Gene Burd

Journalism professor Gene Burd, the longest serving faculty member in the school of Journalism, is retiring after 42 years of teaching at the University. Burd will likely be granted emeritus status because of his large influence on the school.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Although the longest serving faculty member in the journalism school said he feels like he is not ready to leave, Gene Burd is retiring after 42 years of teaching. Burd’s last day will be Thursday.

“Forty-two years, my gosh,” Burd said as he glanced over his 28-page resume. “I would have stayed on indefinitely here because I love what I do, despite a lot.”

Although Burd has had the longest tenure at the journalism school, he said he is still one of the lowest paid faculty members and has not had a promotion in 39 years. 

Burd’s most recent post-tenure review, which evaluated his past six years of teaching, said he is not an active participant in the operation of the journalism school, which includes catching up with technology. In 2012, the school introduced an updated curriculum to include classes centered around new media. 

“I could’ve stayed on with these certain conditions,” Burd said. “New technology — I’m behind on it and that’s a weakness in journalism.”

Burd said he has taught classes at the graduate and undergraduate level, and started at the University teaching basic reporting, news writing and feature writing. Burd has also taught senior fellows courses seven times — more than any other faculty member in the school.

“I would be frustrated and have some problems as well as successes in almost any institutional, corporatized, bureaucratic setting, which is the nature,” Burd said.

According to Burd, his interest in cities and urban communication began as a young boy when he moved from the Missouri Ozarks after the Dust Bowl to Los Angeles in the 1930s. Burd practiced journalism at The Kansas City Star, Albuquerque Journal, Houston Chronicle and several other weekly papers, and gave away more than $1.6 million of his savings for research — including money to create The Urban Communication Foundation, to improve the research of journalism and communication.

Journalism school director Glenn Frankel said Burd made the decision to retire, and the Moody College of Communication Budget Council and Dean Roderick Hart unanimously voted for Burd to be granted emeritus status because of the enormous impact Burd has had on the school. The proposal must be approved by President William Powers Jr.

“He was a very important figure in the school, and I think [in] making the school a fairer, more equitable place where students came first and where everyone had a voice,” Frankel said.

Mercedes De Uriarte, a close colleague of Burd’s who taught interdisciplinary courses in American studies, Latin American studies, women and gender studies and journalism, said she and Burd’s common interests allowed them to connect when she came to the University in 1987.

De Uriarte said Burd’s broad knowledge of the field of journalism will be a huge loss for the school.

“I think the University makes a mistake when they don’t find roles for people who have been there for 42 years,” De Uriarte said. “When they don’t find ways to draw upon all the knowledge that’s been acquired over that period of time — I think that’s a serious loss for not just the University, but for the students who come along who could benefit.”

Burd admitted that his lack of knowledge of the new media technology was a barrier for teaching journalism as it evolves, but he felt like he has extended himself into many areas and departments.

“When you’ve been around 80 years you collect more than lint,” Burd said.

Burd said emeritus status will allow him to finish things he’s put off because of being a professor, such as poetry and finishing several manuscripts.

“There are scores of unpublished things that I’m trying to assemble,” Burd said. “On my tombstone, you know what it should say? ‘Poet.’”

A Washington Post reporter’s decision to share the rough draft of a story with UT media officials before publication has prompted the newspaper to revise its reporting policy to discourage such acts in the future.

The Texas Observer reported Tuesday that Post reporter Daniel de Vise allowed UT media officials to review his story and suggest critical edits — some of which he adopted — before its publication. Although some journalists called de Vise’s actions unethical when news of his actions hit the web, the Post stood behind him. Two days later, the Post is singing a different tune and announced Thursday that in response to the issues raised, it will enact new policies to discourage sharing stories with sources without editorial approval.

Published on the front page of The Washington Post March 14, de Vise’s story, titled “Trying to assess learning gives colleges their own test anxiety,” examined the trend of standardized testing in higher education and used UT as a prime example.

“Our current policy doesn’t prohibit a reporter from sharing a story draft with a source, but we intend to tighten it to ensure that such instances are rare without dispensation from a top editor,” said Marcus Brauchli, Washington Post executive editor, in an e-mail to the Poynter Institute school of journalism.

Brauchli detailed these policy changes in a memo to all Washington Post staffers Thursday afternoon, according to JimRomenesko.com. In the memo, Brauchli said while some reporters covering a specific topic may share sections of their story for accuracy, entire stories should never be sent to sources.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Gene Burd, associate journalism professor and former Houston Chronicle reporter, said journalists do not share articles with sources.

“You just don’t do it,” Burd said.

It is always unethical to share a full draft of a story with a source prior to publication, Burd said, adding he was shocked to hear of a Washington Post reporter doing so.

“There’s nothing wrong with rechecking and checking and cross-checking, but to provide a story or a text and get the source’s approval before you submit it, or certainly publish it, is just verboten,” he said.

According to the Texas Observer, in a March 5 e-mail to Tara Doolittle, UT’s director of media outreach, de Vise wrote, “Everything here is negotiable. Help me out by not circulating this material very far and by stressing that it is an unpublished draft. If you or anyone at the university has any concerns about it, I implore you to direct them to me. I’m one of a very few reporters here who send drafts to sources!”

Doolittle, along with UT media relations director Gary Susswein, reviewed the story and sent it back to de Vise with their edits. In the e-mails, Susswein said the story was bad and told Doolittle both of them needed to go through it with a heavy red pen. Doolittle told the Texan she checked the draft because the reporter offered and it provided for an extra measure to ensure accuracy. Both Susswein and Doolittle worked as journalists before they assumed their current positions at UT.

