Good Life

New role suits Penn State College of Communications Dean Marie Hardin

Marie Hardin is the dean of Penn State’s College of Communications.
Marie Hardin is the dean of Penn State’s College of Communications. Photo provided

The spring semester has come to a close, graduations have ended and students have gone home for the summer, but the role of the dean of the College of Communications at Penn State is ongoing.

Professor Marie Hardin joined the faculty of Penn State in 2003 after working as a student newspaper adviser and professor at Florida Southern College and the University of West Georgia.

Hardin has taught classes that focus on sports and society at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her research concentrates on diversity, ethics and professional practices in mediated sports.

In July 2014, Hardin was named dean of the College of Communications at Penn State, succeeding Doug Anderson, who retired July 1 after 15 years as the college’s dean.

Hardin, 49, recently spoke about her career choices, her new position at Penn State, the present state and future of journalism and a new internship program for students in communications.

Q: How did you make your way to Penn State and eventually land the position of dean of the College of Communications?

A: When a job came open at Penn State, I felt it was a very good fit for my research interests, and would be a very good fit for my teaching also. So I applied for that job, and in the fall of 2003, I came to Penn State as an assistant professor on the tenure track. I started teaching editing classes, newswriting and I developed a new course called Sports Media and Society.

A couple of days after I earned tenure in my fourth year, the dean in the college called me in his office and asked me if I would be an associate department head for the journalism department. I told him I would do it, but I asked him if he would mentor me in exchange. I was an associate department head for two years, and then he moved me into a job as associate dean, doing various jobs for the following five years. I did special projects — I oversaw the graduate programs, the undergraduate programs, the promotion and tenure process, and the college’s assessment efforts. So I did lots of different things as the associate dean. I had many years of mentoring by the current dean at the time, Doug Anderson. So when the dean’s job came open it just felt like a logical thing to do to apply for that job.

Q: On the road to your current title of dean, what was the most valuable experience you had in your professional career?

A: When I was in high school and college I worked for student newspapers, and I decided that what I really wanted to do more than anything was be an adviser to a student newspaper. I just thought that would be a dream job. And I realized that in order to do that at most colleges, I would need to have a master’s degree. So I decided to go back and get my master’s while continuing to work as a journalist. But if I was going to be an adviser to a college newspaper, I wanted to be able to work in a university setting full time. And I knew that the best way to do that would be with a doctorate. So after I finished my doctorate I worked at a couple of small colleges as a student newspaper adviser, but also as a professor. It was not the easiest way to do things, but that’s the way I did it.

Q: Besides journalism, what other careers, if any, did you consider pursuing?

A: When I was in the fifth grade, our school started a little student newspaper. I joined the school newspaper and I just fell in love with it. Then all the way through high school and college I was with the student newspaper. So journalism was always something I wanted to be associated with. I never really thought of doing anything else. I was very lucky, because I know that it takes a long time for a lot of people to figure it out. I just discovered my passion very early.

Q: You have taught sports media courses at Penn State and conducted research in that area as well. Tell me about your interest in sports, and who are your favorite sports teams and why?

A: When I was growing up I did what a lot of young people do. I was an active high school athlete. I competed on my school’s cross-country team, track team and basketball team. So I was very athletic growing up. When I was in college, I would write about sports for the student paper. During my journalism career I didn’t write a lot about sports, but occasionally I would write sports stories. After I got my Ph.D. and I got into teaching, I realized that I needed to have a really strong research focus if I wanted to move up. I was looking for something new. I just felt as though not enough people were paying attention to what was happening in sports journalism. I knew I understood enough about sports, that I had enough of an understanding about how newsrooms operate, that I could launch a strong research agenda on sports journalism. I knew that it would interest me, and I knew that there was plenty of material there. So that’s how it developed.

As far as favorite sports teams, Penn State is always the right answer for that — for a dean at Penn State. All Penn State sports, for sure. But I don’t see myself as a big sports fan. I think people assume because my research has been around sports that I’m a big sports fan. I actually have avoided becoming a big sports fan because I think that as a researcher, being a sports fan would cloud my view just a little bit. In a sense you want to not have your personal fandom actually keep you from seeing things that you see. I certainly pay attention to sports, but I don’t spend every weekend in front of the television. I think it really bothers fans when they’re looking for neutral coverage and they can’t find it.

Q: As dean, what is a normal work day for you?

