Fiedler on the spot

Having taken the reins of BU’s contentious College of Communication, Pulitzer winner Tom Fiedler learns to navigate the thorny world of academia
By ADAM REILLY  |  August 20, 2008


Paper chase: The counterintuitive, durable case for journalism education. By Adam Reilly.
As jobs in journalism-education go, Tom Fiedler’s new gig isn’t bad. Quite the contrary. Fiedler — the ex–Miami Herald executive editor who took over as dean of Boston University’s College of Communication (COM) back in June — gets to run an institution that’s already graced with a high-powered faculty and which, though not quite elite, might be the best of its sort in New England. He’ll be operating in Boston, a city with perennial appeal for prospective students and professors. And he’ll be implementing a vision that he himself crafted as head of the external-review committee that sized up the state of the college in 2007.

But Fiedler’s also inheriting some serious headaches. As COM’s run-down building on Comm Ave suggests, the college is strapped for cash. It’s also a factionalized, turbulent place where the three departments — journalism; mass communication, advertising, and public relations; and film and television — don’t always get along. Plus, Fiedler, who got a master’s degree from COM in 1971, has a vision of journalism education that’s sure to ruffle some feathers. Throw in the fact that he’s a relative newcomer to academia — where, as Henry Kissinger famously observed, the arguments are so bitter because the stakes are so low — and his seemingly cozy new perch suddenly looks like it should come with a complimentary flak jacket. Welcome to town!

I’m not Dick Cheney
Fiedler wasn't supposed to end up running his alma mater. Instead, as head of the external-review committee that took stock of COM following the scandal-tinged September 2006 resignation of Dean John Schulz (more on that in a bit), he was going to chart a course for COM’s future, and then step aside.

Then the plan changed — but not, Fiedler emphasizes, in a Dick-Cheney-nominates-himself-for-veep sort of way (our analogy, not his). In the fall of 2007, a few months after the external-review committee issued its report, Fiedler was contacted about the dean’s job at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, and asked BU president Robert A. Brown if he could use him as a reference. (At the time, Fiedler was also a BU overseer; he’s since resigned that position.)

“His response to me — and this isn’t a direct quote, but it’s very close — was, ‘Why would you want to be a dean at the University of Florida and not here at Boston University?’ ”, Fiedler recalls. In fact, Fiedler explains, he had no preference for Florida, but he was wary of creating the impression that the review committee’s work had been aimed at getting him COM’s top job. When Brown and Louis E. Lataif — the dean of BU’s School of Management and head of COM’s dean-search committee — assured Fiedler that the search process would be conducted in an unimpeachably fair, above-board manner, he decided to pursue the job. And this past May, he got it.

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