Conversation with Beverly Keel, newly named dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment


Photo by Angele Latham/ MTSU Sidelines

Beverly Keel, chair of the Department of Recording Industry at MTSU, has been named the next dean of the College of Media and Entertainment, University Provost Mark Byrnes announced Wednesday.

Keel, an alumnus of both MTSU and Sidelines and who is currently serving as the chair of the department of recording industry, will be the first female dean in the college’s history, marking a historical day for women of the university and the majority-male administration.

She succeeds former Dean and USA Today editor-in-chief Ken Paulson, who returned to MTSU earlier this year to serve as director of MTSU’s newly created Free Speech Center.

“I’m so excited and honored,” Keel said, in an interview with Sidelines. “It’s overwhelming because I’m a graduate. Everything I learned and everything I needed to know to succeed I learned at MTSU. So I take this appointment very seriously, because I want to provide for my students what others gave me.”

Keel received her bachelor’s degree from MTSU in 1988, after working as a humor columnist and Sports Editor of Sidelines.

“One of our most popular columns was when I poked at fun at our Tennessee tech football team,” Keel laughed. “Which was really interesting because I was dating a football player from TN tech at the time.”

One of Beverly Keel’s humor columns in the November 22, 1985 issue of Sidelines. (Photo courtesy of Sidelines archives)

 

She later interned at News Channel 5 in their sports department, and wrote breaking news for WGNS radio before moving on to the Nashville Banner, where she worked with MTSU Journalism Professor Leon Alligood.

While working at the Banner, she also became an adjunct professor at MTSU at the age of 24. She was later named chair of the department in 2013.

“I cannot overstate how much the faculty and staff at MTSU shaped my life,” Keel said.

Keel now sits at the stern of one of the largest communication programs in the country—and at a time where the communications field is changing daily, Keel understand that this is major undertaking.

“It’s a very quickly changing world of media and entertainment,” she said. “Business models are changing, required skill sets are changing. We’ve got to be ready to prepare our students to think critically and to communicate effectively, and to become whole, healthy humans. It’s not just about career, but it’s about making good decisions and understanding time management and information management.”

Keel laughed. “When I was here we had electric typewriters! So while some of the tech has changed, the foundational things remain the same. How to be a good reporter, be thorough, conduct interviews, fact check, understand democracy and the first amendment…all of these things are more important than ever.”

Thankfully, Keel explains that she has been given an excellent foundation to work with.

“I want to work with the faculty to build this college to the next level. Dean Ken Paulson was by far the best dean we’ve ever had in my 25ish years here. So I will not change the course at all. He has built a foundation and I want to let that grow.”

One aspect in particular that she will be focusing on growing is the diversity of the department.

“I want to make sure that we have a diverse curriculum, faculty and student body,” she said. “Diversity is not just race and gender- I mean, it runs the gamut. So we need to make sure that we’re reflecting America in our classrooms.”

MTSU currently has one of the most diverse campuses in the state- but that doesn’t necessarily apply to the faculty, staff, and administration of MTSU. Keel’s appointment could help push MTSU into an even more inclusive era.

“I’m proud (to be the first female dean). And I know an appointment like this means a great deal to other women, especially on this campus. And I take that seriously,” Keel said.

She hopes, however, that such an announcement won’t be needed in the future.

“I hope in ten years we won’t be having the same conversation, because it won’t be noticed—as well as for people of color. I want to invite as many women, people of color and people of different minority groups in the room, and at the table, as quickly as possible. Because that’s how you get best education possible. That’s how you make the best decisions.”

When asked how Keel intends to lead aspiring media professionals in world that is becoming increasingly hostile towards them, Keel answered with obvious passion and confidence.

“I think you have to prepare the students with the best possible education. (If) you have the best possible education, you will not only have the best possible skill set, but you will also have confidence, perseverance and dedication.”

She explained the fact that journalism is field with extremely high accountability—and a level of responsibility students need to be ready for in an unforgiving world.

“In journalism as a profession—like medicine—you cannot make one mistake. Other people make mistakes every day. You make one mistake in an article and people say that you’re biased or your wrong. But we also need journalism more than ever. Journalists are supposed to be the watchdogs for us…journalists are vital to our society, so it’s my job to help the Journalism and Strategic Media Department make sure it’s offering the best and strongest curriculum, and provid(ing) the opportunities to students to prepare them for the real world.”

Although seemingly tall orders, Keel remains confident in the ability of the MTSU faculty.

“I’d put our faculty up against any university anywhere. Not only with their knowledge, but with their care and concern for their students and involvement in their lives. Our faculty are here because they want to be here—because students are their first priority.”

Her message to her future students? Relax.

“The most common advice I give to my students is ‘relax, everything is going to be okay.’ You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be and you’re not supposed to know more than you know right now, and life will unfold as its supposed too. I want this to be a really special time… You’re only a college student for a very short period of time! It’s going to go by very quickly. And I know you’re so focused on your career, career, career, but also go to football games, live in a dorm, etc.”

While students focus on living and learning. Keel will be focused on them.

“The best part of my life is my students’ success,” she expressed. “And it’s the most fulfilling, rewarding thing. There’s nothing—no amount of money, no job, that can feel better than seeing your students succeed.

Keel will take on the mantle of dean in January 2020.

 

To contact Editor-in-Chief Angele Latham, email editor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News

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