Communication dean discusses TSM, future plans for Moody

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of Q-and-A’s with the deans of the University’s 18 schools and colleges. Roderick Hart has served as the dean of the College of Communication, recently rechristened the Moody College of Communication following a large donation from the Moody Foundation of Galveston, since 2005.


The Daily Texan: It was recently announced that you’ll be stepping down from the deanship at the end of the academic year. Could you tell us why?


Roderick Hart: I’ve been in the job 10 years, and I was an accidental dean. I agreed to do it for one year as an interim, and we had a national search, and we brought 10 people to campus and not all of them turned out to be what the University wanted, and so they put some polite pressure on me. So I eventually decided to do it because I thought, I’d been here for, at that time, 25 years, and I thought, well, I’ve been here. I know the culture, I know the student body, I know the state. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to be able to find someone to help us build a building. And we did. So it’s been a good 10 years, but I got into this business because I love teaching and writing, and it’s what I want to do. So I still want to teach; I still want to write. And I’ve kind of done everything I can do. We’ve got the building. We’ve named the college. We’ve got the … endowment. It’s now time for someone else.


DT: How do you think that the communication school prepares journalism students for the workforce?


Hart: We’ve got a good number of them out there, and a great many of them have been very successful, so I guess I am pretty confident that we’ve done a good job, but one thing that we know is that the workforce is changing. So part of what the School of Journalism has done in the last couple years is to really revisit the curriculum — the journalism curriculum — and now they train people across platforms. We used to have magazines and newspapers and broadcast, and we still have some of that, but now pretty much any journalism student that graduates is going to have a range of skills that we didn’t have to do in the past, so I think they’re working hard to keep current, as you know, but the business keeps changing. The modalities change all the time, so we have to keep figuring out where things are going and try to get students there before that happens. But I think we’re still regarded as one of the very best programs in the country.


DT: How has the relationship between the Moody School and Texas Student Media (which oversees The Daily Texan) evolved over your tenure as dean?


Hart: I didn’t have to pay very much attention to it for the first eight-and-a-half years. Obviously very supportive … A lot of our alums are products of Texas Student Media, and I would meet them at receptions, events across the country and they would always ask about [TSM], and in some ways, I wasn’t always up to date on what was happening … I was approached by the Vice President for Student Affairs, and Charles Roeckle, assistant to the president, asked if I was willing to come to a meeting and would I be open to [taking it on]. The question was, “Can it be done, and could I get some help from the president during the transitional period?” So then I got to know a lot more about Texas Student Media than I ever had, particularly the financial procedures … [If I had a time machine,] I would have started fundraising 40 years ago for Texas Student Media, because as time goes on and people become wealthier, they still talk about their days on the Texan or on the TV station, the radio station. They still talk about it even though they’re now 50, 60 years old, as they do about Plan II. But Plan II , they’ve been raising money all that time, and we have not … Particularly in today’s media environment, you have to have multiple ways of advertising. The way it has been done in the past, it’s just not alone going to be enough, and that’s true of corporate journalism as well, so philanthropy has to be part of it. I think it should be.


DT: How will the health communications center collaborate with the med school?


Hart: I hope it will be an intimate connection. Our message is that AIDS in Africa is not going to be cured by medicine. It’s going to be cured by communication. Getting third world people to understand and embrace first world medicine, and that’s a cultural communication issue. You can’t get better unless you have the medication; you won’t take the medication unless you believe that it is culturally and intellectually acceptable…


DT: We heard a story on the radio the other day. It was talking about the changing environment of journalism employment and how it’s moving from a less stable environment to more freelance work. Do you have any advice for graduating students on how to adjust to this less secure employment environment?


Hart: All of that is true and not true at the same time. In all of human history, there have never been more job openings for people with professional communication skills. In all of human history. The difference is, in the past, most of the jobs would be headquartered in big buildings and big companies, like CBS or the Dallas Morning News or these large places that held large numbers of people. These days, however, it’s really important for people to understand that if they have a skill level, that there are more jobs than ever before in human history. It just means they have to think more creatively. So the question is really more of a finance question. Who will pay for the kind of information that journalists provide, which is tested, reliable and dependable evidence. And someone will pay. Figuring out how and when is the question. So I think there will always be jobs. I can’t imagine a field that has a greater upside … It’s an exciting time, but it’s a little crazy too. Great time to be a student.