Columbia Journalism School Dean Nicholas Lemann to Step Down After 10-Year Term

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By: Press Release | Columbia Journalism School

New York, NY, October 10, 2012 — Columbia University announced today that Dean Nicholas Lemann will step down at the end of June, 2013, at the conclusion of the school’s centennial year, after a 10-year term.  Following a one-year sabbatical, Lemann plans to return to the faculty at the Journalism School, and will continue his work as an author and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine.

“I am proud to have completed a decade-long term as dean of the Journalism School, and excited about the prospect of a great new dean’s leading the school to new heights during the term to come,” said Lemann.  “President Lee Bollinger and my colleagues at the Journalism School have put extraordinary trust in me, and that has made it possible for me to have the happiest season of my career here in the dean’s office. Together we have accomplished a lot, for the school and for our profession.”

During Lemann’s time as Dean, the school has brought in 20 new members to its full-time faculty, started the school’s first new professional degree program since the 1930’s – the M.A. degree, which stresses subject-matter expertise – and launched new centers for investigative reporting and digital journalism.  The school also started the Punch Sulzberger News Media Executive Leadership program in 2007, the only executive leadership program for news managers based at a journalism school, along with several other major programs to train working journalists.
“Some ten years ago, Nick agreed to serve on a task force I had created to consider what a modern journalism education should be.  His thoughtfulness about and commitment to the subject were exceptional and inspiring, and, after many discussions, it became clear to me that he was the right person to lead the School in this new era,” said University President Lee C. Bollinger.  “It was our collective good fortune that Nick accepted the challenge.  The many tangible benefits of Nick’s transformative leadership are felt today not only by students attending the Journalism School but also by the profession and the society more generally.”   

The Journalism School has made particular strides in deepening its intellectual content and in strengthening its ties to the rest of the university—that is the main purpose of the M.A. program—and in placing itself at the forefront of journalism’s digital revolution. In 2010 the school announced the establishment of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, created as a place where both students and working journalists can engage in learning and research about the future of digital journalism. In 2011, under the umbrella of the Tow Center, the school began offering a new dual masters degree program in Computer Science and Journalism.  And in January 2012, the school announced the establishment of the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation, in partnership with the Stanford University School of Engineering.  Both the Brown Institute and the Tow Center are dedicated to advancing and creating new forms of digital media, and will serve as research and development centers for the profession.  

“Nick has been a brilliant dean, on every level,” said Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief of ProPublica, former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former member of the School’s Board of Visitors.  “The school was first among equals when he arrived.  It is now head and shoulders above anyplace else, in providing both intellectual leadership and cutting-edge professional training.  Nick has built a superb team; they offer his successor a running start in sustaining the school’s powerful momentum.”

Responding to digital revolution’s blurring of the traditional distinctions between delivery systems, in fall 2013 the school will introduce the most significant overhaul of its M.S. curriculum in decades. Students will no longer select a major in one of four traditional media-industry categories: newspaper, broadcast, magazine, digital.  Instead, course offerings will be divided into three broad realms: The Written Word, Images and Sound, and Audience and Engagement. These changes recognize that the nature of the work that paid journalists do is changing and entails a much closer interactive relationship between journalists and audiences, with attention to assembling and presenting information from a variety of sources as well as first-hand individual reporting.  Reporting, which remains at the core of the school’s teaching, itself demands new skills that go beyond gathering facts, and this will be integrated into the curriculum as well.
“A decade ago, I was a member of the committee, headed by Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, that worked to revitalize the mission of Columbia’s School of Journalism and identify a Dean who would lead the school into the future,” said Vartan Gregorian, President of Carnegie Corporation of New York. “I am very proud to have been part of this effort because it led to the appointment of Nick Lemann, an extraordinary journalist, a superb writer, an outstanding educator, and a brilliant intellectual.  As dean of the Journalism School, his vision helped to shape the way that journalism education is responding to the great challenges facing the field of journalism in the 21st century and those who carry on the traditions of this indispensable pillar of our democracy.  It was also my honor, along with Hodding Carter, former President of the Knight Foundation, along with his successor, Alberto Ibargüen, to invite Nick Lemann to become one of the five founding deans of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, which has had a lasting impact on journalism in general and journalism education in particular. I congratulate Nick on the great success of this chapter in his career and look forward to the wonderful work to come as he continues on as outstanding teacher, author, and leader of both people and institutions.”

During Lemann’s time as dean, the Journalism School has retained its position as a powerful force in the conversation about journalism and the future of the profession.  The Columbia Journalism Review now publishes daily online, as well as six times a year in print. Students now create more than 40 news Web sites every year, and last year the school launched a year-round accountability journalism site staffed mainly by recent graduates, The New York World, as a tribute to the paper operated by the school’s founder, Joseph Pulitzer. The school has also published a series of substantial reports that investigate and make recommendations about the profession:  “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” in 2009; “The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism,” in 2011, and a report to be published in November 2012:  “Post-Industrial Journalism.”  Lemann, along with two colleagues from other schools, is currently working on a report commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation about the future of journalism education, which will be published in 2013.

Remarkably, even during this time of great disruption in the profession, student job-placement figures have grown to an all-time high.  Over this time, the school has established more than 50 global exclusive post-graduate internships and fellowships for Columbia Journalism graduates.  The school’s annual March Career Expo has become one of the largest journalism job fairs in the world, attracting more than 110 employers. The school has also become a much more international institution, with a student body that comes from 40 or more countries.  

Under Lemann’s leadership, the school launched and will have completed the first comprehensive fundraising campaign in its history, raising $167 million, including an $18 million gift from Helen Gurley Brown, the largest in the school’s history. Among the uses to which the school has put the funds it has raised is support for new faculty, curriculum development, a tripling of its average financial aid grant per student, and building renovation projects, which include a new student center and café, a digital innovation laboratory, a broadcast studio and a restoration of the World Room, where the school community often gathers.

The search for Lemann’s successor will be led by President Bollinger.  The search committee will begin meeting later this month.

Lemann has published five books, most recently “Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War” (2006); “The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy” (1999), which helped lead to a major reform of the SAT; and “The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America” (1991), which won several book prizes. He has written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The New Republic, and Slate, and worked in documentary television with Blackside, Inc., “FRONTLINE,” the Discovery Channel, and the BBC.   Lemann has served on the boards of directors of The Authors Guild, the National Academy of Sciences’ Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, and the Academy of Political Science, and is a member of the New York Institute for the Humanities. He was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in April, 2010.
About the Graduate School of Journalism
For a century, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has been preparing journalists in a program that stresses academic rigor, ethics, journalistic inquiry, and professional practice. Founded by Joseph Pulitzer in 1912, the school offers Master of Science, Master of Arts, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees. For more information, visit

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