The End: Dean Rick Pullen laughs as former Daily Titan editors present him with a team jersey with his "new team number." In copy editing, the number 30 represents the end of the story. Photo by Mimi Ko Cruz
Communications Dean Retires
Rick Pullen Recounts Accomplishments, Memories
AS HE TELLS IT NOW, he had barely arrived on campus, his first appointment following completion of his doctorate, when he found himself advising the student writers and editors of the Daily Titan, a 24/7 assignment. Rick Pullen was 28 years old. As an assistant professor, he juggled his teaching assignments and his journalistic advisory responsibilities.
Thirty-seven years later, Pullen retires as dean of the College of Communications. His tenure as Dean has seen the college nearly double in size — from 2,200 majors in 1996 to more than 4,000 today — and gain national and international recognition for its programs and graduates.
“I came to Cal State Fullerton right after I’d received my Ph.D. in journalism at Southern Illinois University,” he recalls. “The Daily Titan was never radical like the Berkeley Barb but it did ruffle some feathers. I served as adviser for four years and part of my job was to work with the editors and reporters and get them under control.
“I was only four or five years older than a lot of them,” Pullen added. “But, I ended up having great relationships with the student editors I advised. To this day, I stay in touch with many of them.”
Back then, advising was a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job.
“I can remember getting calls at 1 a.m. from our printer in Santa Fe Springs because a photo had come loose and was missing,” he said. “It seemed like there was always something.”
He enjoyed the years of close contact with students. And while the pull of scholarship and his own writings forced him to relinquish his advisory duties, he remembers those early years with obvious pleasure.
“The first semester after leaving the Daily Titan, I taught communications law with about 50 kids in a class and a few writing courses and it just wasn’t the same,” he said. “It was much harder to get to know the kids as well."
The Daily Titan editors were there all the time. "They were great kids — dedicated and hardworking. They had to be to complete the amount of work the paper required of them several days each week throughout the semester. All for three units of class credit. And clips.”
Pullen completed his scholarly research and was promoted to full professor in 1982 — the same year the California Newspaper Publishers Association named him “Outstanding Journalism Professor."
From 1991 to 1995, he served as associate dean in the School of Communications, founded in 1988. In 1995, he assumed the role of acting dean in what became the College of Communications, and in 1996, he was appointed dean after a national search.
During his 15 year tenure, Pullen oversaw the development of the “new” Department of Radio/TV/Film, formerly part of the communications department.
“I’m very proud of the growth of the College over the years,” he said. “One of my goals as dean was to create college visibility and credibility in order to attract the best students in Southern California. We’ve accomplished that, and much of that visibility was a result of our hiring excellent faculty throughout the college. Students seek us out to get an outstanding education.”
As dean, one of his greatest challenges was moving his entire college across the street to the College Park building in 2001.
“Prior to the move to College Park, we were very fragmented,” he said. “We had one department in the Education Classroom building, another in the Humanities building, and faculty scattered all over, even in the Engineering building. It was hard to think of ourselves as a cohesive unit when we were spread out across the campus.”
However, not everyone thought the move across Nutwood Avenue was a good idea.
“There were faculty who were quite upset and didn’t think the move was necessary, and I had to be sensitive to their concerns,” he recalled. “My strategy was to plant the seed of the idea, water it, and slowly watch it build. I was convinced the move was in the best interests of the future of the college because it truly created a real school unified under one roof.”
Pullen gained visibility for the college by his participation in many groups and organizations like the First Amendment Coalition, SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists), the Orange County Tourism Council, the Journalism Association of Community Colleges and the Southern California Journalism Education Association. He served on 18 state and national boards and judged more than 25 journalism competitions. He also co-sponsored the National Writers Conference on campus for seven years in collaboration with the Orange County Register and the Poynter Institute in Florida.
Among his many honors are the prestigious Sky Dunlap Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism from the Orange County Press Club and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from his alma mater, Linfield College in Oregon.
Pullen has been part of the universitywide interests in. As dean, Pullen has encouraged Communications faculty to seek opportunities for international cooperation and collaboration and has led the effort to build relationships in Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, South Korea, China and England and, most recently, create a Center for International Communications and Media. Again, he credits hard-working faculty for their efforts in seeing this work come to fruition.
Given his many years in administration, Pullen plays down his publishing record, even as he acknowledges having found the time to write one book, co-authored two more, along with four journal articles, three book chapters, two handbooks/booklets and 13 refereed papers for academic forums.
As he looks forward to finishing up his career as dean this semester, he points to three goals he set at the beginning of his first semester as dean.
“I couldn’t be happier: we established two centers and have nearly completed a college strategic plan. I am leaving a happy man,” he said.
“Looking back, I was privileged to work with some great people over the years,” he said. “I had a great team that worked very hard — good administrators and faculty who deserve a lot of credit."
At the 50th Anniversary celebration of the Daily Titan in May, Pullen was honored by many of the former students he taught and advised. In tribute, the students — many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers in journalism — presented him with a jersey with the number “30” on the back. (Thirty is a copyediting mark that signifies “the end.”)
“I will still be involved with the university,” he said. “What I’ll really miss are all the great people I have had the pleasure of working with over the decades. I’ll still see them, of course, but relationships change when you’re no longer working together.”
On the plus side, he's looking forward to devoting more time to reading, travel, and his family — his wife, Jill, their two daughters (both professors in the College of Education), their son (an endodontist) and seven grandchildren. Pullen also anticipates having more time to work on his beloved classic cars.
“I want to give the new dean room to grow and experiment so I don’t want to be in the way,” he said. “But, I’m sure folks will see me at many of the events and university functions.”
December 20, 2010