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  • Writer's pictureAva Green

Griffin controversy turns 50

The centerfold seen ‘round the world


By: Ava C. Green, Editor-in-Chief


On Jan. 25, 1974, former president of Canisius University and Griffin editor John Hurley visited this campus as a high school senior, excited for a tour. That morning, a new copy of The Griffin was hot off the presses and would become even hotter gossip. He picked up a copy of that week’s edition of the paper, which would come to be known as the “Centerfold Issue” by staff members of past and present and an infamous part of our paper’s history. Hurley went on to tell the Canisius Magazine that it was the reason he ended up committing to Canisius. 


That week, The Griffin featured a pen-drawn, Burt Reynolds–inspired centerfold of the then-president of Canisius, Reverend James Demske — a veteran and a loyal supporter of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at Canisius. At the time, the program was mandatory and was promoted often and in a positive light in this newspaper, to the delight of Demske.


Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Griffin editors started to question the nature of the program, critiquing it and urging administration to make participation voluntary or end it. ROTC coverage started to become less positive, according to research done by The Griffin’s former managing editor Patrick Healy in his thesis, “A View from the Griffin’s Nest: A History of Canisius College’s Student Newspaper.” Demske, motivated by his discontent with The Griffin, created his own publication, The Canisius College Chronicle (the predecessor to the current alumni magazine). 


The Griffin would go on to antagonize, question and challenge Demske — politically and personally. The back and forth on ROTC, paired with the competition they felt with their rivaling prints, made tension rise, leading to this less-than-dignified, drawn-out blow at Demske. 


Jerry “G. J.” Ebert, managing editor during the “Centerfold Issue,” recalls the morning that paper was published, calling it “kind of a cultural shock.” Walking into the dining hall, Ebert saw countless faces buried in the paper. The image was seen by more than just Griffs too — it was even mentioned in the Irish Times and International Herald Tribune.


Ebert told our staff that the edition was also packed with stories critiquing school policy, like “Corruption at Canisius,” and tackled issues like food stamps, opportunities for students of color and beauty contests. In the early ‘70s, under Ebert’s leadership, he said his goal was to “make you sit up and at least think,” according to his parting comments in The Griffin in the ‘70s. The Griffin prided itself on its ability to fill all 16 of the pages they regularly printed, and they often did so by covering controversy. Like Hurley, Ebert was excited to see the satire garnering so much attention. The attention, however, would become quite negative and would go on to damage the reputation of the paper for years to come.


Jerry Ebert and his editor-in-chief, Alphonso Davis II, were quickly suspended by the Canisius Publishing Board. The paper was partially suspended as well. Ebert didn’t say whether or not he regrets their scandalous choice of artwork, but he is certainly proud of the impact it had on former president John Hurley, as it did make him “at least think” about starting a future at Canisius. 


Jerry Ebert ended up unenrolling at Canisius, something he would go on to regret. Even in the heat of the repercussions for the editorial choices he and Alphonso Davis II made, Ebert knew his voice was heard and history was made. A copy of the “Centerfold Issue” is still kept in The Griffin office today, reminding us to be bold, just not that bold.

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