Evjue-Bascom Professorship: Many thanks

Friends, if I may, I have a happy professional announcement to post on my weblog today.  I have just learned that I have been formally awarded an Evjue-Bascom Professorship, through the recommendation of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication and the College of Letters & Science here at UW-Madison.  Through the generous donations of alumni and friends of the University, this professorship provides the faculty member with a research fund of $12,000 each year.  Such resources are crucially important to sustain our research excellence, especially in this time of federal budget sequestration and shrinking state percentage appropriations to higher education.

As any faculty member will tell you, to be honored with a named professorship is a fantastic moment in one’s career.  But this particular professorship holds special meaning for me, for three reasons.

First, the Bascom Professorships specifically focus on teaching excellence as a criteria for nomination.  John Bascom was the University’s fifth president, and according to previous UW statements on these professorships, he “personally taught every senior in the thirteen years of his presidency, 1874-1887.”  Plus, I understand he was not afraid of standing up for his political principles; according to the Wisconsin Historical Society, “He was a firm believer in women’s rights, defended the rights of workers to join trade unions and to strike for decent wages, and spoke for the control of monopolies and public control of wealth in the public interest.”  Bascom Hall and Bascom Hill are both named after him, and I am delighted that my professorship is as well.  And I am delighted to take this opportunity to remind my readers of the crucial importance that I and my  faculty and staff colleagues put on educational innovation and student learning here at UW-Madison.

Second, the Evjue-Bascom Professorship in particular honors another great servant of the public interest as well: the late William T. Evjue, founder, editor and publisher of The Capital Times.   He created that newspaper in 1917, thirty years after John Bascom’s departure from campus, and it still survives both in print and online today.  The William T. Evjue Foundation continues to have a crucially important impact on campus research, teaching, and service, in part through its generous grants to my own School of Journalism & Mass Communication.  These grants help to support cutting-edge research by both senior and junior faculty through a Centennial Professorship fund; they help to underwrite our Center for Journalism Ethics annual conference, which involves both professionals and academics; and they helped to found our Madison Commons hyperlocal journalism project, which trains student reporters to support the information needs of the community.  To the current stewards of the Evjue Foundation — especially to those fine individuals I’ve met and worked with as SJMC Director, such as Jack Lussier, Clayton Frink, and Dave Zweifel — I give you my heartfelt thanks for your continued good works.

And third, it so happens that the previous holder of this Evjue-Bascom Professorship was someone for whom I have the greatest measure of respect and gratitude: Professor Emeritus Sharon L. Dunwoody, who just retired from our School in May 2013.  The leading scholar of science communication in our field, Professor Dunwoody has served our School and our students for over three decades, bringing the importance of carefully-researched and clearly-written science journalism to the classroom in a consistently creative and energetic way.  True to the “Wisconsin Idea,” she is equally at home working with both scientists and policymakers, both academics and journalists — in fact, her work helps to bridge the divides that often exist between these communities.  And during her own term as Director of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, it was she who presided over my own hiring in 2000.  As a Director, as a colleague, and as a mentor, I owe her a great deal.  I couldn’t be happier (and more humbled) to share this professorship with her.

Thanks to everyone who, through the open and democratic process of faculty and staff governance, voted to nominate me for this honor so that I might continue and intensify my research program in service to the public interest at this great University.