Cronkite School begins private panels with dean candidates

Battinto L. Batts Jr. participated in a closed-door, invite-only meeting with students as a candidate for the dean position of the Cronkite School

In a closed-door, invite-only Zoom meeting with students, Battinto L. Batts Jr. was announced as a finalist for the open dean position at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

Students present were nominated by Cronkite faculty to represent all degree programs as well as student organizations and leadership roles within the school, a person who attended the meeting told The State Press. Students not part of the invited group were not notified of the meeting or who had been selected to represent them. 

Two people in the meeting spoke with The State Press under the condition of anonymity because they were not given permission to disclose the meeting's content. 

Another person in the meeting said they were notified by a professor Wednesday afternoon they would be able to participate. It wasn't until the person confirmed they would attend that they received Batts' name, cover letter, resume and diversity statement, all of which were reviewed by The State Press. 

Batts said over the phone Thursday night he "enjoyed meeting and interacting today with students." He said as a candidate, the process for hiring is determined by the University and he will participate in what has been laid out, which has taken place over Zoom. 

Batts said he believes Arizona PBS is a large part of what makes the Cronkite School and ASU special, and he looks forward to continuing the relationship. He said diversity and inclusion are important for society and the Cronkite School should reflect those principles. 

Nancy Gonzales, the University's provost pro tempore, said in an email there is no set policy relating to open forums with candidates for open positions. At Arizona's other public universities, no policy is worked into the hiring process that asks candidates to meet with students to answer questions or discuss their plans for the school. 

Last year, the Cronkite dean hiring process involved four final candidates, each of whom gave a vision presentation to administrators and faculty, met with students publicly and toured the school's facilities. The last time candidates were considered and brought to speak with students was the first time a dean search took place since the Cronkite school's founding. 

During that process, now interim Dean Kristin Gilger said an email from the Provost's office and accompanying hiring committee would ask for feedback, and a final decision would be made by the office in consultation with ASU President Michael Crow.

Gonzales said in the email that at this stage in the hiring process, the University is still looking at multiple candidates and therefore is still limiting meeting attendance. As the University gets closer to making a final decision, Gonzales said the school anticipates hosting a larger forum with students, but details have yet to be determined. 

She did not say how many candidates will participate in a public forum, when they will take place or how far in advance students will be notified. 

Sonya Forte Duhé, the last person to be offered the position, would have been welcomed to the school with a fiscal-year salary of $315,000, according to documents obtained by The State Press via public records request. Between March and June 2020 before her removal, Duhé was paid $12,000 a month as a consultant.

Duhé's offer was rescinded in June following a State Press investigation that found an alleged history of racist, homophobic and insulting comments, according to more than 23 of her former students. The investigation was sparked by tweets condemning Duhé's response to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

READ MORE: Incoming Cronkite dean has alleged history of racist, homophobic comments toward students

While one person in the meeting urged those present to keep Batts' name confidential, so as to not impact his current job, a public page already exists describing Batts' candidacy for the dean position at Louisiana State University's Manship School of Mass Communication.

Batts is currently working as the director of journalism strategies at the Scripps Howard Foundation where he, according to his LinkedIn profile, oversees funding for journalism programs, creates partnerships with higher education and professional institutions to propel the foundation's mission.

The Scripps Howard Foundation is a corporate foundation part of a media conglomerate that owns newspapers, television stations, cable networks and other media outlets. 

Before his current position, Batts worked at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University from 2007 to 2015, where he was the assistant dean for academic affairs, a director for the William R. Harvey Leadership Institute and a professor. He spent over 15 years as a reporter, editor and manager of a variety of local newspapers.

According to those present at the meeting, Batts spoke about focusing his deanship on the Cronkite experience – he wants to work as dean to make students feel challenged, yet supported in their learning experience. Batts talked about his commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

In a still-changing time dominated by COVID-19 and the regulations that come with it, Batts told students at the meeting that communication from the school should be constant about all things, making school a solid and steady ground, while things outside of it change every day. 

A person who attended the meeting said ethnicities and genders were fairly represented despite there being a small number of students present. In Fall 2020, there were 1,154 undergraduate and 120 graduate students enrolled at the Cronkite School. Roughly 15 students were in attendance at the Thursday meeting.

According to people present at the meeting, Batts said if he were to be appointed, he would want to put student voices at the forefront by getting a better understanding of their wants, needs and visions for the school. He said during the meeting other stakeholder perspectives are important too, like those of faculty and alumni, attendees told The State Press. 

One attendee said they were not aware the process was going to be as exclusive as it was until the meeting started. The same person said they were surprised the Cronkite School had shifted from holding public forums to not telling students where the hiring committee was in the process of finding the right candidates. Students who attended will receive a feedback form in the coming days, the person said.

Correction: The CEO of Arizona PBS job does not come with the Cronkite Dean position.


Reach the reporters at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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