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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 deserved.


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 and friends.

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 today!)


Carmen Maye

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, Dr. Stephens.


Ernie Wiggins

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 all Gamecock!


Charles Bierbauer

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.


Jay Bender

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!


Elaine Taylor

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!


George Johnson

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.


Pierre d'Autel

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.


Chris Vlahoplus

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.


Karen Mallia


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!


David Weintraub

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 the scholar.


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.


Jeff Ranta

In working with RIck, I learned he is a true scholar who encourages intellectual pursuits purely because he recognizes the innate value of knowledge.


Dr. David Scott

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