Izard's retirement spells a new chapter for journalism school

By Bill Estep

Ralph Izard joined the Ohio University journalism faculty 32 years ago thinking he would stay four or five years and then move on.

Ralph Izard in Baird Graphics Lab in Scripps Hall

Photo: Rick Fatica

But a funny thing happened along the way. Izard and his wife, Janet, soon felt at home in Athens and academic life began to agree with the former newspaper man. Izard enjoyed teaching, working with students, advising the campus newspaper staff, and being part of a journalism tradition on the rise.

Fast forward to 1998. Izard, now 59, is in Columbus in early March at an alumni reception in his honor. It's the first time of four such alumni banquets scheduled this spring in recognition of his June 30 retirement, a departure that culminates a 12-year run as director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. The others will take place in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C.

Some are calling it The Izard Farewell Tour. Call it what you want, but it's clear that few Ohio University admin istrators have stepped aside and left such an impressive trial of praise.

If the Scripps School was already on the national map before he took over as director, Izard reminded the country of its location, say alumni and journalism educators.

"Ralph Izard is a real leader, and he's been very, very active in trying to make Ohio U. a leader in our industry, says Clarence Page, BSJ '69, Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a former student of Izard's. "Ohio U.'s journalism school is now known by media professionals from New York to LA and especially in Washington. I attribute a lot of that to Ralph Izard."

Jay Black, MS '66, agrees. "Some programs have lived on past glories, but OU's program has remained very, very solid. And the key to that is the fact that Ralph is equally at home with the media and reporters as he is with CEOs and the academic community. That's a rare quality." says Black, a nationally known media ethics specialist and the Poynter- Jamison Chair in Media Ethics and Press Policy at the University of South Florida. "OU had a good program, but what's been critical to them getting better is that Ralph has hired good people and hired diversity. There's an energy there now."

Izard calls the attention focused on his departure "economically awkward." He prefers to shift the credit for the school's rise to national prominence to a journalism faculty of leading researchers, authors and national award-winners; strong leadership in the 1 960s and beyond; and loyal alumni who can be found in key slots at newspapers, magazines, broadcast stations, and public relations and advertising agencies from coast to coast.

"I've provided some leadership and I went out and raised some money, but no program grows on the strength of one person's shoulders," Izard says. "We have a faculty in this school that has reached out nationally and internationally.

"Bob Stewart has enormous contacts with CNN. Mike Bugeja, Joe Bernt an Pat Westfall have major contacts within the magazine industry. And there are others who can pick up the phone and call major professional contacts. Dru Evarts knows everybody in Washington. Anne Cooper-Chen has tremendous contacts in Southeast Asia."

Izard says the late John Wilhelm arrived on campus in 1968 as School of Journalism director with strong nation contacts. Wilhelm became founding dean of the College of Comminication later in 1968 and held the post until 1981.

"Wilhelm really began enhancing the n ational reputation of the school, and when Guido Stempel became director (1972-79 and again in 1986)...he was one of the most respected academicians in the country. The work he did strengthened his school's national reputation academically."

Yet many agree that Izard guided the Scripps School to a higher level of national prominence and academic achievement. On his watch, the faculty, student honors program, and broadcast and electronic publishing areas expanded; international programs and fund-rais ing efforts increased; and academic standards and job placement improved.

The Scripps School's undergraduate sequences consistently have ranked in the top 10 nationally and, two years ago, U.S. News & World Report rated the school's graduate programs in print journalism, public relations and broadcast news among the country's top 10 as well.

"I have to give the credit to Wilhelm for getting the school out there in the national spotlight, but my experience around the country by talking wit h other journalist is that Ralph has carried Ohio U.'s name to a new level of respect," says Page.

During Izard's tenure, the school raised nearly $5 million to support three endowed journalism chairs, a full-time professorship in public relations, and visiting professionals. And the school's academic entrance requirments have steadily increased since Scripps was among the first on to adopt a selective admissions policy in 1986.

According to the Admissions Office, more than 660 freshmen have ap plied for admission to the school next fall for 175 slots. This winter quarter, the school had 777 undergraduates enrolled in it's five sequences and the Honors Tutorial College, and 54 master's and Ph.D. students.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is that very early in my term as director, this faculty set up a system whereby we reduce the enrollment of the school, increased standards and, I believe, improved the quality of instruction significantly," says Izard, a former reporter and editor at t he Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and the Associated Press.

Izard says he is equally proud of "the growing scholarly reputation of the school" and it faculty. He credits Pat Washburn, director of the graduate program, for doing a "marvelous job of stimulating" the master's and Ph.D. programs. OU graduate students annually rank among the top in the country in number of student papers presented at conferences and meetings.

Fellow faculty credit Izard's aggressive fund-raising approach and his personal interest in beginning several new international programs for much of his success as director. Journalism faculty are involved in research, consulting and student and faculty exchange projects in Germany, Southeast Asia, Japan, Russia, Denmark, Wales, Scotland, The Netherlands and the South Pacific. The Sing Tao Center, new home to the school's Institute for International Journalism, opened across the street for Scripps Hall last year.

"We had faculty going one or two quarters at a time to Asia or Africa before, but Ralph picked up the ball and ran with it," says Professor of Journalism Don Lambert, a 31-year OU faculty member and close friend of Izard's. "He's been all over the world on behalf of the school."

Stempel, who retired from teaching fall quarter after 33-year OU career, says Izard was adept at responding to the direction the university was moving over his 12 years as director. "Izard has done an enormous amount and been tremendously successful as a fund-raiser," Stempel says. "He had an excellent program to sell, and he did an excellent job of selling it."

Professionally, Izard has remained active in national organizations and has accumulated a Rolodex full of national contacts. He currently is editor of the national Newspaper Research Journal, and is a former president of the association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication. In 1985, he was awarded the national Wells Memorial Key for his longtime involvement with the Society of Professional Jou rnalists.

One testament to Izard's national reputation is his new position as a fellow at the Freedom Forum, a non-partisan international foundation dedicated to freedom of the press issues. Beginning in July, he will serve a two-year term in New York City as coordinator of the forum's new International Consortium of Universities to stimulate research and dialogue. Izard will take advantage of a university retirement option to return to campus and teach one quarter a year.

In the meantime, Dan iel Riffe, a former director of the journalism school at Northern Illinois University and an OU faculty member for two years, has been named interim director of the Scripps School for a two-year period.

While some OU journalism alumni wonder what the future holds -- especially during a time of high faculty turnover because of retirements -- Izard believes the Scripps School will continue to build on its strong tradition.

"I am concerned about the focus of journalism education overemphasizing the theoretical orientation over the practical, professional side," Izard says. "But I see no warning signs that the Scripps School is moving in that direction.

"I think we'll continue to be an example of a top-flight journalism program that gives students a good, solid, well-rounded liberal arts education that focuses on communication skills and job placement."

Bill Estep is editor of Ohio University Today.

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