Dean Thomas Fiedler Reflects on his Time as Dean of the College of Communication

Spring 2019 will mark Thomas Fiedler’s last semester as Dean of the College of Communication.

After 10 years of serving as Dean of the College of Communication, Thomas Fiedler (COM ’71)  is embarking on a new journey. That his career included a stop in academia was a welcome surprise, he said, and he is just as excited to discover what comes next.

Now, I don’t know who this is attributed to, but ‘I never put a period where God intended a comma,’” Fiedler said.

Dean Fiedler’s main focus over the years has been to drive COM forward—academically, digitally, and with an eye for student success. He saw the media landscape changing and knew that COM needed to grow and adapt as well, to keep up with the times and best serve those learning within its walls.

This ideology has led to many additions and changes to COM, including—notably—the emerging media studies department, which established a focus on the rapidly growing digital media landscape.

“My [academic] direction is really centered around how the changes in technology disrupted the practice of communication,” Fiedler said. “We wanted to make sure the curriculum was not just where the disruption was happening but [embracing] it.”

He likened this mentality to that of a successful hockey star.

“I used this analogy from the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky,” he said. “Gretzky said ‘Good hockey players play where the puck is, but great hockey players play where the puck is going to be,” which is just our metaphor for the strategic direction of our college.”

Embracing technology into the College of Communication has been a high priority for Fiedler.

When Fiedler came to COM in 2008, he had no idea what a dean even did. He described his early time with COM as having a “steep learning curve.” Yet he quickly began to rack up accomplishments, including establishing the emerging media studies program and earning his first doctoral degree in communication.

Fiedler’s learning wasn’t a solo project. He credits Associate Professor Tobe Berkovitz with aiding him in learning how to serve as a dean. Berkovitz, in return, believes he learned as much from Fiedler.

“He has done a really good job of pushing the college forward and making sure that students and faculty are embracing technology,” Berkovitz said.  

He points to the Zimmerman Family Social Activation Center in COM as evidence of the growing influence of technology and of Fiedler’s focus on bringing COM into the fold.

Their relationship has extended beyond the confines of COM. The two have embarked on a “Dean Roadshow,” visiting different college campuses to learn from other leaders. That roadshow cemented a strong friendship that will follow them beyond their careers and that has taught them both lessons outside of the classroom.

“[Fiedler] has a very zen approach and has taught me how to calm down,” Berkovitz said.

But before the dean roadshow, before 30 years working in journalism and a subsequent ten years working in academia, Fiedler graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with a Bachelor of Science in engineering.

“I’d grown up in Falmouth on Cape Cod surrounded by boats,” Fiedler said. “I loved them and thought I’d continue working with them.”

Then he fell in love and got married. He found himself in need of a steadier career path.

Fiedler applied to COM’s graduate journalism program because of two key factors. The first was that he didn’t need to have journalism experience to apply. The second was a little more personal.

“They also had a scholarship that was offered by the founder of Yachting magazine,” Fiedler said. “It was perfect for [me], who wanted to be a boating writer.”

After graduating, he wrote for the Orlando Sentinel, covering the police beat on the weekends. As his writing skills developed, he moved to the “Mickey desk.”

“I basically covered everything about Disney’s team of lobbyists,” Fiedler said. “They basically lobbied the Florida government every day for something that Disney was trying to get—whether they were building a highway or draining a swamp.”

As part of his transition from Orlando to Miami, Fiedler went from working on special assignments to writing his own political columns.

Then his news career took a twist.

“One thing leads to another, and I found out people around the newsrooms, including the editors, began to think of me as a special assignment reporter,” Fiedler said, “which was a total fraud.”

After some time working on special assignments, Fiedler received a job offer from The Miami Herald as a political columnist and investigative reporter.

At the Herald, he broke a story about Gary Hart, presidential candidate, and his affair with a Miami model (a movie, The Front Runner, was just released about Hart’s downfall, featuring Steve Zissis as Fiedler). Fiedler also won a Pulitzer for his work investigating a religious cult.

Following his tenured journalism career, Fiedler returned to Boston, heading across the river to be a Visiting Murrow Lecturer and Goldsmith Fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, focusing on the press, politics, and public policy.

Fiedler then made his way back to Boston University and COM, where he has happily worked for the last ten years.

He hopes the end of his time at BU will not be the end of his career.

I have some talents that I would like to put to use,” he shared. “I spent so many years as a writer, and I don’t get too much of that of as a dean, unless you count writing emails. I’d love to lend my talents in the next election.”

Regardless of what is exactly in the cards for Fiedler, he will always remember his time at BU, and so will everyone else.

“I am going to miss knocking on his door and hearing him say ‘Hi, Tobe!’” Berkovitz said. “Paying it forward is part of the COM DNA, and that [comes from] him.”

COM will be honoring Fiedler in the spring with an event celebrating his journey.

 

 

Becca Buchholz, Staff Writer

Becca is a junior studying advertising with a focus in statistics. She spends her time reading ad books, watching advertisements, and refusing to disable her ad blocker. She has a midwest personality mixed with an east coast sass but is always ready to lend a hand. Find her on campus with a full bottle of water and her trusty Supergas.

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