Dr. Lowndes F. "Rick" Stephens retires
after 35 years of service
Dr. Lowndes F. "Rick" Stephens retired in May
from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications after
35 years at USC.
Rick joined the faculty as assistant professor in 1976, earned
tenure and promotion to associate professor in 1980 and became
a full professor in 1986. He served as associate dean of the
then College of Journalism and Mass Communications from 1992-1995,
was acting director of the J-school's Center for Mass Communications
Research and served as the J. Rion McKissick Professor, an
endowed chair, from 2000-2006.
A native of Kentucky, Rick also has been an economist for
Spindletop Research, Inc., a professor at the University of
North Dakota, where he directed the communications research
center, and a researcher for private and government agencies.
Rick earned his undergraduate degree in economics and his
master's in communication from the University of Kentucky.
He earned his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison
in mass communications in 1975.
A devoted family man, Rick and his wife, Sally, have two
children, Brent and Sally, and four grandchildren.
Excerpts from Dr. Stephens' last faculty meeting
Comments from Colleagues
It may or may not be widely known or appreciated
that for a fair number of years, Rick Stephens was one of the
few persons — and at times the only one — on the College faculty
who had more than a dim awareness of the importance of scholarly
research and publication. He urged his colleagues — who were
excellent teachers and performed superb public and community
service — to add a research component to their careers. At times
he must have felt like a voice in the wilderness, a conscience
urging his colleagues to develop and contribute new knowledge.
Happily, that message eventually began to resonate. And when
the College finally gained approval for a doctoral program,
Rick Stephens contributed far more than his share to its success.
Unlike many of us, whose professional lives began and ended
in the Coliseum, Rick was known and respected across the
campus. He had friends and admirers in a wide variety of
disciplines, especially in the social sciences. He could
speak their language and he understood their work. Perhaps
more than anyone else on the faculty, Rick Stephens represented
mass communications as a full-fledged member of the USC academic
and intellectual community. That same level of respect for
Rick Stephens is found nationally, in the Association for
Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, among leading
scholars in the Theory and Methodology Division he is held
in especially high regard.
He and Sally have been, and are, active in community affairs,
notably in their church and with the public schools. Rick
has been a splendid colleague and Sally a wonderful wife
and mother. The University of South Carolina and Columbia
are blessed to have had them on board for all these years.
And now they can look forward to what will surely be a lively
and joyous time of retirement. Well earned, and thoroughly
Dr. Ron Farrar
Rick, I happily surrender my title
as "longest serving faculty member in the School of Journalism
and Mass Communications" to you. I supplanted Rick Uray,
and now you have replaced me. "The king is dead. Long live
the king!" The university owes you a great debt for your
many years of service in faculty governance — particularly
the University Committee on Tenure and Promotions. Enjoy your
retirement. You've earned it! Warmest regards,
Video comments from other colleagues
Dr. Henry Price
Rick Stephens is a cherished and dear colleague
who has made a significant contribution to journalism and mass
communication education in his more than 35 years of dedicated
teaching, research and service. His international reputation
as a teacher-scholar has helped to raise the profile of the School
of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South
Carolina. Although he will be missed here at the J-School, his
impact on the field and the academy will be felt for many years
to come. I wish him all the best in this next act and I am sure
there are miles to go before he sleeps.
Dr. Shirley Staples Carter
My first memory of Dr. Stephens was created
20 years ago. He was a guest lecturer in one of my master’s
classes, and I didn’t quite know what to make of him.
Early into it, Dr. Stephens offhandedly mentioned his wife.
He said, “My wife’s name is Sally. I love my wife
so much, I named my daughter ‘Sally!’” I
don’t recall the topic of that day’s class (and
I’m still not quite sure what to make of Dr. Stephens!),
but his general exuberance and the enthusiasm with which he
proclaimed his affection for his wife made me think this must
be a good fellow.
