James Brown · 2009
By Maggie Hillery
Each spring at graduation ceremonies, Jim Brown proudly dons a well-worn academic gown that evokes loving memories.
The open-front style of the gown and its thinning velvet trims hint at the gown’s age. In the 1930s, George Earl Brown, self-described as a farmer who taught chemistry, purchased that gown when he received his Ph.D. in Ames, Iowa.
More than six decades later, George Brown’s son, Professor James William Brown, executive associate dean of the Indiana University School of Journalism at IUPUI, participates in the most honored ceremony in academia, attired in the threads of the man who instilled in him a voracious appetite for learning, a passion for teaching and an unwavering commitment to serving others.
Those values have resulted in a productive, satisfying and honored career worthy of induction into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.
Brown, the only child of George and Mary Ethelyn Brown, tries to “work hard, be fair and have a concern for your neighbor and those less fortunate than yourself” the great life lesson his parents taught.
Brown’s office overflows with the latest in technology, the work that demands his attention, and the newest photographs of his family, especially granddaughters Katie and Audrey Brown.
No one is ever turned away from the cluttered office or the busy man inside. He is Jim to his colleagues, “the Dean” to others. His office is a gathering place for faculty, staff and students, a scene reminiscent of the waiting room of a country doctor. His work area houses computers, cameras, recorders, scanners, and other devices that enhance learning and teaching opportunities.
Brown’s multi-page Curriculum Vitae reflects his scholarship, personal growth and professional contributions. Here’s a sampling: From Southern Illinois University: a B.S. with a major in cinema and photography. From Indiana University: an M.S. in Education, and an M.B.A., culminating in a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology with a Business Administration Minor.
In 2008: IUPUI Chancellor’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement.
In 2007: Glen W. Irwin Jr. M.D. Experience Excellence Award for Faculty, IUPUI.
The list goes on, but of all these awards, none is as precious to him as his full professorship at Indiana University, from where Brown will retire at the end of June.
Running a close second to his love of teaching is his relationship to professional journalists. Brown received the 2006 Hoosier State Press Association Distinguished Service Award, an honor usually given journalists in newsrooms, not classrooms.
David Stamps, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association, says, “In short, when HSPA calls, Dean Brown answers.”
Brown was a long-time board member and is a former president of the Indy Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. During his presidency, the chapter won the Outstanding Chapter Award for the region.
“I suspect that if you search the Internet for the term ‘above and beyond the call of duty,’ you will find Jim Brown’s name,” said Steve Sweitzer, a past President of the National Press Photographers Association and News Operations Manager of WISH-TV.
Brant Houston, former Executive Director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, summarizes Brown’s contributions to journalism this way: “Jim Brown not only helped change journalism; he helped save it. As one of a handful of visionary professors and journalists in the 1980s, he saw the need for digital literacy and he prodded, pushed and encouraged editors, reporters and TV producers from around the U.S. and the world.”
Brown’s knowledge and generosity spread well beyond journalism. An Eagle Scout and the father of an Eagle Scout, he supports the Boys Scouts of America through his service on the staff of the Boy Scout Jamboree and on the board of the Crossroads of America Council. He has been awarded the Silver Beaver from the Crossroads of America Council for his tireless scouting work.
And then there’s Operation Walk, which each spring takes U.S. doctors on humanitarian trips to some of South America’s poorest nations to perform orthopedic surgery on patients who otherwise would never receive treatment. Jim’s photography and video help these surgeons raise money for each year’s trip.
Another group grateful for Jim’s contributions are the Delaware Indians of Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Once known as the Lanape, these former residents of what is now Conner Prairie in Indiana were renamed and forced to travel the “Trail of Tears” when they were relocated to Oklahoma by the U.S. government. “No one may ever know what a ‘people bridge’ Jim Brown is,” said Annette Ketchum, a councilwoman of the Delaware Nation.
Brown shared with Rita Kohn the 2007 Indiana Chapter Society of Professional Journalists First Place Best Book honor for “Long Journey Home: Oral Histories of Contemporary Delaware Indians.”
In all that Brown has accomplished, he pays tribute to his father: “He had a strong work ethic, and he was a man of his word. If he was interested in something, he read about it and tried it. He had a great sense of what we now call civic engagement.”
Brown became romantically engaged in the late 1960s, when he met his wife, Becky, while they were at IU. They were married almost 40 years ago on the Bloomington campus. “Becky has a wonderful framework of ethics and an inherent sense of fairness,” Brown says of his wife. “She is also very generous.” For Becky, Jim has been her “Rock of Gibraltar.” One of her most vivid memories is a family canoe trip. Becky recalled: “Jennifer, aged 12 or so, had accidentally opened her thumb with a hatchet. The cut was a severe one. While time stood still, Jim quietly and efficiently administered first aid and injected a much-needed calmness into the situation that eased everyone’s fears and panic.”
Colleagues say that Brown is all about learning and sharing that learning. A colleague who asks a question might get nearly a full semester of teaching rolled into the answer.
Asked how he would describe his father to a stranger, Brown’s son Brian, a software computer engineer, responded: “I’d say “http://journalism.iupui.edu/Faculty /brownjames.php”. And then I’d advise the stranger that the best way to impress my father would be to ask him exactly one question and then listen attentively — preferably also taking notes — for the next hour.’
To Jennifer, now a public health veterinarian in Denver, her father always has been a role model for ethical behavior and professional conduct. “When faced with situations in my professional life that don’t have a clear right or wrong answer, I often ask myself what my dad would do — or I pick up the phone and ask him,” she said.
Jim’s analysis of teaching puts into perspective his view of learning: “I like to think of teaching as a continuously rolling wheel that has nobeginning or end. What you learn as a student informs your teaching. The most important lesson we can impart as teachers is to inspire our students to become life-long learners. What is really important in life is persistent inquisitiveness.”