Susswein was out of town and not available for comment.

David Bassine, advertising junior and marketing director for Texas New Media, an organization promoting multimedia use in journalism, said the sharing of an article with its source seems unethical because it could inadvertently compromise the integrity of the piece.

“I‘m sure that it could influence something,” he said.

Wanda Cash, associate director of the school of journalism, agreed, telling the Texan she would only condone sharing even a portion of an article with a source in extreme cases to ensure technical accuracy.

“I was in the journalism business for 25 years before I came to UT to teach journalism and I’ve never, in my professional career and now in my academic career, condoned any kind of prior review of stories by news sources,” she said.

Kelly McBride, Poynter Institute journalism professor, said while the practice of sharing an article with a source is controversial, it is not unheard of, and helpful in certain cases.

“It’s best to do it in a way that the source understands that you are doing it simply for accuracy sake and that you’re not turning over editing to the source,” she said in an interview.

McBride said in this case the reporter’s e-mails do seem inappropriate, however, but she believes his intentions were fair.

“If I had been his editor, I would have instructed him to word his e-mails in a way so that he could have articulated his desire for independence as well as his desire for accuracy,” she said.

The statue of latino civil-rights activist Cesar Chavez stands in the West Mall as one of the many diverse statues erected to display an awareness of the diverse demographic present on campus.

Photo Credit: Batli Joselevitz | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: This story is the fifth in a series exploring race, racism and diversity on the UT campus.

A simple stroll around the 40 Acres tells you a lot about UT’s complicated history with racism on campus.

Permanent fixtures of the University’s ties to race and racism are scattered throughout campus. From the representations of Confederate figures in the South Mall to the more recently unveiled statues of Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Jordan, each encompass a part of the complex mosaic that is UT’s racial past and present.

Edmund T. Gordon, chair and associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, gives tours of the UT campus to explain its ties to racism. Gordon said the campus’ structure is evidence of its racial past, seen most obviously in the Tower’s facing south toward the South Mall.

“There is a huge South Mall because we want to respect our southern heritage and the confederacy,” Gordon said.

Gordon said the South Mall’s Confederate statues and the Littlefield Fountain are symbolic of the University’s history of racist values.

“This is about a glorification of the Confederacy and of a particular moment in history when the South and North are brought together under a democratic president and under a notion of white supremacy,” Gordon said.

Gordon said while he is in favor of keeping the current statues, there needs to be an explanation of their significance to the campus.

“There needs to be some way in which the University recognizes that there’s a debate around these things,” he said. “The thing to remember is that the past of the University is built into its structure and the past of the University is a racist past.”

David Gracy, School of Information professor emeritus, said he agreed with Gordon’s view that the controversial statues should not be removed, but sees the statues as symbolic of something other than racism. Gracy’s great-great-uncle, George Littlefield, was a law professor at UT whose personal funding helped keep UT at its current location and who was commemorated with the construction of the Littlefield Fountain.

Gracy said the Confederate statues in the South Mall were placed next to the Littlefield Fountain as a memorial to celebrate the reunification of the North and South to fight in World War I. He said the figures were intended to serve as sources of inspiration, just like the statues commemorating the civil rights movement.

“They were built in part as a memorial to those who gave their lives in service to their country,” Gracy said. “You include subsequent examples of men whose leadership is particularly admirable. The Martin Luther King statue is an excellent example of that.”

Gracy said examining the statues from a historical and sociological standpoint sheds light on how our society views race.

“Having them there allows us to look at history to see what they originally meant, and as time has gone forward to see what succeeding generations have tried to make them mean,” he said.

Journalism professor Gene Burd has been teaching classes exploring race in the media since he came to UT 40 years ago. Burd said the issue of race on campus was obvious when he first arrived.

“UT-Austin was rather late in becoming a part of the modern civil rights movement,” he said. “That affected enrollment here, it affected courses and it hurt UT’s reputation.”

Other notable fixtures around campus include Robert Lee Moore Hall, named for a former professor known for excluding black students from his classes, and the Perry–Castañeda Library, which was named after notable black and Latino professors at UT.

Burd said while many people propose the removal of the Confederate statues, he does not. Rather, he believes statues of figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Jordan, the first black female elected to the Texas House of Representatives and a former UT adjunct professor, complement them in giving a full view of history.

“If you’re not willing to accept that your past is still a part of you, you’re lost,” he said. “You can’t just erase it. In order to understand the present and what’s going on now, you have to know what all has happened.”

Amber Chenevert, an advertising graduate student and president of the Black Graduate Student Association, said the history behind the issue of racism is still unfolding even today. Chenevert said she is concerned about a lack of balance on campus.

“The UT campus should reflect all the races, ethnicities and genders that encompass it,” she said. “There needs to be a balance of representation that is an actual reflection of campus and the people there.”

Chenevert said all changes that have taken place, such as the erection of statues of Barbara Jordan and Cesar Chavez, are a product of the struggle of many students.

“These changes are the result of the struggle at UT from the beginning,” she said. “As a larger variety of people have been allowed over time to attend UT, they’ve wanted to be represented on campus fairly and fully.”

Chenevert said this struggle is still taking place.

“We’re still fighting to this day for equality and balanced representation,” Chenevert said.

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as:UT fixtures show complex history