Wenmouth Williams, chair of the Department of Journalism and professor of media arts, sciences and studies in the Roy H. Park School of Communications, has announced that he will be retiring at the end of this semester after 30 years at Ithaca College.
Williams received his Ph.D. from Florida State University in 1974. After receiving his doctorate, Williams focused mainly on television and radio studies as area chair of mass communication at Illinois State University for two years. He began working in Ithaca College’s former communications department just a few years before the Roy H. Park School of Communications received its current name.
Williams worked in the Department of Television and Radio, receiving the position of chair in 1985. He later crossed over to the journalism department, where he has been serving as chair since 2011.
Staff Writer Kelli Kyle spoke to Williams about his career, his retirement and the legacy he hopes to leave behind after 30 years with the Park School.
Kelli Kyle: When you made a career move from the Midwest to the Northeast region, what specifically about Ithaca College drew you in?
Wenmouth Williams: I was at a conference in Long Island, the International Radio and Television Society annual meeting, and the person who was chairing the meeting was saying all these really cool things about Ithaca College. I had never even heard of Ithaca College … as it turned out, the person who was one of my mentors in my undergraduate career, Tom Bohn, was the dean at that time. I didn’t realize he was the dean here, and I found that out and sent him a note … I just fell in love with the place. It’s just a really good place to be.
KK: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen at Park during your time here?
WW: When I started here, we were in Dillingham … I was part of the move into the [current] building and making sure everything worked right … As a department chair — I was the department chair of television and radio at the time — it was a really impressive operation that I was really excited about. It transformed who we are, in some ways good and in some ways bad. In Dillingham, we were all pretty much in each other’s laps, which was a pain sometimes, but we got to be really good friends that way. We’re spread out all over the place in this building. It doesn’t seem that way, but it becomes more difficult to establish relationships, particularly with new people. The technology, obviously, has changed everything we do, and that’s a good thing and a bad thing. It has its benefits and its contractions. Students are different. In 30 years, the basic notion of a college student I don’t think has changed that much.
KK: How does the Park School compare to other places where you’ve worked?
WW: I’ve worked at three places: Illinois State University, University of Hartford for a year and here. All nice places to be … As a boy from Cleveland, and working in Illinois, the thought of working in New York or New England just wasn’t on the list of things to think about. So we did a lot of traveling when we were in Hartford … I thought, this is kind of neat, to be in a place like this, where the wind doesn’t start at one end of the world and end at the other and blow you all away, which is what central Illinois is all about. That was the move. It was a quality-of-life move, and it was a good move at that.
KK: Why did you decide to retire this year?
WW: My first grandchild was born 11 months ago … My daughter and her husband live in Denver. She’s a Bomber. She graduated from the television and radio department, and I want to be a part of her life. Children at this age change so quickly. We’ll Skype, and two weeks later [my granddaughter] is like a different person. I need to be a part of that, and so does my wife. We were always going to move to Denver, but when our grandchild was born we accelerated that.
KK: What is the legacy you hope to leave with the students after you leave the Park School?
WW: I thought about this a lot. Not that I particularly care — to say, “Well, Wenmouth did it this way.” Something I made almost a mantra for me is that when we start making decisions about what we do here, we have to ask what’s best for our students … It’s a matter of setting your priorities and asking the right questions. If people say, “Well, if Wenmouth was here, he’d say we need to talk about what’s best for our students,” then that’s a success.