Cronkite School hosts open student meeting with leading dean candidate

Battinto L. Batts Jr. met with students for the second time to expand on his goals for diversity, equity and belonging at ASU's journalism school

In a meeting with about a dozen current students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Battinto L. Batts Jr., a leading candidate in the school's search for a permanent dean, expressed his mission and goals for the institution.

Batts, who was the first in a series of private panels with students in early April, said Friday that inclusion and empowerment will create a sense of belonging at the Cronkite School so the community can learn together and become self aware. 

"If you have a sense of what your purpose is, you will be committed to that purpose," Batts said Friday. "I believe that effective leadership is built upon relationships — relationships are forged in shared values, purpose and commitment to a mission."

READ MORE: Cronkite School begins private panels with dean candidates

Batts is currently working as the director of journalism strategies at the Scripps Howard Foundation where he oversees program funding and creates partnerships with higher education institutions. 

Before his current position, he worked at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications at Hampton University from 2007 to 2015, where he held a number of administrative positions. He's spent over 15 years as a reporter, editor and manager of local newspapers. 

The selection and interview process has largely been conducted in closed virtual meetings, some of which have been leaked to The State Press. The meetings have included students who were nominated by faculty and, in turn, were asked not to disclose the meeting's content. 

There is no set policy relating to open forums with prospective employees, but the previous Cronkite School dean search included public vision presentations by four candidates, public meetings with students and faculty as well as a school facility tour. 

The last time candidates were considered and brought to speak with students was the first time since the Cronkite School's founding under Christopher Callahan. 

Sonya Forte Duhé was the last person to be offered the position, however, her offer was rescinded last summer following an investigation by The State Press that found an alleged history of racist, homophobic and insulting comments, according to more than 23 of her former students. 

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

Ashley Engle, a junior studying sports journalism, the incoming vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists at ASU and who was present at Friday's meeting, said she was initially skeptical of any dean candidates because of what happened with Duhé.  

Engle said she wishes there would have been more public meetings with all of the candidates and more publicity for Friday's event. 

She said she was appreciative of the meeting's focus on students, where she and her peers can ask questions of a person who will be providing guidance for an education they paid for and are depending on to establish a successful career.

Batts told The State Press after the meeting he enjoyed interacting with students Friday and "getting a sense of what some of their needs are and what's important to them. I feel like (it) really helped me to see that we're all on the same page."

During the meeting, he made similar remarks as he had in his previous meeting with students about the "enduring community" at the school as well as its global brand. 

"Our mission is to address, number one, this divide that we have in society — this lack of trust in media," Batts said. "We're in a crisis situation in terms of what people believe in and what's factual. ... The Cronkite School is a laboratory. It's a laboratory for great ideas and how we can solicit your ideas as a student to help to address this mission."

He fielded questions about students' mental health, the trauma that comes with reporting, how he plans to balance all of Cronkite's disciplines as well as possibly auditing curriculum. 

Batts stressed the importance of diversity, inclusion, equity and empowerment to the success of all individuals and organizations. He said he wants to empower students of all grade levels to tell stories that are reflective of their personal backgrounds.

"Diversity, inclusion and empowerment is important," Batts said. "We want to make sure that the curriculum is reflective, pays respect to that and builds a sense of understanding."

Engle, the sports journalism junior, said it's important the Cronkite School shows aspiring Black journalists and reporters from marginalized communities that it's a place where they feel they belong. 

"I remember him saying that and I was like, 'Yep, he is a great candidate for the job. He is the person that we've been looking for this whole time,'" Engle said. 

Batts said several times students are leaders now in the present, and not just following graduation or 10 years after.

"We need you empowered to be able to make a difference in our society and in our culture right now," he said. 

In an email, Cronkite School Interim Dean Kristin Gilger said she has not been part of the hiring process, as is typical for the sitting dean, but expects a decision to be made in the coming weeks and the new dean's start date to be sometime in the summer. 

Incoming Provost Nancy Gonzales said in an email Batts has qualifying experience in journalism, higher education and the nonprofit sector, and the provost's office is "thrilled" he has emerged as the leading candidate. 

Gonzales said additional details about appointment will be shared "in the near future," but it's still not clear whether students should expect another meeting with Batts or any of the other candidates in the coming weeks or months. 

Editor's Note: This story was updated on May 11 at 9:20 a.m. to include a statement from incoming Provost Nancy Gonzales. 


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

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