Journalism dean candidate Kurpius wants to focus on students, diversity
Kurpius brings administrative experience from the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications.
Feb. 18, 2015
Students at Manship School of Mass Communication, where Missouri School of Journalism dean candidate David Kurpius is a professor, simply call him Kurpius. It’s not a sign of disrespect, he said, but a sign of the deeper connection he’s made with them.
Kurpius visited MU for an open forum Tuesday. The forum was originally scheduled for Monday, but was rescheduled when campus closed due to snow.
Kurpius said he loves students, and that they should always come first. Student leadership, he said, is critical for student development.
“When I became a news director (at WMGT-TV), I found that I have a knack for building journalists,” Kurpius said. “You can build a lot more journalists at a university than you can in the news room.”
The core of Kurpius’ goals, he said, is student success and entrepreneurship.
Kurpius acknowledged MU’s elite status in the world of journalism, and said he hopes to expand and grow that legacy.
“The foundation is strong but this will require strategic work and focusing of resources … to make sure that we are moving in a direction that maintains and expands and moves forward in the legacy of the school,” he said.
Kurpius previously worked as an associate dean for undergraduate studies and administration at the Manship School of Mass Communications and interim director of student media at Louisiana State University. He is currently the interim vice chancellor for enrollment at LSU.
Kurpius’ previous administrative experience helped him become one of the four finalists, said Clyde Bentley, associate professor of journalism who is a member of the search committee.
“We have a professional school, so we want to have people with professional experience,” Bentley said. “We’re also a star academic school, so we want to have someone who has the knowledge of research.”
Kurpius said this experience helped prepare him for the work of a dean. He said he now has an understanding of how upper levels of the universities work.
Along with his previous experience at WMGT-TV, Kurpius worked for WTTV-TV as a production assistant and WTIU-TV as master control. Kurpius said his jobs in journalism helped him develop the connection between journalism and democracy.
“The importance of newspapers and television stations and radio stations is upholding the information exchange that is critical to a democratic society,” he said.
Kurpius went on to emphasize three key points during his forum: collaboration, diversity and change.
While Kurpius said having faculty input is important to improving the school, he believes student feedback is equally crucial.
Kurpius said as dean, he would have an open, collaborative and conversational style of authority. However, he warned not to mistake that for indecisiveness.
Collaboration between students and faculty would require student interaction, Kurpius said. To build this connection, he said he would work to encourage more students to attend events that affect them, like the journalism dean forums.
Bringing more diversity to MU is another main goal for Kurpius. Recruiting students from all over the world with various ethnic and religious backgrounds will help further diversify MU students’ experience, he said.
Kurpius said being exposed to diversity could help students understand the world in which they work. A student needs to do so for when they report on controversial subjects such as the events in Ferguson, he said.
“Free speech is critical, but so is the cultural understanding of the issues at hand,” he said.
Change was another point Kurpius emphasized.
This is a time for change in journalism, Kurpius said. He said technology is growing faster every day, and MU needs to remain an elite icon for journalism, despite this change.
“We talked about all this change happening, but if we don’t manage the change, it’s unlikely to go well,” he said.
Kurpius said journalism will continue to change as technology advances. Therefore, he said, throughout the course of current MU students’ career, they will need to be adaptive and open to this change. Kurpius said it’s important to teach journalism students how to reinvent themselves throughout their career.
This constant change has led Kurpius to deeply believe in convergence journalism. Kurpius said teaching future journalists how to interact on varying platforms will aid them in the continuous change.
The uniqueness of convergence journalism is fading away, Bentley said, as all platforms begin to converge. Bentley said he believes Kurpius meant convergence not in terms of technology, but in terms of what one individual person can do.
“I think what he was saying was: ‘Look at your strengths,’” Bentley said. “It’s not just the technology ... Look at what you can do for journalism and that’s where it’ll probably be going.”
Kurpius said technological advances ignite change in journalism, values such as accuracy and truthfulness will remain constant.
Technological change is not only affecting the reporting aspect of journalism, but also strategic communications, he said, and while these changes are “cause for communication heartburn,” they also bring opportunities for the field to grow.
“Don’t just be happy with the status quo, because that means you’re moving backward … others are moving forward,” he said.
Kurpius admits he is not an expert in strategic communication, but said he will consult those in this field.
Bentley said he agreed with much of what Kurpius said at the forum. He said Kurpius did not dodge questions, but was open when they were not questions he could answer.
“He’s very good at fielding questions in a friendly way,” Bentley said. “I have been in that situation. It’s very easy to get very nervous and to respond inappropriately, but I thought he did a very good job of maintaining his composure, even in some pretty tough questions.”
Bentley said the four finalists are not ranked in any order and that Kurpius and the other candidates each have multiple levels of experience and qualifications.
Provost Garnett Stokes will review all four candidates — Sonya Forte Duhé, who visited campus for an open forum last week, Esther Thorson and Thor Wasbotten — for the position of dean and consult the search committee before making a hire. Thorson will visit campus on Feb. 23 for the next open forum.