Sunday, May 10, 2009

The best man won in Berkeley j-dean search

They looked high and low for two years for a new dean for the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley but it turns out the best man was there all the time: Professor Neil Henry.

As a member of the adjunct faculty recently recruited by Neil, I have not only an obvious conflict of interest but also an insider’s view on the goings-on at fabled North Gate Hall, where Neil has been acting dean since the summer of 2007.

I have worked closely enough with Neil to know that he is an ideal pick for a difficult position at the most challenging time ever for journalism, journalists and journalism schools.

An accomplished newsman, Neil is passionate enough to want to preserve quality journalism and realistic enough to know that things have to change: Not only in the practice of the craft but also at the schools training professionals for the future.

Neil brings to the position a demonstrated ability to build consensus and commitment through patience, quiet diplomacy and wise counsel.

And he totally understands that the school’s future, like that of any similar institution, depends on its financial strength. He has raised $5 million in the last year, including two endowed chairs and generated the funding and institutional support to make possible the Media-Technology Summit planned for the fall.

Neil was appointed permanent dean last week after two high-profile searches churned through literally hundreds of candidates to replace the last permanent dean, Orville Schell, who departed in mid-2007.

In the first search, the leading candidate withdrew after failing to come to agreement with the university on the terms of her engagement. In the second search, which took place this spring, the top candidates bowed out when it became clear that the committee searching for the new dean wanted to explore additional alternatives.

The result of the protracted process was that some reports, like this one, concluded that either the j-school couldn’t get its act together or that no qualified candidate would want the job. Neither is the case.

After being appointed acting dean in mid-2007, Neil declined to apply for the permanent position. Instead of running for office, Neil took care of business. When the smoke cleared, it was obvious to nearly everyone that the right guy already was on the job.

The dean search admittedly may have appeared to be messy and convoluted to the casual outside observer. But it produced a first-rate result. And that’s what matters.


Anonymous Andrew Gilbert said...

As a Cal J-School grad (class of '98) who has also taught at North Gate Hall under Neil Henry’s acting reign, I have to second your call that he’s an ideal candidate for the job. During the recent search for a new dean, many alumni and J-School students emailed each other wondering why he wasn’t a candidate for the job, since he’s been doing a very impressive job under the most difficult circumstances. This is a bit of good news at a time when there’s precious little to smile about in the world of journalism.

10:12 PM  

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