By Albert R. Tims
A core value of American journalism is to give voice to those sectors of society for whom the forces of inequality have muted or denied their voices. The vitality of the public sphere depends on these voices.
As I write this letter, our new professor of journalism Catherine Squires is relocating to the Twin Cities from Ann Arbor. Professor Squires, who earned her Ph.D. at Northwestern University, is moving from the University of Michigan to begin her tenured appointment in the SJMC as the inaugural John and Elizabeth Bates Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity and Equality.
Squires’ appointment is part of the College of Liberal Arts’ Diversity Initiative, which includes the creation of five new faculty positions across the social sciences, the humanities and the arts to develop “excellence and competency for building and sustaining diversity," as recommended by the University’s Task Force on Diversity. Twenty-two academic programs in the College of Liberal Arts submitted proposals to secure one of these new faculty lines, and our proposal was among the five selected.
Our proposal stated that “American journalism has long envisioned its role in public life as serving democracy … and that the rational discourse essential to democracy occurs in the public sphere. It is within the public sphere that the institutions and practices of American mass media and democracy meet and shape one another." Moreover, we argued that “a core value of American journalism is to give voice to those sectors of society for whom the forces of inequality have muted or denied their voices. The vitality of the public sphere depends on these voices." We sought to attract a scholar who would play a leading role in enhancing our understanding of these crucial relationships.
An extensive national search to fill this unique and groundbreaking pos¬¬ition led us to Catherine Squires. Her new book, “Dispatches from the Color Line," examines the issues surrounding the way in which people of multiracial descent are portrayed in the media and how that coverage complicates the perception of race and race relations, ultimately challenging long-standing notions about race in this country. And her larger body of work on the interactions among racial groups, mass media and the public sphere positions her at the forefront of new scholarship.
The Cowles family readily agreed to support this new professorship by allocating $1 million of the existing John and Elizabeth Bates Cowles Journalism Endowment. And the faculty decided to further strengthen our commitment to diversity by raising the status of our ad hoc Diversity Initiatives Committee to a standing constitutional committee. This new standing faculty committee will assume a leadership role in helping us to build a more diverse professional community and advance vigorous intellectual engagement concerning issues of inclusiveness, representation and equality. The committee will help ensure that we have an effective plan for achieving an inclusive curriculum, a diverse faculty and student population and a supportive climate for working and learning as required by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
These historic measures by the University’s administration and the SJMC faculty will position the University of Minnesota as a leader in building and sustaining diversity among our many constituencies while enhancing our research and teaching capabilities. In this issue of the Murphy Reporter, we reflect on our ongoing commitment to the diversity discussion and our quest to understand issues of multiculturalism. I invite you to be part of our dialogue.
Albert R. Tims, director