Two decades later, my experience with Dr. Stephens tells me
that my early sample of him was, in fact, representative: He’s
a good fellow indeed. (And he’s still just as exuberant
I've had a pretty long association with the
J-School, having entered it as a freshman in 1975 and again
as a graduate student in 1980 and then as a faculty member
in 1993. It was as a graduate student that I first encountered
Rick Stephens. I'm pretty sure I had him for three classes
-- Literature of Journalism, Research Methods and Research
Design (four students in that class), and in each of those
courses I learned so much more than just the content of the
course -- I actually learned how to teach, how to challenge
students to think, how to organize a lecture, how to set a
bar that pushes students to excel. When I have had the opportunity
to teach a small seminar class, I have caught myself in flashback
in Literature of Journalism class, talking Bagdikian, McLuhan,
Toffler, and I feel grateful for having been there. Thank you,
If you cross a Wisconsin badger with a Gamecock,
you get Rick Stephens. Tenacious, feisty, proud and loyal.
He’s got some residual Big Ten DNA, but he’s nearly
Rick's contribution to the University extended
beyond teaching as evidenced by his service on major committees
and his years as faculty adviser to student organizations.
Topping it off, Rick was a passionate Gamecock fan. In other
words, Rick was the ideal of a colleague and college professor.
Rick was mine and my twin sister’s advisor
and we have fond memories of meeting with him to go over our
class schedules. It’s been neat to continue getting to
know him through my role on staff for the college. Dr. Stephens
always makes a point to say hello and greet people with a friendly
smile. He cares about his students and his colleagues. What
a great, devoted, kind person he is!
In 1994, I was contemplating going back to school
for an MA in JMC, so I could qualify as a teacher, especially
post retirement. However, I had lots of doubts. I scheduled
an appointment with Rick who promptly engaged me in quite discussion
of the joys of studying communication theory and, more importantly,
convinced me I could do it. My first grad course was his Theory
class, of course, and I loved it. He later served on my thesis
committee and kept me straight on statistics. Thanks, Rick!
In the six years that I have worked with Rick
Stephens I have seen fewer people with more enthusiasm for
new and emerging technology than Dr. Stephens. The technology
I have seen him embrace is everything from dual-booting laptops
into different operating systems; using Netbooks and iPhones
from sling boxes to running servers for his classes. The younger
generations should be as intrepid as he.
Rick I thank you for the considerable support
and encouragement you gave me during those few years I spent
in the college. You were a solid mentor and a gracious colleague.
Mary and I wish you and Sally a happy retirement. We look forward
to being with you.
Rick was the chair of the search committee when
I was interviewing at USC. During one of the informal faculty
sessions, I mentioned my family and that my husband worked
as a correctional officer. Rick became very excited and said,
much to the horror of his colleagues, “Oh, that’s
great! We have a lot of criminals in Columbia!” It still
makes me smile when I recall his enthusiasm, and the shaking
heads of others in the room.
Dr. Glenda Alvarado
One of my proudest career moments was when Rick
read my recent article and profusely praised it. He is one
of the keenest minds and kindest men ever to walk the corridors
of Carolina. That combination makes him irreplaceable.
Dr. Stephens was essential to the success of
my master’s thesis on newspaper coverage of climate change.
Without him, my data would have perished on the stormy seas
of statistics. As Mark Twain said, “There’s lies,
damn lies, and Dr. Stephens!” Thanks, Rick!
When I first joined the faculty at USC, I was
star struck by Dr. Stephens. I had read his work in my graduate
courses at UNC, and I thought of him as an intellectual pioneer
and star in our field. He is those things, of course, but he
is also a kind and generous-spirited colleague who welcomed
and supported and encouraged me when I needed it most. I’m
lucky I’ve had the chance to get to know the man behind
Dr. Kathy Roberts Forde
Thanks Rick for all you have done to keep our
school on track and demonstrating what a “life of the
mind” can be.
In working with RIck, I learned he is a true
scholar who encourages intellectual pursuits purely because
he recognizes the innate value of knowledge.