In the center of the University of California, Santa Barbara campus looms Storke Tower. It’s an obvious landmark — the tallest man-made structure in the county, and a tribute to Thomas Storke, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was influential in founding the UCSB campus on the scenic coastline where it presently stands.
Beneath the 190-foot tribute to Storke, in a large dungeon-like room with cement walls, another landmark stands: an institution that has served the campus community for decades. It’s also an institution that discovered a former chancellor’s misappropriation of university funds, brought a lawsuit against a California governor and the UC Board of Regents and exposed secretive practices of UCSB’s elected student officials.
It’s the UCSB Daily Nexus, and it’s celebrating its 80th year in publication.
The Nexus Past
Check the back wall of the Nexus office; you’ll find bound volumes containing full-scale copies of every issue published by the Nexus and its predecessors. The knowledge and history contained in these archives constitute a cache of anthropological evidence for campus and county life, stretching back 80 years.
There was a time when the Daily Nexus was published once a week, back when UCSB didn’t exist and the Nexus had a different name. That was 1930, when Santa Barbara State College was publishing its first student-run newspaper, the Eagle.
On September 15, the first weekly Eagle was published and the Daily Nexus was (vicariously) born.
On that day in history, the world was undoubtedly a drastically different place. Billy Myers Clothes Shop on 1107 State Street (now a jewelry shop, and who-knows-what in between) was advertising silk-lined suede leather jackets for $9.75. In other news, Herbert Hoover was our nation’s 31st president and the U.S. was neck deep in the Great Depression. There was no internet, no recognized HIV, no space travel or mobile phones.
Since that fateful day in 1930, the publication has had its ups, downs and loops. In fact, the Eagle only lasted for two months before its editors decided to rename the newspaper the Roadrunner after their school mascot.
Over the last eight decades the Nexus has provided steady news coverage, in addition to a variety of special weekly supplements, a sports section and an op-ed section that features columns and editorials from the staff and community.
And on occasion, Nexus headlines garnered national attention.
Steve Elzer, a notable Nexus alumnus from the late ’80s, was largely responsible for what became known as the Huttenback scandal. Robert Huttenback, then UCSB’s chancellor, was discovered by Elzer to have had allegedly embezzled school funds in order to repair his private residence. Elzer’s story caught the attention of national media outlets as well as the UC Board of Regents, and eventually led to Huttenback’s resignation in 1986.
Elzer, who went on to great success as a journalist and publicist, said those years at the Nexus were key building blocks for his career.
“I remember it pretty vividly,” Elzer said. “I was at a big, flashy dinner that UCSB was having to launch a major fundraising campaign for the campus … Someone came up to me and asked me whether or not I was aware that university money was being used to improve the Chancellor’s property.”
According to Elzer, that news tip took him on a ride that ended with the discovery that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been misappropriated by the school’s administration.
“I knew from the start that something was going on — I just wasn’t sure how big it was going to become,” Elzer said. “What I did was part instinct, part bluff, part real information to start, but it had tremendous implications for the chancellor and administration.”
Jeff McManus, a Nexus alum who graduated in 1990, said there have been many instances of the Nexus editorial staff shaking up campus affairs. At one point, McManus said, the Nexus editorial staff waged a battle against the university to ensure that the University Center would not be expanded into Storke Plaza.
“Losing that communal space would have damaged the culture of the campus,” McManus said. “I saw Jesse Jackson speak there when he was campaigning for president. That was very meaningful.”
According to McManus, the debate over Storke Plaza was typical of university administrators of the time who prioritized amenities over the campus’ educational core mission.
In 2001, Brendan Buhler — the only Daily Nexus editor-in-chief to serve two terms back-to-back — conducted an interview with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, which tragically was the last interview Adams gave before his death. Portions of Buhlers’ interview can be found in Douglas Adams’ last book.
According to Buhler, the Nexus was the ideal college newspaper to be a part of.
“It’s where I learned how to have fun and kick ass in journalism,” Buhler said. “I met my wife at the Nexus. I moved into journalism. I’m still writing because of the Nexus. Hell, I even have a Nexus tattoo.”
Upon further questioning, Buhler explained that he got a tattoo on his right bicep after leaving the Nexus in 2004, to commemorate his experience.
“Right bicep,” he said. “It’s Storke tower with two bottles crossed under them for my two times as EIC. There’s flames behind the tower and the Nexus masthead above it.”
Dianne Jobson, who worked at the Nexus from 2005 to 2008, said she remembered a tragic night in 2006 — when a former postal worker shot and killed six people and then committed suicide in a Goleta post office — as one of the most intense experiences she had at the Nexus.
“The story broke right as I got to work at 9 p.m.,” Jobson said in an e-mail. “The newsroom was abuzz: freshman in FT calling us … sirens and tons of police cars rushing past; worried parents calling … because they’d seen the local news reports of the shootings; the layout editor fluttering around telling the night editors to stop everything.”
Nexus Full Circle
Throughout its illustrious history, what is now known as the Daily Nexus has borne the names of Eagle, Roadrunner, El Gaucho, University Post and Daily Gaucho, and has been transplanted from an old state college site downtown to its current location on the UCSB campus.
It’s been the idle plaything of students in lecture, the passion of countless dedicated young journalists and has always been the lifeblood of freedom of speech. No matter what name or college it affiliates with, no matter the size of the paper its printed on, the Nexus is now what it has always been; an independent, student-run newspaper with a passion for truth.
“It’s known for being serious about news, without being too serious,” Buhler said. “It’s not afraid to admit what its doing is fun, right and important.”