllabus: David Carr Shows How It’s Done

  1. Well, I knew David. I went to high school with him. The high school was Benilde. It was Catholic high school. All of the Carr’s went there.. The family was very Catholic. Perhaps, it was that which propeled the “give them hell attitude.” I also hated that place. Carr was the consummate partier but he was a special person back then too.

    At the parties,we would always joke about “Whose Carr” because he was natural attractor. He always had a smile on face and was practical joker. But, he could party with the best.

    His writing has always been in your face. He was an angry writer.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. Quite an amazing guy and, for all the anger in his writing directed at hypocrites, liars, and bloviators, he — at least in his later years — seems not to have been any of those things. This city, as I said in my post, is a lot less interesting without him.

      By the way, thanks for calling my attention to The Overnight!


      Steve Gorelick

  2. I am in the process of publishing two books at once. I reached out to him a few months ago. We were going to get together. I just wish he was still around.

    His book is real. He was a mess in the middle 80’s but so I was. But he had the gonads do the talking.

  3. Professor, thank you for introducing us to David’s work. It’s funny because the excerpt you chose to post actually sounds a lot like you!

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