Kurpius plans to increase diversity, student innovation in J-school

“It’s a great university with a fantastic school of journalism and wonderful people, and I can’t wait to get there and become part of that culture and do good work,” he said.
MU students work Tuesday, April 14, 2015, at the Futures Lab in the Reynolds Journalism Institute in Columbia, Mo.

David Kurpius was watching Louisiana State University play in the NCAA March Madness tournament Thursday, March 19 when he got an email from Provost Garnett Stokes asking to talk about the dean position at the Missouri School of Journalism.

LSU lost to North Carolina State University 66-65 in the first round, but after a long weekend of waiting, Stokes offered Kurpius the position over the phone Monday, March 23, evening.

Kurpius, currently associate vice chancellor for enrollment management at LSU, will take office at MU as the new dean July 1. He said he plans to keep MU’s position as the No. 1 journalism school in the country, as named by the Radio Television Digital News Association in December 2014.

“If you stay where you are, you’re falling behind, so we need to keep climbing and keep moving and pushing forward, and we need to be interesting,” Kurpius said.

MU has faculty, resources and opportunities that are not found at every journalism school, Kurpius said.

“It’s an honor to be selected to serve as dean, and I see opportunities to help the school move forward and work with some really great people, including students, to make it an even better place,” he said.

Kurpius said one of his highest priorities as dean is diversifying the student and faculty bodies in the journalism school, and that he sees diversity as an ongoing conversation and set of experiences across a broad spectrum. He said he saw the potential to increase diversity within LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, and he worked to build relationships and helped students see opportunities for themselves.

“When I came to LSU, I was excited when I had a single student of color in my class,” Kurpius said. “Today, the Association of Black Communicators is one of the strongest student organizations (on LSU’s campus). I’ve seen lots of students of color in my classes, around campus and around the school, and it’s fun to see and exciting to interact with them.”

Kurpius said he sees diversity as including not only race and ethnicity, but also religion, sexual orientation, gender, political affiliation and economic status. He believes that improving diversity is essential for students of all backgrounds.

“It’s important not just for minority students who are coming in, but for non-minority students who are coming in or already there to have that more diverse and worldly atmosphere in which to learn and understand each other and have important conversations and discussions,” he said.

Kurpius said he wants to focus on innovation and entrepreneurship in the journalism school by creating opportunities for students to experiment in new areas of media.

He said he’s started conversations with multiple people around the country, including Richard Gingras, the head of news and social projects at Google, about how they see news content. He said he hopes to bring people to MU and send groups out to examine the ways media organizations are innovating to create the culture of being on the cutting edge and to start discussions.

“That’s what’s going to help us alter the curriculum in ways that we find necessary, to think about new ways to engage and encourage students and to build relationships with organizations where students can get internships,” he said. “We may get people who want to take a break from the industry and come work with us.”

Kurpius is also focusing on new programs, such as the documentary journalism department opening this fall. Stacey Woelfel, an associate professor and director of the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism, said that he hopes to apply the Missouri Method approach to teaching the documentary process through multiple projects in the field and a “massive” senior project.

Woelfel said Kurpius has already shown a strong interest in the program and is committed to making it “world-class.”

“I’m excited to sit down with him once he arrives on campus, go over our mission in detail with him and work out a multi-year plan to grow and build the program to be another gem in Missouri’s crown of journalism education achievements,” Woelfel said in an email. “Since we have similar professional backgrounds, we already speak the same ‘language,’ so there’s a rapport already in place that should ease us into a very comfortable working relationship immediately.”

Dean Mills, the outgoing dean, said Kurpius has a combination of professional experience and good academic credentials, both of which are important to lead the school. He said he hopes to see the school continue to innovate and be “at the top of its game” in the future, crediting the real-world opportunities for students as the reason for its success.

“Even if the faculty didn’t want to learn new things in order to teach the students, they have to because they’re operating a television station, or a newspaper, or magazine or student ad agencies,” Mills said. “The Missouri Method makes us learn new things even if we wouldn’t want to. It’s as if we have no choice but to innovate.”

Students are important to Kurpius, and even in an administrative position, he plans to connect with students and find ways to be involved with them, he said. When he was announced as dean, many former students contacted him to tell him how he had pushed them in class and impacted them.

“It was really heartwarming and I love that connection, that long-term connection to students and mentoring them through careers and helping them succeed,” he said. “It’s humbling to hear some of the stories, and it’s exciting that I’ve played a small role in their lives and their development.”

Kurpius visited campus Feb. 17 for an open forum with students and faculty. During the forum, he said he is not an expert in strategic communication, but strategic communication chairwoman Margaret Duffy said she believes Kurpius is committed to the department.

“He’s well aware that we (account for) half the undergraduates of the J-school, and he clearly recognizes that we should be getting more resources,” she said. “I’m very confident that we’ll be able to work very effectively with him.”

Duffy said her goals for the department are to continue to stay at the forefront of strategic communication and address diversity of both students and faculty. She said Kurpius should focus initially on understanding similarities and differences among the school’s departments.

“We are the first and best school of journalism in the world, and we need to make sure that we’re getting resources and allocating resources appropriately so that we can continue to be the best and continue to improve over time,” Duffy said.

Kurpius said he looks forward to arriving on campus and building relationships with faculty and students.

“It’s a great university with a fantastic school of journalism and wonderful people, and I can’t wait to get there and become part of that culture and do good work,” he said. “I’m just very excited.”

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