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UConn journalism professor emeritus dies

By Alban Murtishi
On March 2, 2014

With the recent passing of Professor Emeritus John J. Breen, UConn's journalism department, and the school as a whole, has lost a vital instructor. Breen was a journalism professor at UConn for 36 years, and during his tenure he instructed generations of Connecticut journalists, solidifying a lasting influence in the field he loved the most: the news. Breen passed away Feb. 19 from complications related to vascular dementia, and is survived by his sons Dan and Tom Breen.
Breen's journalism and teaching career began in the 1960s after he graduated from from the University of Illinois. After working briefly as a reporter and editor for a few years, he began teaching at UConn, where he stayed for 36 years.
Friends and colleagues of Breen's remember him as a calm and collected individual who often taught in such a way that student were not even aware that they were learning.
"Mostly when I was trying to learn to be a better teacher I sat in on a couple of his lectures. He actually sat in a on a couple of lectures and gave me advice," Marcel Dufresne, associate professor of journalism, said. "He was very relaxed, it came so natural to him, he was entertaining, but full of information."
Dufresne had worked with Breen for 15 years, and during that time Dufresne set many precedents for the journalism program that are carried on today. For example, Breen would sometimes have journalism students print a special edition of the The Day in New London that would feature articles written exclusively by them, a tradition that continues today. He also had the students enrolled in his class during the 9/11 terrorist attacks write special articles about its influence on them. Breen also had taught every introductory journalism class during his time of teaching and heavily influenced the professors who took over those classes over.
Although Breen was known for his calm and cool demeanor, he balanced it with professionalism as an instructor. A colleague of his, Maureen Croteau, head of the journalism department, cites an anecdote between Breen and a student.
"One day, in one of the writing labs associated with John's course, a student became enraged to learn that his answer on a news quiz was marked wrong "just because" a geographic name was misspelled. The student came storming into John's office unannounced."
"'I've worked hard to get here and study journalism,'" the student said. "'I didn't come here to play games. I came here to learn.'"
"'Do you know who to spell Philippines now?' Breen asked calmly."
"'Of course,' the student snapped."
"'Well, it's working.' Breen said."
Breen was also an accomplished columnist and syndicated in many papers. He wrote "slice of life" articles about Connecticut and the government. He made great use of 'understated humor' in his articles to relate to his readers.
"He had a way of shining a light on some of the things that made us all laugh, but above it all he always had a point." Dufresne said. "He didn't take cheap shots at people unless it was deserved."
During his time at the university, Breen also held the position of secretary to the course committee that decided which courses would be taught. He was also an advisor to The Daily Campus for 20 years.
As seen through his teaching and commentaries, Breen is ultimately remembered as a kind, but witty individual. Croteau recalls a conversation between Breen and another faculty member about the difficulty of buying a new car.
"'I just bought a new car,' John said."
"'What kind?' the faculty member asked."
"'A Chevy,' John said."
"'What model?' the faculty member asked."
"'A Corvette.'"

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