DeWayne Wickham discusses the foundation of the School of Journalism & Communication

Oct 13, 2021

(MSU Spokesman) President David Wilson met Dewayne Wickham a few years ago during one of his golf lessons. Wilson’s instructor asked him if he’d like to play a round of golf with Wickham. 

At that time, Morgan only had a department of communications operating under the School of Liberal Arts. Wilson, however, wanted to establish a school of journalism but decided to wait until he found the perfect person to head the new school.

Wilson had heard of Wickham and read many of Wickham’s columns in USA Today, so when Wilson’s instructor presented him with the opportunity to meet the columnist in person, he obliged.

As Wilson and Wickham continued with their game, they began to discuss journalism and its future.

“After three holes of golf, I knew that I had found- and I had found indeed- [the man for the job],” said Wilson.

Wilson decided to bring Wickham to Morgan, initially as the chair of the department of communications. After a year as chair, Wickham proposed his vision for the school of journalism and was promoted to become the founding dean of the School of Global Journalism & Communication.

The School of Global Journalism & Communications became one of two accredited journalism schools in Maryland under the care of Wickham.

When he came to Morgan, Wickham was leaving his 27-year tenure as a USA Today columnist. Before that, he had an extensive journalistic career.

He worked as a writer for a television show, and movie production. He also worked as a CBS News commentator, a writer for the US News and World Report Magazine, and the Baltimore Sun.

“If you look at my resume as a journalist there’s not much I didn’t get the chance to do,” said Wickham. “To fly on Air Force One with President Obama. To eat spare ribs in the White House with Bill Clinton.” 

“But I wanted to do something else,” he said. “I was looking for a way to transition from what I was doing to something even more exciting.”

Wickham said that upon arriving at Morgan in 2012, he met with the editor of the Afro-American.

“He said to me that he welcomed my arrival, but he wanted me to know that I had a tough job ahead of me because the students at Morgan couldn’t write,” said Wickham

Wickham said that the editor and other potential employers were uninterested in hiring Morgan’s journalism students as interns due to the existing curriculum.

Wickham created a Board of Visitors, which consisted of professionals from various mass media fields to tell help the faculty develop the program into what they needed to do to make a more productive school.

The board and faculty formed committees to begin conceptualizing and designing departments for the new school. 

Wickham said that the committees felt that the existing curriculum was not adequately preparing students for 21st-century careers and journalism. To remedy this, Wickham decided to introduce curricula focusing on the practice of journalism and the academia behind it.

By May of  2013, Wickham and the committees established the multiplatform production, multimedia journalism and strategic communications departments.

In addition to creating a broad range of departments in the school, Wickham also developed the performance centers like BearTV, the Strategy Shop, WEAA, and The Spokesman.

“To the extent that you put people in those performance centers, they get the skills. They demonstrate in internships that they can do the job,” said Wickham.

Wickham was also a strong advocate for students to join the Public Relations Society of America and the National Association of Black Journalists, of which he was a founding member.

“[In] 1974, when we formed NABJ, there were very few of us, relatively speaking, working as black journalists,” said Wickham. “But we knew that that number wasn’t going to increase in any significant way if there was not an internal and external push to bring about this change.

“We’ve encouraged our students to grow [and] to form professional associations that are linked to an organization like PRSA and NABJ,” he added.

In addition to developing programs and performance centers, Wickham, alongside Jacqueline Jones, former dean of the department of multimedia journalism, raised a substantial amount of funds for the school.

“Money is the gas that fuels the engine as a public institution,” said Jones. “A lot of really good state universities find that there is just not the kind of money available that there was back in, say, the 60s and 70s.”

To remedy this, Jones and Wickham began to prioritize partnering with programs freedom of the press. Their fundraising efforts supported the advancement and upkeep of the school’s building, resources, and programs.

“Dean Jones and I have brought in certainly in excess of three or $4 million in the time that we have been at Morgan,” said Wickham.

After his retirement, Jones became the new dean of the School of Global Journalism and Communications.

“I think continuing his [Wickham’s] legacy is critical,” said Jones. “My goal is to do everything we can to take us to the next level.”

Despite bringing many positive changes to the university, Wickham has still faced resistance, particularly in his decision to emphasize the practice of journalism.

Jared Ball, professor of communications and Africana studies, feels that Wickham created an environment opposed to academia.

“From the very beginning, he announced himself as being in opposition to those of us who have PhDs,” said Ball.

“[Wickham] took us out of communications studies- which is an academic, scholarly, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and, as I said, highly academic- and turned us into largely a trade school,” said Ball. “A less popular trade school with more departments, but fewer students being served.”

Wickham believes this criticism exhibits ignorance of what the current industry of journalism requires and said that potential employers would not place much importance on whether students have a professor with a Ph.D. or bachelor’s degree.

“They want to know, do you have the knowledge,” said Wickham. “Have you been given the knowledge and the training and the practical skills you need to be successful here?” 

“Currently, we have people [inaudible] with Ph.Ds in our program. We have one person who has four Emmy awards,” said Wickham. “And when you talk to the accrediting agency about accrediting our school, that’s what they point to.”

On Sept. 24, Wickham was named the inaugural dean emeritus of the School of Global Journalism & Communications.

“I don’t think I’ll ever retire,” said Wickham. “I’m just going to do something different, and it’s time for me to move on.”

“The capstone of my career as a journalist was the opportunity that Dr. Wilson gave me to give back to students, to black students particularly, to help pave the way for them to come into a position that I had such a wonderful opportunity to be a part of.”