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Installation of Robert Neville as dean of Marsh Chapel and University chaplain, Sunday, September 14, 4 p.m., Marsh Chapel

Week of 12 September 2003· Vol. VII, No. 3

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New COM dean to demand intellectual rigor

COM Dean John Schulz  Photo by Fred Sway


COM Dean John Schulz Photo by Fred Sway


By David J. Craig

As a combat fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, John Schulz faced a tough choice. He had flown 275 combat missions, loved flying fighters, and had the stuff for a successful military career, but he also dreamed of being a foreign correspondent.

In 1971, after eight-and-a-half years of service as a fighter and instructor pilot, he took the route that seemed most challenging: a discharge and a reporting job for the Voice of America’s Europe desk, in Washington, D.C. “On my first day at VOA, somebody asked me how I could leave a job as exciting as flying jets,” says Schulz. “What I said, in retrospect, has proven absolutely correct: that the world of ideas is even more exciting than the world of speed. The move was the wisest I ever made.”

Today, the new dean of the College of Communication is determined to ensure that all COM students, in addition to receiving a broad liberal arts education, master the skills essential for communicating ideas: writing and speaking clearly. “I’ve spoken with dozens of presidents and CEOs of major communications organizations and I’ve asked them what they look for in graduates,” says Schulz. “They all tell me the same thing: send us good writers. I’ve gotten the message.

“ It’s not our fault that the writing skills of college students across the country are weak compared to what they used to be,” he continues. “But it is our duty at the College of Communication to be unanimous in our efforts to do all we can to improve the writing skills of our students, as well as the rigor of their overall education.”

Schulz, a COM professor of international communication since 1995 and an expert on arms control, East Asia, South Asia, and national security issues, was appointed dean by the Board of Trustees in May. A former National War College professor and editor of Arms Control Today magazine, he spent 21 years as a VOA foreign correspondent and senior news executive before retiring in 1991. During that time he covered fighting in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, the Moro uprising in the Philippines, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. He holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in international relations from Oxford and is editor-in-chief of Global Beat Syndicate, a news service that provides op-ed pieces on international affairs to nearly 550 newspapers worldwide.

Among Schulz’s primary goals as dean is to help students tap into the same “burning curiosity about the world” that inspired him to pursue journalism. To that end, the mandatory freshman course COM 101 has been dramatically reorganized. Whereas it used to introduce students to the broad range of communications professions, now it provides an overview of a college liberal arts education, with, for example, sections on philosophy, psychology, the history of ideas, poetry, and literature. Participating lecturers are some of the University’s most distinguished teachers, including Christopher Ricks, BU’s William M. and Sara B. Warren Professor of the Humanities, Chancellor John Silber, and CAS Psychology Professor Jean Berko Gleason.

“ The goal of the new course is to awaken students to the world of ideas that awaits them on this campus,” says Schulz. “I believe that students must get a very broad education and then pursue in depth and in detail the subjects that delight and fascinate them. That’s important for a student who plans on a career in communications, because until you have a solid education and some ideas about the world in your head, you have nothing to write about.”

Schulz says he also will appraise the “overall rigor and writing instruction” in every COM course. “It is crucial that students don’t get mixed messages about the quality of writing that is acceptable, and that we don’t allow some faculty to be lax while others are rigorous,” says Schulz. “I’ll be working closely with all 62 faculty members to make sure that student writing is ferociously edited, honed, and polished, and with deans of other colleges to broaden and deepen the overall education of the students.”

COM’s ability to develop professional writing and speaking skills is the college’s most important contribution to the University’s educational mission, Schulz points out. “Good writing, whether it be in the form of journalism, a press release, a screenplay, or an academic paper, begins the same way: with clear thinking,” he says. “At COM, we insist on intellectual rigor and intellectual clarity as well as professional writing skills, and in that way what students learn in a COM class is applicable to courses in history, political science, or any other course that involves writing.”

From 1997 through 1999, Schulz chaired COM’s department of mass communication, advertising, and public relations. He also directs COM’s London Summer Graduate Program and COM’s joint degree program with the CAS international relations department. He says that his other objectives as dean include helping his faculty members “reach their full potential in teaching and publishing” and raising funds for a new COM building.

Schulz succeeds Brent Baker, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and chief of information at the Pentagon, who served for 29 years in the military before coming to BU in 1992. Baker retired after 11 years as dean, and is credited with strengthening COM’s liberal arts component, introducing digital teaching tools into the curriculum, and establishing several new graduate concentrations.


12 September 2003
Boston University
Office of University Relations