ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The buses still rumble and the leaves still rustle, but something is missing from the University of Minnesota soundtrack.
"I thought, 'Oh Jazz Man's not around anymore,'" said U of M senior Colton Cummings upon learning of the departure of a university icon.
Rob Thompson - the "Campus Connector" bus driver affectionately dubbed "Jazz Man" by his U of M riders - is now absent from campus, and not by his choice.
Students learned of Thompson's forced transfer to a bus route in Brooklyn Center in Monday's Minnesota Daily newspaper.
"I was devastated," said U of M senior Christine Nicholson, "because he's one of my favorite bus drivers and a good friend of mine. Nicest man alive."
For 12 years Thompson has cemented his cult status among students by dispensing friendly greetings and boom-box-Jazz on the ride between the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses. Students are known to let other buses pass by to score a seat on the "Jazz Bus." Several thousand of them are friends of at least four Jazz Man Facebook fan pages.
Contacted by phone, Thompson told KARE 11 he was suspended for three weeks in July, and then reassigned, after a female university staff member complained that he had given her his phone number.
It's something Thompson said he's done many times, with males and females, in order to connect later to talk jazz. "I passed out my phone number to a lady on the bus just to give her some information on places you could go to get good jazz in the Twin Cities," said Thompson. "I never knew you couldn't give out your phone number."
To do so is a violation of company policy, said Maureen Richmond, a Cincinnati-based spokesperson for First Transit, the contractor that runs U of M shuttle buses. "The main focus of a university transit operator is to provide safe and reliable transportation; it's not to become socially active with the campus students."
Cameron Boster, a U of M junior, finds it hard to believe that Thompson's accuser knew him well. "It must have been somebody that didn't have that understanding that, you know, he was a really friendly bus driver."
Richmond left open the possibility of Thompson's return to his old route at some point. "Right now he's trying something different," she said, "but we never know what the future may hold."
(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)