By Maxwell Bevington
Boston University News Service
In 2010, longtime professor and chair of journalism at the University of Florida William McKeen was getting ready to leave Gainesville, Florida, and start a new chapter of his life. McKeen had served as a journalism professor for 24 years in Florida and had chaired UF’s journalism department for the latter 12 of those years.
After being chair of the department for more than a decade, McKeen said he was looking to return to simply being a professor and possibly writing again on his own. A friend of his, who is a Boston University graduate, then told him he should interview for the journalism department chair position at BU.
McKeen said he agreed to the interview but did not originally think much would come of it.
“I went along with the interview thinking, ‘Well, what the hell, this will be interesting,’” he said. “I knew the dean from my Florida days… So, I thought it would be nice to see him. And then I got here and I kind of liked the idea of the job.”
From 2010 on, McKeen has served as the chair of BU’s journalism department, and this will be his last semester in this position. Current Boston Globe editor, Brian McGrory is slated to take over at the start of the new calendar year.
McKeen said he is looking forward to passing the baton to McGrory, so he can now finally focus on teaching and not have to worry about administrative tasks.
“I am at the point in my life where I think I would like [to just teach],” McKeen said. “I am kind of looking forward to not having to worry about other instructors who are having issues of this or that. It doesn’t mean I am not going to care about them, but that is no longer going to be my job.”
Part of McKeen’s comfortability with leaving his longtime post as journalism chair at this point is due to his confidence in McGrory, he said.
“He is going to come in with a great set of eyes because he is coming directly from the industry,” McKeen said. “I think he is probably going to have a lot of innovative ideas about how to teach this strange, mysterious craft.”
Mariette DiChristina, the dean of the College of Communication, shared McKeen’s sentiments about McGrory providing real industry insight.
“[The college has] been talking about working closely with different media,” DiChristina said. “And Brian McGrory is going to literally walk right out of a newsroom where he has been pushing the edges of how reporting should be done.”
Although McKeen said he feels the time is right for him to shift away from being department chair, he has still enjoyed the job, and he will particularly miss recruiting high schoolers visiting BU.
McKeen recalled meeting Samantha Gross, a BU journalism graduate from the class of 2018, who won a Pulitzer Prize this year with the Miami Herald for coverage of a condominium complex collapse in Surfside, Florida.
“I remember meeting Samantha Gross when she was in high school, and we kind of connected because she is also from Indiana,” McKeen said. “She went through our program and was just a phenomenal [student].”
Other COM alumni who attended BU during McKeen’s tenure have also gone on to become well-renowned journalists. Alexandra Wimley, a photojournalist who graduated from COM in 2017, also went on to win a Pulitzer Prize with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for her coverage of the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue Pittsburgh.
McKeen is proud of multiple positive developments that took place during his time as chair, one being his newfound ability to diversify the staff in terms of race and gender over the past 12 years to better reflect the industry.
Nonetheless, he does have regrets from the past 12 years, one being that he was overly concerned with maintaining harmony among the faculty.
“I think I just should have challenged people a little bit more than I did. I was concerned with keeping the peace a lot,” McKeen said.
BU’s journalism school has enjoyed high national rankings during McKeen’s tenure, but he believes it will develop further with McGrory at the helm.
Knowing he has left the college in good hands, McKeen can now look forward to the next phase of his career. When asked about his plans, he said he could start writing again and playfully suggested he would love to work in Toronto during summer since he dislikes hot weather.
“Maybe next summer I will take on some project,” McKeen said. “Maybe I will go to work in Toronto for the summer because I hate the heat. It is amazing considering how much time of my life I have spent in Florida.”