Chicago globetrotter

Amy Hamblin and Amy Hamblin

Unlike most little kids, Prof. Lee Huebner never wanted to be president — only a presidential adviser. Also separating himself from the average child, Huebner achieved his dream.

Huebner lived out his childhood fantasy by serving as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon, leaving just months before the president resigned in 1974. Though the administration became embroiled in the Watergate scandal, Huebner said he liked Nixon, adding that the president was misunderstood because Nixon was reserved.

“He was a real loner,” said Huebner, who teaches School of Communication and Medill School of Journalism classes. “He identified all his life with the little people he felt society was pushing around.”

As a founding member of the Ripon Society — a political organization of progressive Republicans — Huebner first traveled to Capitol Hill to represent his group’s interests.

But Huebner wasn’t disappointed when his work as an adviser ended. He said an even greater dream of his was to be a “generalist” — someone who has dabbled in everything.

Huebner’s dabbling nature became obvious during his years as a Northwestern undergraduate. After great difficulty in deciding a major, he eventually chose history because of its broad applications. He went to Harvard for graduate school — where he earned a doctorate in history.

After resigning from his speechwriting position, Huebner became the publisher of the International Herald Tribune.

While at the Herald Tribune, he transformed it into the first “global newspaper,” helping to fill a gap in international reporting.

“It had no geographic captive, central audience,” he said. “There’s a tendency for news to turn inward and homeward at the very time when I think it should be acquainting us with the broader world out there.”

Although he loved the paper and its home in Paris, Huebner said he became restless after 14 years there. He moved back to the United States and become an NU professor in 1994. Despite his base in Chicago, he still makes frequent trips to Europe and Africa.

“The community in which I live and work cannot be defined geographically,” he said. “I would love to keep a foot on both sides of the ocean.”

Huebner keeps abreast of world events by subscribing to almost a dozen publications.

“If you’re going to teach about international journalism, it’s terribly important that you are out there in the world seeing how it’s developing,” said Huebner, who specializes in international journalism and political rhetoric. “You have to stay in touch with your field.”

As a respite from serious matters, Huebner said he enjoys following popular culture. His TV usually is tuned to ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” He also describes himself as an avid sports fan, who will always be loyal to the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Cubs.

But Huebner admits he sometimes watches reality TV. If a viewer can overcome the inherent stupidity of it, he said, it can be amusing.

“I watched the last episode of ‘The Apprentice,'” he said. “It seemed I ought to know enough, so I could talk about it.”

But teaching and consulting jobs occupy most of his time. Huebner said he is content teaching at NU because he has summers to travel and he can interact with students. He also said he likes relaying his past experiences to students and, in the process, he gains a clearer sense of what his life meant.

“The subject matter is great — you really get to think more clearly and more in-depth about things,” he said.

His enthusiasm for teaching is visible to his students. Matt Hall — who has taken his classes since Fall Quarter of his freshman year — said he finds Huebner fascinating because of his experiences with the Nixon administration.

“He’s like a wise old sage,” said Hall, a Communication junior who is writing his thesis under Huebner’s guidance. “He stands up there and rattles off these concepts and then relates them to real-world experiences.”

Hall said he liked Huebner so much that he convinced him in 2002 to become the master of Public Affairs Residential College, where Hall was a resident.

Despite Huebner’s distinguished career and popularity among students, his friend and colleague Clarke Caywood said Huebner is unpretentious and casual.

“He’s such an authentic person,” said Caywood, a Medill professor. “The most delightful part of Lee is his ‘aw shucks’ approach to life.”