Friday Faculty Focus: Gail Baker


June 2nd, 2017

Dean Gail Baker (center) poses for a photo. (Photo courtesy Jeremy Lipschultz)

It’s time now for Friday Faculty Focus with KVNO News reporter Brandon McDermott. This week, McDermott speaks with the Dean of the College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Gail Baker.

Brandon McDermott: Dean Gail Baker, thank you for coming on the program.

Dean Gail Baker: My pleasure.

Brandon: When you arrived at UNO, the School of Communication and the College of Fine Arts had combined to make CFAM. Can you talk about the success you’ve seen with that merger?

Dean Baker: The merger of CFAM from the School of Communications, the College of Fine Arts and also the UNO Television and KVNO radio was well underway (it) had been going on for a year when I arrived. Since that time, 11 years ago, we have seen collaborations between the units, we have seen our faculty work together, we have students who are studying in all of our disciplines, were offering a course about the arts that we’re asking students to take from communication – so I would say that the success has been that all of these disciplines they didn’t necessarily know each other and understand each other, are now working together.

Brandon: How about your transition from journalism to public relations – was it hard getting out of storytelling?

Dean Baker: Public relations is also storytelling, it’s just doing it from a different perspective. In journalism, you’re storytelling is strictly objective, you’re trying to get at the facts, you’re trying to be as balanced as possible and public relations takes those same skills but applies them to a specific client, or a business, or an institution. So, while the objectivity may go away – the accuracy shouldn’t, the fairness shouldn’t. But you do look at the stories a little bit differently. So, I never thought that I’d gotten out of storytelling, I just learned how to tell stories in a different way.

Brandon: You’ve won four Emmy Awards for your work for writing and producing documentaries. Even though you’re away from news, is it nice to still be able to tell those stories?

Dean Baker: Well it’s fascinating to be able to tell stories. Because, the stories that we have chosen to do in our documentary work have been stories that wouldn’t otherwise be told – they’ve been stories about people in communities that have been overlooked or maybe sometimes some misinformation has been spread about them. So, I find this a very compelling calling that I’m able to get into these stories to learn about people who are gone, people who had to strive in their journey and to share that with really wide community. So, I wouldn’t give it up, I can’t give it up and we’re ready to work on a new one – even as we speak.

Brandon: I have attended the last six commencement ceremonies here and UNO. I see how emotionally invested you are in many of the students who come to UNO. Is that your part of the job – handing out degrees and seeing these students succeed?

Dean Baker: Seeing students succeed is certainly the best part of the job, but sometimes in order to see students succeed you have to watch them go through challenges, you have to help them when they don’t succeed. While commencement is exciting and exhilarating, I wouldn’t say it is in and of itself the best part of the job – it certainly is a fun part of the job and something that we anticipate – but the best part of the job is watching students come in with a certain level of understanding about their disciplines and about themselves and then when you see them leave, they’re different people, they have been transformed. Because I believe that education transforms people, when I see that for any and all of our students, it’s very, very exciting and satisfying for me.

Brandon: You’re leaving the University of Nebraska at Omaha for a job at the University of San Diego. Can you talk a little bit about your new position at USD and how hard it was to leave UNO?

Dean Baker: At the University of San Diego I will be Provost and vice president of academic affairs. University of San Diego is a Catholic institution and that does speak to my core values and my own faith. It also is a smaller institution and so there’s an opportunity to have a more hands on approach with students, it has a very ambitious strategic plan that really speaks to liberal arts education, so I’ll be a part of implementing that. So, leaving some place is always hard, but I’ve been a person who has been able to adapt and to thrive with new opportunities, so I’m excited about the future.

Brandon: Is there anything else you’d like to add, before we go?

Dean Baker: It’s been great being here, seeing students like yourself come through, watching the college grow, seeing our faculty achieve, seeing our alums come back – it’s been a wonderful experience, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Brandon:  Dean Gail Baker, thanks again for joining me.

Dean Baker: Thank you.

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