Tag Archives: Conrad Fink

Scholarship of Engagement — Prof. Conrad Fink “Guest Blog” (Part I)

23 Mar


It’s been five years since my favorite professor and UGA legend Conrad Fink passed away. I recently rediscovered a Fall 1998 issue of the University of Georgia Research Report. (Not sure why I have it — I arrived in Athens for my graduate studies in 2001 — but I’m really glad I do.) Inside are Fink’s poignant and prescient remarks about academe’s obligation to engage the general public and major trends in higher education and communications that very few at the time had fully considered. Only Fink could make a research journal that engaging! In the tidy package are the timeless themes of caring, giving and sharing and how truly meaningful work must include those things.

Does the scholar truly have an obligation to relate learning to the general public? Let me ask you: Do scholars have a responsibility to shine light in dark corners? To help good triumph over evil? To assist reason in the eternal war against chaos?

Yes, scholars do have a responsibility to interact with the public — and I personally question that proposition no more than I would question whether I have a responsibility to dart into traffic and pull a child to safety. I question the proposition no more than I question whether a physician has a responsibility to heal.

And I don’t mean scholars should sit demurely on the sidelines, waiting to be asked to the dance. I favor aggressive scholarship of engagement, as it was termed by the late Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

But why do I feel so strongly about this?

It probably has something to do with my Methodist upbringing. I think that anyone — not just scholars, but anyone — who possesses something of value is obliged to share that in some way with humankind. Scholars are uniquely positioned to fulfill this moral obligation when they possess something of value: facts, revelations, insights, thoughtful reflection. Pull the child from the traffic, assist humankind’s search for truth and progress. Both are moral obligations and both require active effort by scholars that go beyond simply sharing with other scholars in the tight little world of academe.

To Be Continued



19 Jan

According to the Red & Black student newspaper, Fink owned and used three typewriters. He also jumped out of a plane on his 79th birthday.

The University of Georgia community and journalism world in general lost a luminary and legend this past weekend when Professor Conrad Fink succumbed to cancer at the age of 80.

Whether slogging around the jungles of Vietnam as an AP reporter or inspiring (and often times scaring) multiple generations of journalism students, Fink made a huge impact on so many lives and a distinct mark on an entire profession. The man with the unforgettable eyebrows was truly an American original.

Ironically, words will never do him justice, but, as friends and disciples from AP headquarters to Room 234 at Grady College in Athens react this week to the sad news, it doesn’t take long to find salutes such as “what a loss for the planet” and “Fink taught me more than any man in my life save my father.”

Fink was, hands down, the most unique professor I ever had. His gruff, sergeant way of holding class (e.g., calling out students by their last names) combined with some well-timed tenderness here and there really endeared himself to so many. In his fall 2002 opinion-writing class, the professor singled out a column I wrote about Martha Burke and the Masters tournament in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. This “alleged student” swelled with pride. Of course, I was quite familiar with his red-ink wrath as well.

“I still have my red papers from Professor Fink’s 1996 class,” wrote Angela Croce Shipp on an online UGA j-school networking-turned-memorial page. “Shouting my last name out, making my papers bleed … all because he loved me enough to challenge my work,” added Russ Mills.

The story my big-bodied football coach told his players in the late ‘80s comes to mind. You’re handed the keys to a Porsche on your 16th birthday and when it’s gone after a year you miss it, but not as much as had the same thing occurred with the Ford or Chevy you labored three long, hard summers to buy. Working hard and overcoming challenges to reach your goals bring a whole different level of appreciation. Fink didn’t give you anything; he made you earn it and you were better off in the end where you couldn’t help but respect and appreciate the man.

Fink was fun, too. Oh, the entertainment he provided! The professor said about my current neighbor and, back then, photo editor at the student newspaper: “Don’t trust Owens over there — he looks at the world with one eye closed.” He’d always ask this preppy, prima donna, know-it-all undergrad in our class, “So, [her last name], what do they think about this back at the country club?” An editor friend, whose office was next to mine for many a year and who, like Fink, is not known for mincing words had this to say, “He was made to break whiny j-school students with a single grunt and hard stare. The world is a lesser place now.”

One day the semester after his class I was with a fellow Grady College classmate and poked my head into his office to ask him a question. Fink, who began teaching newspaper classes at UGA in 1983, barked this rejecting response: “Sorry, Lee, you’re off the payroll now.”

The wise and wonderful professor is off the clock now and no longer has to fight for truth. He’s basking in its eternal light.