Charles T. Duncan taught journalists to be tough, fair
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To call Charles Duncan’s 55 years of work simply a career does not speak to the insight and humor with which he approached it. For Duncan, the practice of journalism and the education of future journalists was a life’s work—one that included working as a newspaper reporter, an author and columnist, a journalism professor and as dean at University of Oregon and University of Colorado at Boulder.
As a student of his writing class from 1974-76, I can attest to his demanding standards and love of the language. With one set of facts, he taught us how to slice and dice leads and sentences to reveal every possible nuance of a story — a craft I still appreciate to this day. He taught us how to experiment with words to say exactly and precisely what we intended to convey. While it was grueling work, we graduated with a mechanical degree in words, among other things.
He also struck me as a thoughtful, graceful and eloquent gentleman with firm convictions and a flair for teaching. He served as one of the early executive directors of Oregon Scholastic Press before turning over the reigns to another popular professor, Dean Rea.
He worked as a newspaper reporter in Minnesota before taking his first job as a journalism instructor at the University of Nevada in 1940. He went on to teach at four other universities and, in 1950, he began his career at Oregon when he joined the staff as a professor. Duncan became dean of the School of Journalism (1955-1962) and dean of faculties (1965-1971) before retiring in 1979. After retiring, he continued to the university in a variety of roles and contributed columns to the Register-Guard.
When, in 1959, Charles T. Duncan gave his presidential address to the Association for Education in Journalism, he was among the first in the field to recognize the role of outside funding as he offered cautionary praise for a tiny coterie of foundations then supporting journalism and communication schools.
In the years since, foundations have cut a broad swath across journalism and communication education, funding physical plants, endowed professorships, research and teaching programs, centers for advanced study, scholarships, conferences, and the like. Universities on the receiving end of this largess usually express gratitude and praise their benefactors. While doing good, foundations often are also about the business of enhancing their own name and reputation.
Thus, he said, it is important to look at the consequences of foundation funding, consulting widely on that matter, to make a decision that best serves academic freedom and intellectual integrity, even if that means declining a grant or an endowment gift.
The 1983 convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) featured a discussion of issues about accreditation of journalism and mass communication programs. Charles T. Duncan, professor and dean emeritus of the School of Journalism at the Oregon State University, traced the historical roots of journalism accreditation. Formal accreditation in journalism education has, in relative terms, had a long history.
He also was the author or editor of three books: An Overland Journey, Bob Frazier of Oregon, and An Orange for Christmas, a compilation of his Register-Guard columns.
Friends and colleagues respected and admired Duncan’s ability to write with grace, style, and a sense of humor. Charles Duncan died in 1997.