Honoring a Legend

Professor Emeritus and Renowned Media Law and Ethics Scholar Donald M. Gillmor Passes Away.

Master teacher. Respected scholar. Kind soul. There are many ways in which SJMC emeritus professor Don Gillmor is described by those who knew him best. But above all, law and ethics sage may be at the top of the list.

DonaldGillmorweb.jpgGillmor was known internationally as a leading expert on media law and ethics, and his many years of teaching and research "shaped the major contours of the field of mass communication law," said Daniel Wackman, former SJMC director.

"Don's contributions brought this institution to center stage nationally and internationally," said current SJMC director Albert Tims.

In 1970 Gillmor authored the seminal "Mass Communication Law: Cases and Comment" with Jerome A. Barron. Now in its sixth edition, the book helps students and scholars in the field to this day. The first edition received the Frank Luther Mott Research Award from Kappa Tau Alpha, the discipline's honor society.

"Don viewed the law as a sort of institutional morality, and he considered laws without a strong moral underpinning to be vacuous," said William Babcock, former director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law, in a commentary about Gillmor published on MinnPost. "It's no surprise Don considered ethics to be at the core of the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech."

A fierce advocate of media law, Gillmor was known to get into heated arguments, but never to disrespect other's opinions. "Don could be blunt, harsh and opinionated - but at the same time kind, open and eager to entertain a serious rebuttal," said Theodore L. Glasser, an associate professor at SJMC in the 1980s who was eventually named associate director of the Silha Center under Gillmor and is now a professor of communication at Stanford University's Department of Communication. "It was incredibly empowering for an untenured junior faculty member to be able to work with a senior scholar who invited debate and dissent. Titles didn't matter to Don. We worked as partners, as a team. "

A visionary trailblazer, Gillmor was a founding member of the Free Press-Fair Trial Council of Minnesota and of the Law Division of AEJMC, the national academic organization for journalism and mass communication educators.

Gillmor received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1961 and joined the University of Minnesota's faculty in 1965. From 1984 to 1995, he served as the founding director of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law. In 1990, he was named the first Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law, a position he held until his retirement eight years later.

The Center was endowed by the late Otto Silha, a former executive with The Minneapolis Star and The Minneapolis Tribune, and their parent company Cowles Media, along with his wife Helen. Gillmor worked closely with Silha to name the center, emphasizing the importance of the word "study" in the center's name, as its primary purpose and mission is scholarship and research. "He didn't want ethics to become a residual topic, taken up only when the law failed to address something," said Glasser. "Don appreciated the significance of the difference between law and ethics - between what we have a right to do and what's right to do - but he also understood why questions of ethics precede questions of law, why what's ethical is a more foundational question than what's legal."

"Don was the inspiration for Otto Silha to endow both the Silha Center and the professorship," said Jane Kirtley, current Silha Professor and director of the Silha Center. "Don's research and teaching embodied the marriage between these two related but distinct aspects of media scholarship. His legacy continues to influence our research, publications, outreach and support for graduate and law students at the Silha Center," Kirtley said.

Gillmor obtained his bachelor's degree from the University of Manitoba in liberal arts in 1949. Shortly thereafter he joined the editorial staff at the Winnipeg Free Press as a reporter and editor.

In 1950 Gillmor received his master's degree in mass communication from the University of Minnesota. His academic career began as a professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota from 1953 to 1965. Here, Gillmor established and served as the first director of an all-University honors program. While teaching at UND, he spent his summers as a part-time copyreader for the Fargo Forum and Grand Forks Herald.

Throughout his 45-year academic career, Gillmor held a number of additional appointments, including visiting professorships at the University of Munich in Germany in 1985 and the University of Lund in Sweden in 1994. He was also appointed a fellow at the Annenberg Washington Program in Telecommunications in 1987 and a senior fellow at the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University in New York City in 1990.

Gillmor advised nearly 60 Ph.D. dissertations, M.A. theses and summa theses as a Minnesota faculty member. His 23 doctoral advisees went on to become professors at some of the nation's most prestigious universities. "He trained some of the finest media law scholars," said Tims. "It was impossible to be a graduate student in mass communication in the 1970s, as I was, and not know the name Donald M. Gillmor," said Glasser.

"For generations of graduate students at the University of Minnesota, Donald M. Gillmor was indispensable as their teacher, mentor, guide and friend. I was privileged to be one of them," said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of Northwestern University Qatar. "He was generous and helpful, reading his students' work with a gimlet eye and never afraid to make the kinds of critical comments that drive learning and change."

Gillmor received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Minnesota Press Club in 1975 and 1978, the University of Minnesota Student Alumni Board of Governors Award for Contributions to Student Experience in 1985 and, for the 1992-93 school year, the Horace T. Morse Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education. "He always kept his door open to answer questions, serve as a mentor, provide guidance on projects, or feedback on ideas," said Wackman. "Students responded to Don, respected him, and remembered the impact he had on them."

"It was the way Don engaged students that empowered them intellectually and marked him as a master teacher," said SJMC professor emerita Hazel Dicken-Garcia.

Gillmor was recognized by a number of other organizations, including the Constitutional Law Award from Minneapolis law firm Mansfield, Tanick and Cohen in 1996.

For 30 years Gillmor served as the adviser to the Minnesota Daily student-run newspaper and is credited with saving the student newspaper in the 1980s after it published a string of controversial articles, which led to lawsuits. In 1996 he received the Minnesota Daily Alumni Association's George Hage/Mitch Charnley Award of Excellence.

In 2009, Gillmor was awarded SJMC's highest honor: its Award For Excellence, given by the SJMC Alumni Society Board.

A well-published scholar on media ethics and law, Gillmor authored a number of books, including "Fundamentals of Mass Communication Law" in 1996, "Power, Publicity, and the Abuse of Libel Law" and "Free Press and Fair Trial" in 1966.

Dicken-Garcia said it best: "There was - and will ever be - only one Don Gillmor."

On Feb. 14, 2013, Gillmor passed away at the age of 86 from complications of Alzheimer's Disease and other illnesses.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Sophie; daughter Vivian Cathcart of Toronto; son Peter; and grandsons Steven Cathcart and Kevin and Geoffrey Gillmor. He is also survived by brothers Douglas and Alan.

To honor Gillmor's legacy, the University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communication has established the Donald Gillmor Memorial Fund. To make a donation, visit http://z.umn.edu/gillmorfund or checks made payable to the University of Minnesota can be mailed directly to The Donald Gillmor Memorial Fund c/o University of Minnesota Foundation, C-M 3854, P.O. Box 70880, St. Paul, MN 55170-3854.

Online tributes from colleagues, friends, former students and more can be found on SJMC's website. Please email showard@umn.edu to add your own tribute.

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This page contains a single entry by showard published on June 3, 2013 2:48 PM.

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