Broadcasting and Journalism professor to retire after 30 years

Steven Barnum , News editor

Mike Murray is retiring after more than 30 years at Western Illinois University.

The Fulton, Ill. native worked at radio stations in Minnesota and Wisconsin before coming to Macomb to begin his teaching and advising career. While his interest in higher education started while he was in college, Murray’s passion for broadcasting started much earlier.

“Even when I was a little guy, I was captivated by broadcasting,” Murray said. “It was like voices in the sky to me. They would come from places like Chicago and Denver and sometimes even New York City, which was a big thrill. Getting signals from those cities that you only read about was really cool.”

He enrolled at schools like the University of Iowa and the Brown Institute of Broadcasting with the intention of joining the radio industry for the long haul. After recognizing that the radio business was turning to automation, Murray shifted his focus to the classroom.

I became aware of the power of a good teacher,” he said. “Teachers seemed to have a magical power to illuminate material and show you connections between things. I wondered if I could do the same and I think that I was able to succeed at least some of the time.”

Western’s broadcasting and journalism department helps prepare students for the workforce, according to Murray, in several different ways.

“We’re a very well-connected department and part of that is because we’ve graduated thousands of students who are out there working in the industry,” Murray said. “Our connections have helped a lot of students get jobs.”

He references William “Buzz” Hoon, a fellow member of the department, when he talks about the department’s “legacy” of students who graduated from the program and helped create a respectable reputation.

Another reason for why the department is a good choice in Murray’s eyes is its ability to offer students a hands-on experience. Broadcasting majors can work at the university’s radio station or at the morning news show. They are able to learn about the industry while also developing skills.

“It also helps because it’s combined with a certain degree of academics,” Murray said. “They learn the protocols for getting news in a proper way. They know what’s acceptable and unacceptable and they just know what they’re doing.”

The department is currently in the process of a dramatic transformation. Several faculty members are retiring as of recent after what Murray refers to as more than two decades of stability.

“We had this core of people that worked as a team,” he said. “We went about 25 years straight with that team before the party started breaking up. We were in a state of equilibrium, which I think is pretty darn rare in academic circles.”

Murray talked about receiving necessary state funding for so long, something that he thinks is absent now, as one of the department’s strengths. Aside from knowledgeable faculty members, he also lists leadership’s ability to allow for freedom of expression as a positive aspect of the department.

“It was like riding a wave for two and a half decades,” he said. “I defy you to find a department somewhere else on the campus that had that kind of stability.”

With the new faces in the department, Murray makes it clear that the program is in good hands. Theresa Simmons will take over his advisory duties and Patrick Johnson will replace him in the classroom. Murray remains optimistic that the new crop of instructors will create a similar atmosphere to what he and his colleagues built.

Murray quickly recognized how teaching required classes often makes it difficult to energize students about the material. He discovered that teachers can’t force certain students to be as interested in the material as they are, a challenge that he accepts as reality. He also thinks that the traditional method of teaching is evaporating.

“No longer is the guy who stands up there and lectures for 45 minutes as valuable. I think teachers need to respond to the way students learn, which has changed,” he said.

When he ponders what he’ll miss the most, he doesn’t hesitate to say interacting with students.

“Helping them fulfill their organizational and educational goals and desires is what I’ve enjoyed,” Murray said. “I’ll miss having discussions with students about their dreams.”

When he reflects on his career, Murray describes his trajectory as unusual, but he also recognizes that there is no right or wrong path to take. Once he transitions into retirement, he plans to get rid of clutter through a major housecleaning project.