Letter from the dean

Fall 2015 edition

Brill, Ann.jpg

There is an old saying about academic life: The faculty and staff get older, but the students stay the same age (generally 18-24).

One of the best parts about my job is spending time with those students. I hear the kudos and the complaints about them, and I do find myself comparing each new class with previous generations. Each has its strengths and challenges. I was reminded of that last week when a student was telling me about her busy week. She’s taking 15 credits, working at the University Daily Kansan, has another job off campus, and is trying to cope with a seriously ill member of her family. All that in her second year of college. She was not complaining about any of this but rather explaining to me why she did not stay and talk longer at our most recent “Doughnuts with the Dean.”  Her story is not much different from one I heard from a visiting alumnus and veteran who talked about working two jobs to help pay for college. He wanted to set up a scholarship so future students would have it a bit easier.  In his retirement, he was volunteering at a grade school to teach immigrant children to read. 

Just as with any generation, our students today have a range of talents, interests and backgrounds.  The university is a place for them to grow intellectually, socially and culturally. It’s imperative that journalism and mass communication students understand their environment and the audiences with whom they are communicating.  

Our curriculum is designed to do just that. For example, Professor Barbara Barnett teaches our Journalism 101: Media and Society. This fall, she had 444 students in that class! It’s a great course that offers an overview of media today, and it is popular with students from all majors.  It challenges students to examine their own use of media and helps them understand the work and effect media have on society. It’s typical for students to report that this class has changed their perspective not just about media but also about society. 

The J-School also requires a course on media diversity. How we report, write and talk about groups can either help or hinder our understanding of them.  Our courses in ethics and media law complement those efforts. Our courses in social media, data analytics and market analysis are important tools for navigating this complex world in which we live. Our job as educators and journalists is to help our students understand and improve it. And, to do so, in the words of The New York Times “without fear or favor.”

It remains a great privilege to lead this school and to work with the 939 students currently enrolled. As we begin 2016, I know our students will continue to challenge, delight, humble and exasperate us.  That’s all OK. They are here to listen and learn, as are we all.

To each of you and your families, I wish you peace in this new year.

Ann M. Brill