After 10 years as dean of the College of Communication, Thomas Fiedler will step down at the end of the next school year.
Fiedler (COM’71), a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, says that it’s the right time for him to leave, noting that by then, the University will have concluded its comprehensive campaign and is expected to kick off a new strategic plan. “It seems to me the timing is right for me to hand the baton off to whoever succeeds me,” he says. “And personally, there’s a time where you try to assess what lies ahead, what opportunities you might want to try and haven’t done before.”
Jean Morrison, University provost, says Fiedler has led COM through “important, meaningful change over the last decade—improving the responsiveness and adaptability of its programs, recruiting outstanding faculty, and elevating its standing as a model for innovation in emerging media. We see the results of this today in the success of COM graduates in the marketplace and in the unified culture of excellence across the college’s divisions and are grateful to Dean Fiedler for his service to the University.”
Morrison says BU will conduct a national search for Fiedler’s successor, and she plans to meet with COM faculty this September to discuss the search effort. Ideally, the committee will submit its recommendations by April 2019.
In a letter sent last week announcing the news, she credits Fiedler with improving and updating COM’s curriculum so graduates will be attractive to prospective employers, and with recruiting Pulitzer Prize and Emmy winners and New York Times best-selling authors to the faculty. He oversaw the launch of the Division of Emerging Media Studies and the college’s first doctoral program, and guided the redesign of the COM 101 World of Communication gateway course. Under his leadership, four new professorships—the Feld Professorship in Emerging Media, the Andrew Lack Professorship in Journalism and Business of Media, the Sumner M. Redstone Professorship in Narrative Studies, and the Sandra Frazier Professorship in Public Relations—were established.
During his tenure as dean, the school has seen its profile rise. Publications like USA Today and The Hollywood Reporter have lauded COM as one of the best communication schools in the country, and alumni and faculty regularly earn national honors for their writing, productions, and investigative work. Fiedler launched the New England Center for Investigative Reporting through COM, which has emerged over the last several years as a national paradigm for nonprofit journalism centers serving their communities. He frequently comments on media and political issues for local television and radio, including WGBH’s Beat the Press, as well as in major national publications.
He says he is especially proud of the commitment and enthusiasm students, staff, faculty, and alums have shown. “When I first came, there wasn’t a sense of community around being an alum,” he says. “Now—and I credit President Bob Brown for this—when I meet alums and parents, they have a real pride about what we are doing. I feel great about that.”
Fiedler became dean in 2008, after working for more than 30 years at the Miami Herald as an investigative reporter, political columnist, editorial page editor, and finally, as executive editor from 2001 to 2007. He rose to national prominence in 1987, when he and several other Herald reporters broke the story of presidential hopeful Gary Hart’s affair with a Miami model. Hart later withdrew from the race. The following year, the Society of Professional Journalists awarded Fiedler its top prize for his coverage of the 1988 presidential election. In 1991, he was among several Herald reporters who garnered a Pulitzer Prize for a series on a religious cult, and two years later, he and the entire Herald staff won a Pulitzer for the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Andrew.
In addition to serving as COM dean, Fiedler has been a Visiting Murrow Lecturer and Goldsmith Fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, and he codirected a project exploring the future of journalism education, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation and the Knight Foundation. Crain NewsPro recently honored him as one of the nation’s most influential journalism educators. He just completed his fourth year as president of the New England First Amendment Coalition, and he was recently elected president of TheConversation.com’s US executive committee.
After graduating from the US Merchant Marine Academy with a bachelor’s in engineering, Fiedler earned a master’s in journalism from COM in 1971. In 2003, the college awarded him a Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 2005 he won its Hugo Shong Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism. In 2006, he was elected a member of BU’s Board of Overseers.
Fiedler says he intends to be active during his last year as dean. In a letter to COM faculty, he used the analogy of former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz (Hon.’17). “When Big Papi announced he was retiring the next year, he went on to have a Hall of Fame Year, with a .315 batting average and 38 home runs,” the dean says. “It was his victory lap, and I thought, I want to do the same thing. I want to do everything I can to go away feeling that I have prepared the way for my successor.”
After leaving COM, he says, he plans to do some writing and he may even become active in politics, backing issues and candidates he believes in, something he couldn’t do as a working journalist. He also plans to spend more time with his wife at their vacation home in North Carolina (the couple marked their 50th wedding anniversary this week).
The University will host an event celebrating Fiedler’s contributions and accomplishments next spring.