Jay Bernhardt

After a months-long search for a new dean of the Moody College of Communication yielded no results, UT Provost and President-elect Gregory Fenves named Jay Bernhardt as interim dean Thursday. 

Bernhardt is currently a professor in the Department of Communication Studies and the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. He helped launch the Center for Health Communication and serves as its director. Bernhardt will begin his position as interim dean on Sept. 1. 

Bernhardt said although he has been at UT for about a year, he is impressed with the talent of the students and faculty at the Moody College.

 “As interim dean, I plan to use my academic, government, and industry experience to make sure that Moody College continues on the path of excellence and leadership in all aspects of our teaching, research, practice, and production,” Bernhardt said in an email. 

The dean search committee initially brought three finalists to campus to interview for the position and also planned on interviewing a fourth candidate. According to an email Fenves sent in March, the fourth candidate, whose name administrators declined to provide, dropped from the search process. Fenves announced last week that he would continue the search for a permanent Moody dean. 

Barry Brummett, co-chair of the dean search committee and communication studies professor, said the provost made the ultimate decision to continue the search.  

 “The considerations for the new dean continue to be what they were — that we want the best candidate in the country,” Brummett said. “We are actively recruiting applications.”    

Bernhardt will temporarily replace current Moody Dean Roderick Hart, who has spent more than 10 years in the position. Hart announced his resignation in August 2014 and will step down from his position in May.

Hart said he was influential in recruiting Bernhardt from his position of chair of the Department of Health Education and Behavior at the University of Florida.

“This is someone I have great, great regard for,” Hart said. “I’m glad we were able to get someone of his caliber.”

Bernhardt said he was honored the provost selected him to be interim dean and said he is going to work to that standard.

“My main goal is to be a great listener and spend time with people at every level and from every unit throughout the college and do what I can to help them to be successful in their work and their studies,” Bernhardt said.  

Fenves said the search committee will continue looking for a new dean of the Moody College during Bernhardt’s term.

The new Center for Health Communication at the Moody College of Communication recently named its founding director, Jay Bernhardt, a former marketing director for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bernhardt said he is enthusiastic about how the position will allow him to work closely with the new Dell Medical School.

“It’s a really exciting time at UT now with the new college of medicine coming online as well as the new Center for Health Communication,” Bernhardt said. “There’s a lot of increase, advancement and emphasis on health at UT. I fully expect for there to be very close collaboration between the new Center for Health Communication and the new [medical school].”

Bernhardt said the expanding field of health communication comes down to how information about medicine and health is shared at a personal and national level.

“Health communications is an area of practice and research that’s been around for several decades, but it’s really been growing rapidly in recent years,” Bernhardt said. “In essence, it involves everything from how doctors communicate with patients, to people looking up health information on the Internet, to developing national campaigns to help kids not smoke.”

Moody College Dean Roderick Hart said health communication is becoming an important factor in medicine, which may intrigue students.

“You can’t really talk about health and medicine anymore without featuring communication,” Hart said. “The most important thing [for students] to realize is ‘Oh my gosh, I thought I knew what the college of communication does: it’s journalism and film and all these other things…’ [But health communication] is an area that’s so important. I hope [students] turn around and say, ‘Hey, wow, I never thought of that.’”

Associate advertising professor Lee Ann Kahlor said the health communication center will help the University benefit from experts in both health and medicine who will join the program. Kahlor said communication is becoming an important factor in medicine.

“One of the key things we are gaining with the center is presence as a group of scholars and practitioners who can and will impact health care practice and health outcomes locally and nationally,” Kahlor said. “Communication has the potential to improve health care, whether it’s by helping practitioners to overcome barriers in patient communication or finding ways to harness mass communication to change harmful behaviors.”