Ted Gup returns from sabbatical

by Agatha Kereere / Beacon Staff • October 17, 2013

Former journalism chair Ted Gup said he he does not want to take that position back.
Former journalism chair Ted Gup said he he does not want to take that position back.

After taking a year on sabbatical and coming back this semester to begin his fourth year at Emerson, former journalism department chair Ted Gup had some new insights to offer.

“We talk about diversity at Emerson a lot, but this is a different kind of diversity,” he said referring to the variety of academics he worked with on sabbatical. “This is diversity of the intellectual approach.” 

Gup spent his year away at the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard Law School, where he worked with academics from physics, philosophy, and law departments. He said he attended morning classes three days a week, and during the other days he researched and critiqued the work of his colleagues.

Gup said his reason for joining was related to his interests in institutional corruption—which the center is known for examining—and Congress.

“I’ve always been interested in Congress and its role passing legislation,” he said, “However, congressional oversight has been corrupted by hyper-partisanship—which is to say, the ways in which their party zeal overtook their public interest.”

For the past eight months, Gup also worked with Boston University’s New England Center for Investigative Reporting as an investigations editor. Gup said the organization is a collaborative effort toward exposing injustice in New England.

“I read and reviewed pieces that pertained to misconduct in businesses, institutions, the government, and helped students understand the fundamentals of investigative reporting,” he said.

Although Gup was the journalism department’s chair before his sabbatical—a position that is now assumed in an interim role by Paul Niwa—he said he does not want that role again.

“I wasn’t offered the chair, and I didn’t seek the chair, so there wouldn’t have been a reason to offer the chair,” said Gup. “I did it for three years, which isn’t a bad run. Most people aren’t chair for five, six, seven years.”

Gup  also said that he didn’t have any influence in the selection of his successor, and didn’t want any.

“I think that would have been inappropriate,” he said, “It’s none of my business.  I was already chair, and I just want to focus on my work.” 

The change in the journalism department’s leadership didn’t disrupt the way it operated, but improvements were made in the department, said Doug Struck, assistant chairman of the journalism department and senior journalist-in-residence.

“There haven’t been any changes in terms of our goal-giving students the skills needed to become journalists. Both men put [the department] in a great position in not only attracting students, but also providing them with the tools they’ll need to be journalists,” said Struck, who briefly served as interim chair after Gup’s departure.

Cindy Rodriguez, a journalist-in-residence, explained how the department functions under the person in that position.

“The person collaborates with the faculty members on a common vision,” she said. “We have a very collegial department where we have debates and discussions about the direction we would like to go, but by and large, we are on the same page.”

Rodriguez said a faculty member may not want to remain in the position for too long, because it is very demanding. 

“You don’t want one person who is going to be chair for long periods of time,” she said. “You want to have your own projects, write books, and teach.”

Janet Kolodzy, a journalism professor, said she knew all about the demands of a chair, as she took on that job in an interim role from 2006 to 2009. 

“I’ve come up with an analogy to describe the interim chair position: An interim chair sees all of the embers but has to decide which to stomp out immediately and which will burn themselves out on their own,” she said. “One million and one issues sit at the interim’s desk.” 

The department has only seen two permanent chairs since 1999 — Jerry Lanson, a current professor, and Gup, said Kolodzy. There have been six interims during this time.

To fill interim chair positions, then-Vice President of Academic Affairs Linda Moore looked for someone either within the journalism department or nationwide to serve as permanent chair, said Kolodzy.

However, the journalism staff had to agree on the candidate too and when they couldn’t — a situation Kolodzy called a “failed search” — an interim was placed in the position to give the college more time, said Kolodzy. This is how she said she became the interim chair.

One concern many professors mentioned during a meeting is whether or not the new chair should be a current faculty member or a new hire, said Kolodzy.

The reason for the indecision was a mixture of new Vice President of Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan’s hiring and President M. Lee Pelton’s appointment, said Kolodzy. 

Kolodzy said she was not sure who would fill the role, but knew that she was not interested in taking it herself, as of now. 

“I have a lot on my plate right now and I want to focus on being a full-time professor,” she said. “But I might have a different answer later.”