A: A routine day for a dean is that there is no routine. So every day is very different. My schedule is oftentimes not under my control. A lot of people need my time. I spread my time out among a lot of different demands across the college and across the university and with alumni. It’s a lot of meetings, and a lot of reading of different documents and proposals. And I try to keep up with what’s going on in the field, not just in journalism but in advertising, public relations, and the telecommunications industries.

Q: The Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State affected not only the victims and their families, but also athletes, students, faculty, alumni — an entire university and community. How well do you think Penn State has recovered from this and what impact will it have on the future of the university?

A: I think that over the long term, in other words if we really step back and take the long view, I think that the Sandusky scandal is not something that has or will hurt the university in a significant way. Certainly, there’s no doubt that there were immediate and very powerful reverberations and consequences for the university from the Sandusky scandal. But I think the university’s resilience, its sustained growth, its sustained reputation for excellence, and its continued support from its alumni and friends around the world in light of what happened in 2011, is nothing short of remarkable. The number of students who continue to apply, to be a part of Penn State, is pretty incredible. Our research and our reputation remain remarkably strong and resilient.

Q: In February of this year, NBC News anchor Brian Williams was suspended for six months for misrepresenting his experience in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Earlier this month, an anonymous source claimed that NBC’s probe of Williams’ reporting had found at least 11 instances where he either embellished facts or bent the truth. Do you think his suspension is justified and what do you think his future in journalism holds? Also, what do you think this says about honesty and integrity in journalism, and the trust the public has in news reporting today?

A: The practice of journalism, the practice of news-gathering, and the dissemination of news is a sacred trust. I think the public understands the importance of that function in society. When we have a situation like that with Brian Williams or other journalists over the years who have not honored that sacred trust and not operated by the rules of ethics and professionalism that we rely on them to do, unfortunately it has a negative impact on the entire profession because it chips away at that sacred trust that journalists have with the public. Credibility is critical for journalists. We must have credibility to be able to do our jobs and have the kind of impact on society that we need to have. And it’s very unfortunate when it happens with a journalist who had the stature that Brian Williams had.

I do sometimes think that journalists, like anybody, can fall into bad habits without even realizing it. The critical thing here is that there’s so much public trust we have invested in our reliance on news and on journalists that journalists don’t have the luxury of falling into those kinds of bad habits. He violated the public trust unfortunately in a really bad way. People rely on journalists to provide the truth. If you can’t be relied on to provide the truth, this isn’t the occupation for you.

Q: With the emergence of the Internet over the last 20 years, print journalism has gone digital for the most part, and many newspapers have suffered. What do you see for the future of print journalism?

A: I think it’s important to distinguish between our continuing and growing appetite for news and our diminished appetite for newspapers. So the practice of journalism, and the practice of ethical, responsible news-gathering is more important than it’s ever been. What’s changing are the platforms on which we deliver the news. We built a business model around the platform, and when that platform started to disintegrate, that’s when the industry really struggled.

But I am convinced, and we know, that the need for news is no more diminished today than it’s ever been. People are still consuming news in very high quantities, but the delivery mechanism has changed. I do think that one of the challenges with digital platforms is that they allow the same information to be dispersed more widely than it’s ever been dispersed before. Where you used to need 10 journalists covering a story to go to 10 different sources, now you can have just one journalist go cover that story and it still gets out to those 10 different sources because of the Internet.

We will find answers ... there’s too much of a need for news in a democratic society for us not to find the answers ... it’s too important.

Q: This past winter, the College of Communications announced the launch of the Penn State Hollywood Internship Program, which will begin in January 2016. The internship program will coincide with the spring semester at Penn State, and allow students to live and work in the Los Angeles area. What different types of internships will be available? What does this program say about Penn State as a leader in communications education?

A: We’re really excited about this internship program because it’s going to offer our students new opportunities they haven’t had in this form. We’ve certainly had plenty of students go out to Hollywood and complete internships and land jobs out there. But this is a way to systematically offer that opportunity. The program is already immensely popular with our students, and we’ve had a very good reception from our alumni. There will be internships in television, films, some students will be interning at news outlets, and there are opportunities even for sports out there. But it will really be focused on the entertainment industry primarily — television and film mostly.

We have a lot of wonderful alumni in the L.A. area who will now be able to tap into their expertise into the opportunities they can provide our students. There are other universities that have programs in Hollywood, but we aim to do it better than anyone else. We’ve done our homework, we’ve done our research, and we feel very good about the opportunities we’ll be able to provide our students.