• U.S.

Press: Lady Dean

2 minute read

When journalism’s brightest luminaries gathered at a black-tie dinner last month to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, there was one conspicuous absence: the school’s dean. The university had been unable to fill that prominent post ever since former Newsweek Editor in Chief Osborn Elliott resigned two years ago. Last week Columbia President Michael Sovern finally announced a successor: Joan Konner, 57, a veteran television-documentary producer and a Columbia trustee since 1978. “She’s been a very serious possibility from the beginning,” said Sovern. “We didn’t want anyone to think that we’d gone soft and were just taking the easy way out.”

In fact, the lengthy search had become highly embarrassing. Part of the problem was a rift between the faculty, which wanted a professional journalist, and the university administration, which sought someone with a more academic background. As many as three candidates were reportedly offered the job but declined after taking stock of the school’s troubles. Rising costs for students (now $20,000 a year), a deteriorating physical plant and a fractious faculty have led many educators to conclude that Columbia, the most prestigious journalism school in the country, is resting on its laurels. “It needs a shot in the arm right now,” says Professor Karen Rothmyer.

Konner, the first woman to hold the job, seems well prepared for what she calls the “challenge of helping journalism define itself.” A 1961 graduate of the school, she boasts an impressive set of journalistic credentials, including more than 20 years as a documentary producer for NBC News and public television, where she has had a long partnership with Bill Moyers. “She’s a solid, substantive journalist with lots of integrity,” says Professor Kenneth Goldstein. Equally important, Konner is said to be a good administrator who knows how to raise money. From her spot on the university board, she was acutely aware of what she calls the school’s “noble search to find the Holy Grail.” Now that she has been chosen, she quips, “either they gave up or they found it.”

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