Founding dean of Walter Cronkite School to say good-bye to ASU in June

(Craig Johnson/DD)

By Jonmaesha Beltran, Lisa Diethelm and Sara Edwards

Head Dean Christopher Callahan of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication announced in an email statement Thursday morning that he was stepping down as founding dean after 15 years on the job.

Callahan announced he will be the next president of the University of the Pacific in northern California starting July 1, 2020.

“I am extremely excited by this opportunity to serve students in new and different ways at California’s oldest chartered university,” Callahan said in an email to Cronkite students and faculty. “Our school is more than just my professional home. Cronkite is part of me. And always will be.”

The University of the Pacific also released a statement announcing the end of their search for their 26th president Wednesday morning.

“Chris brings an energy and experience that match Pacific’s needs,” said Kevin Huber from the university’s board of regents in a statement on the University of the Pacific’s website Thursday. “He has an impressive track record developing programs that are relevant to students and great ideas for unifying our distinctive three-campus university in new ways.”

The statement also said Callahan would make his first visit to the campus on Thursday and again in December.

Callahan has trail-blazed the transformation of the Cronkite School since he started in 2005. In his 15 years as a Cronkite dean, he has changed the way the college runs as a school and a place for student journalists to evolve and grow.

“He has really positioned the school nationally, in terms of who we are and what our brand is, and built incredible programs. I mean we just keep adding,” said Kristin Gilger, senior associate dean for Cronkite. “We’ve added so much in the last 12 to 15 years that it’s so hard to keep up with the pace of the change, and every time you turn around it’s like ‘oh there’s a new program.’”

Under his leadership, the school has expanded its student body, professional programs, media partners, graduation rates, degree programs and awards.

Callahan has brought in big name media companies and partnerships to increase student experience from Dow Jones News Fund to Indian Country Today to the Scripps Howard Foundation. His leadership attracted national journalism figures from notable publications such as the Washington Post and The Associated Press to join the school and help mold and mentor future journalists.

During his tenure, he also helped bring Arizona PBS to the Cronkite school. It’s one of the largest media outlets to operate out of a journalism school, reaching 1.9 million households on multiple platforms. The most recent addition, PBS NewsHour West recently launched this fall and acts as a bureau for better west coast coverage.

“He has always been a visionary leader. His best quality is he gives people the reigns,” said Bill Silcock, associate dean at the Cronkite school.

Silcock said he remembers a time before the school opened on Downtown campus when he was taking a tour with Callahan and other future faculty through the building.

“(He) made us all put on hard hats and talked about where our offices would be. He always thinks about people — he even let us pick our offices as faculty members,” Silcock said.

Silcock expressed bittersweet emotions about Callahan’s departure.

“Although it wasn’t a surprise, because we knew it was coming, it’s always a gut kick when it actually happens,” Silcock said. “Dean Callahan has his heart and soul in every part of this building.”

Gilger has worked with Callahan for over 10 years and said she is very happy for his new accomplishment.

“He has been here for a long time and has done amazing things, but this is a great opportunity for him,” she said. “He’ll be great at it. I’m happy for him. I want to see him spread his wings and try something new.”

Gilger also said Callahan has proven to be an effective leader by being a visionary and hands-on when needed.

“He’s really a visionary and someone who is so good at strategy and long term goals and understanding the big picture. But at the same time he can pay attention to detail in a way that’s almost hard to believe,” she said. “He can get real hands on, when he needs to be. I think that’s unusual to have skills sort of in both of those areas.”

Gilger reflected on a moment when Walter Cronkite passed away in 2009, when Callahan pulled the team together to commemorate the late CBS Evening News broadcast journalist.

“Of course he had anticipated because (Callahan) always plans ahead and we had some plans of what we wanted to do… create a website, get it out on social, commemorating him, have people tell stories about him and capture those stories, share them,” she said.

Gilger said when she received a phone call when Cronkite passed away, she and other faculty members returned back to school and stayed until 1 a.m working on his memorial project.

“We all just met here like ‘okay what do we do’ and we were all upset about it because we knew Walter. (Callahan) acknowledged that, but then sort of marshaled the troops to what we needed to do, which was well let’s commemorate him,” she said. “Let’s do something that he would be proud of… It was just this great experience where we all came together and (Callahan) made that happen.”

Callahan will finish the academic school year as Cronkite’s head dean until June.

“Our Cronkite students are the best in the nation, which is demonstrated every day in our classrooms, newsrooms and national journalism competitions,” he said in his email to the students. “You are our future. And it has been an honor and a privilege to serve as your dean.

Contact the reporters at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected].

Correction: Two instances of Bill Silcock’s name were spelled incorrectly. This article was updated to correct the misspellings Nov. 24, 2019.