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Dean Kathleen Richardson: Leaving a Legacy for the Drake SJMC

Photo courtesy of Kathleen Richardson

Dr. Kathleen Richardson, dean of Drake’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is retiring after eight years as dean and more than two decades as a faculty member. Associate Professor Catherine Staub will be succeeding her as dean after June 2022.

         “Dean Richardson will leave an unforgettable mark on Drake University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication,” said Drake Provost Sue Mattison in a press release. “She is a role model of ethical journalism and an educational innovator. Her passion for inspiring academic excellence has led to the school being one of the top and most reputable in the country.”

         Before becoming dean in 2014, Richardson was director of the SJMC from 2007 through 2014 and has been a faculty member since 1997. From 1997 to 1999, Richardson was a freelance magazine and book editor and served from 2000-2015 as executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, a nonprofit organization that focuses on open government issues.

She was also a founding member of the Iowa Public Information Board, a state agency that helps enforce the open-government laws. Richardson has received the Iowa Newspaper Association Distinguished Service Award and the Governor’s Volunteer Award, honored by the state judicial branch for her service to the state legal system, and named an Iowa Watch Free Press Champion and Iowa State University Greenlee School Friend of the First Amendment, according to Drake’s website.

Richardson’s blood runs blue, having received three degrees from Drake. She has earned a B.A. and M.A. in journalism and a J.D. from the Drake Law School.

         “I was a journalism student here in the 1970s and worked on The Time-Delphic the whole time I was here,” Richardson said. “I was editor when I was in my junior year and then I had an internship at The Des Moines Register and ended up working there for 20 years.”

In between her undergraduate work at Drake and coming back to work on the faculty side, Richardson worked at the Des Moines Register as a copy editor and copy desk chief, wire editor, news editor, features editor, book reviewer and columnist, according to a Drake press release.

Richardson fell in love with journalism while she was writing for her high school newspaper in suburban St. Louis, Missouri.

         “I liked being with a group of people who were creating something. I loved to write, and this was a good way to employ those skills in a valuable way,” Richardson said. “My Drake experience was characterized by really close relationships with my faculty.”

         In the words of former associate dean and multimedia professor David Wright, Richardson was a “disciple” of one particular faculty member, Professor Bob Woodward.

“I had a faculty advisor, Professor Bob Woodward, who had been a professional and journalist in Washington, DC before he came to Drake. This was in the days of Watergate, and so we were all very much wrapped up in the whole idea of journalism and the role that journalism could play in society as being a force for good,” Richardson said. “In a lot of the classes that I took from Professor Woodward, he would send us out into the community. Like I went to a hog farm for the first time in my life… I did a series of articles on women in prison in Iowa, so I actually visited prisons and talked to some of the women there. I went into small towns in Iowa and interviewed retirees and really came away with a sense of place and got a lot of great experience.”

Richardson’s expertise in the First Amendment and media law is incomparable, according to Wright.

“Richardson comes from the law and newspaper side. She is a First Amendment guru,” Wright said. “In terms of the press rights and getting access to things once again, I don’t think there’s anybody like her in the state and she’s so good at that and her sense of news and proportion. She taught Communications and Law, JMC 104, for years, and I used to literally sit outside the classroom to listen to her because I just found it so cool.”

Richardson has accomplished much in her eight years as dean of the SJMC, creating and nurturing a culture and home for journalism at Drake.

“I like to think that I have helped work with the faculty and the staff at the school of journalism, who are very, very student-centered, to create and sustain an environment that is student centered and that is focused, that is current and supportive of our students,” Richardson said. “I feel proud of the fact that the school is an accredited school of journalism, one of the few that’s in a private school. We’ve been able to maintain that at a high standard during the time that I’ve been here…The final accomplishment is that I’ve gotten the ball rolling on remodeling the building and making sure that in the School of Journalism the future generations of faculty, staff and students are well positioned to be able to thrive in a remodeled space.”

Richardson has three adult children and is married to fellow Drake SJMC alumnus Doug Wells, a retired photojournalist. She plans to reinvent herself in her retirement, a feat she has easily accomplished previously when she earned her law degree and simultaneously began her teaching career.

         “I feel like I’m in a similar place as many of our seniors are in, that I’m launching myself out in the world again, to reinvent myself again,” Richardson said. “[Drake] helped me reestablish myself in my second career as a lawyer and educator, and now I’m stepping off into yet another adventure. I’m not quite sure what it is yet, but I’m looking forward to finding out. As we all know, there’s so many needs out in the world right now, for people who have the kind of skills that the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication prepares you to have. It’s just trying to figure out, ‘Okay, where are their needs that I can help meet?’”


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