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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Professor Profile: Mark Schlesinger

If there exists a straight path from what one studies in college to their eventual career, Mark Schlesinger avoided it at all costs, although it seems completely unintentional.

When describing his life after high school, Schlesinger, director of UMass Boston’s Communications Studies Program, often pauses to reiterate how convoluted his life story really is. When told that it makes for a good story, Schlesinger just laughs and says, “I hope so.”

Schlesinger has many other responsibilities besides teaching. He is solely responsible for advising, internships, independent studies, hiring part-time faculty, and teaching three sections. When asked about the work load he smiles and says, “I am looking forward to the day when I can get authorization to hire more people.”

Schlesinger began his undergraduate education at Columbia University in New York City studying Musicology. His interest in the subject waned, he says, as he became more informed about the Vietnam War. By his senior year in 1966, Schlesinger was involved in anti-draft movements, which he says affected and inspired him to read more about the war.

As Schlesinger was becoming more influenced by his reading and fellow college students, it became clearer to him that Musicology was not where his interest lay. “I couldn’t see its connection to anything that was becoming really important,” he says. “Talk about imposter phenomenon, I knew I was putting something over on people and on myself, too…that this really wasn’t where my interests lay as far as my place in the world.”

After a brief stay at Cornell University in a doctoral program in Musicology, Schlesinger enrolled at New York’s Colgate University, changing his focus to studying Counseling and Student Personnel. At the time he was also engaged in reading on his own and listening to all-news talk radio. Schlesinger’s interest and concern for world issues and current events would remain strong throughout his life and help direct him to where he is now.

In the fall of 1970, Schlesinger began studying for his Ph.D. in Higher Education through the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Michigan. This was an interdisciplinary program that incorporated philosophy, history, group dynamics, and psychology. In his third year at the University, Schlesinger spending five months leading a research team that studied the opening of Florida International University in Miami, which like UMass Boston, is also an urban public university.

After three years of studying at the University of Michigan, Schlesinger traveled to Illinois to begin research for his dissertation. His research involved traveling around the Midwest and consulting with institutes of higher education on administration, organization, and curriculum. The dissertation would remain unfinished until 1979, but when it was complete it would consist of two volumes totaling 500 pages. His research focused on planning, founding, and organization leading up the opening of two urban public universities: Sangamon State and Governor’s State University near Chicago.

A year later Schlesinger left for Ohio to work on a federally-funded project at Bowling Green State University. There, he was the assistant director of the Competency Based Undergraduate Education (CUE) Center, which worked with faculty who were investigating the effects of their instruction. The premise of the project was that general education was dying because of pressure to explain the relevance and necessity of these courses in college. “We went to great pains to explain that relevance, because we didn’t really understand what we meant when we talked about critical thinking, and leadership, and problem solving, and curiosity, and all of those wonderful skills that we say people accumulate in GenEd,” he says.

After three years at the CUE Center, Schlesinger was recruited in 1977 by UMass Boston to work for a new program called the College of Professional Studies. “It was going to be a spawning ground for various professional programs,” he says. Schlesinger was hired as a coordinator of Essential Skills, developing and teaching skill-based classes in problem solving, critical thinking and management communication. The College of Professional Studies soon turned into what is now the College of Management, and many of the courses that he taught and developed were used in the seminars.

In 1981, Schlesinger was asked to head up the Department of Analysis and Communication within the new College of Management and Professional Studies, becoming associate dean in 1987. Schlesinger continued to hold various administrative positions in the university and its system over the years as assistant vice chancellor to UMass’ then-Chancellor Sherry Penney, and in 1995, when he returned to UMass as Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs after a two-year leave as Academic Vice President at the University of Maine at Machias. “I liked that,” he says. “I enjoyed the contacts across the campuses; I enjoyed the issues we were starting to deal with. In those days we were just beginning to deal with how institutions could benefit from sharing academic technology.”

He remained in the President’s Office for only one semester, eager to get back to Morrissey Boulevard and teach again. After working as a high-level administrator in both Maine and UMass, Schlesinger felt ready to get back to the classroom. In fact, he says, coming back to UMass from Maine was a joy because of the diversity of the students. “It was a relief to come back to UMass Boston and look out at the classroom and see all that variety,” he says.

In 1997, Schlesinger began teaching Distance Learning classes with UMass Lowell. Courses were taught from Boston and broadcast to Lowell, where the students there viewed the lesson on the television. The same was also done from Lowell to Boston. Schlesinger taught three different classes broadcast to Lowell, using the Internet to e-mail papers, hold discussion forums and post messages. This was a learning experience for him, he says, but one that put to use and further developed his self-taught knowledge of technology.

Four years ago Schlesinger took a sabbatical to study the classics of communications. “I was really trying to get a sense of, what should a communications program at the turn of the millennium look like?” he says.

The Communications Studies program became a part of the American Studies program in 2002 where, Schlesinger says, “we reside her very happily.”

Now the Communications Students program, part of American Studies since 2002, has developed to include an increased involvement of technology and mass media in the study of communications. The program also recently acquired a new senior research fellow in Ellen Hume, a former journalist for the Wall Street Journal and CNN commentator.

“If you ask me what is my single, greatest accomplishment, it was to bring Ellen Hume here,” he says. Upon her arrival, Hume created the Center for Media and Society, which, together with The Neiman Foundation at Harvard University, put out a four-day publication called Media Nation that was distributed in the Boston Globe and reported on the mass media at this summer’s Democratic National Convention. Students had a chance to learn first hand, on the floor of the FleetCenter, about the democratic process and the way the mass media works.

In his office on Wheatley Hall’s sixth floor, when asked about teaching, Schlesinger replies, “Good teaching, at least for me, consists of setting up the experience so people can get the most out of it.” He feels that he brings a fresh perspective to teaching because he was self taught in this field, he says. “My whole life I’ve been interested in media and current events, I just never formally studied it.”