Grady College at UGA has a new dean starting this summer. Allow me a few moments to comment.
First, let me cover my ass -- should he by some chance stumble across this blog -- and say I'm excited by Charles Davis as dean. Second, I think my good friend and colleague Jeff Springston would also have made an excellent choice.
Why Davis versus the other three finalists? Two were non-starters, so let's set them aside and let me distill a couple of months of conversations and hallway chatter and white smoke into a single few sentences of explanation -- at least from my narrow perspective. I believe Jere Morehead, the provost and soon-to-be-president, wanted to shake things up at Grady. Springston also had plans to shake things up, but Davis came in with such enthusiasm, such a track record at Missouri, and the potential for fundraising that it was difficult for Morehead to pass up. When asked in the hall, I predicted Davis over Springston. That wasn't based on preference, but prediction; I'm able to separate the two.
There is an irony alert here. Morehead is an internal move from provost to president, yet he chose an outside guy as dean. I get that. But Davis made a compelling case, and it allows Morehead to put his personal stamp on Grady.
Okay, so what's it mean beyond the horserace?
It means some big changes at Grady. I've written about this before, most recently here (last graph). Not immediate changes, mind you, but we'll now start the painful process of somehow melding the broadcast news and journalism folks into a single department. Whether Tele remains its own department, perhaps with film studies added, remains to be seen. It's the more likely scenario, but these are conversations held largely above my pay grade. Transparency, ironically, is not a Grady virtue. When I know, you'll know.
What else? I suspect we'll see attempts to break up the department silos in various ways, some of which will not be accepted in some cinder block corners of the building. I expect my own department, once we settle the Tele/broadcast thing, to completely revisit our curriculum (my own comments on this are here). Our photojournalism sequence needs attention. Our public affairs sequence is suffering. We can only make so many sports journalists or people who write squishy features about farmers markets, yet that's where students are voting with their feet. In the public affairs sequence, I'll have four or five students this Fall who have it as their fourth choice as a major. We do a lousy job of selling the importance of hard news.
So a new dean, especially an outside one, gives us a reason to make dramatic changes to a curriculum stuck in the mud. I'm not saying individual faculty aren't doing neat things in their classes with new and emerging media, I'm saying we need a broader change to make ourselves relevant in the coming years.