New fund honors former College of Media dean and ICR director James W. Carey

James W. Carey
James W. Carey
(Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives.)

James W. Carey Fund for Faculty Excellence will support outstanding faculty in the Institute of Communications Research

An internationally recognized scholar in communications research, James W. Carey (1934-2006) earned two advanced degrees at the University of Illinois and then dedicated nearly half of his life as an academic leader in the College of Media (then known as the College of Communications). Carey was a student of the media’s role in society, and his commentaries on American civil life are some of the most influential in the field of communication.

To honor their father’s legacy at Illinois and in the field of media, Carey’s four sons endowed the James W. Carey Fund for Faculty Excellence. The fund will benefit College of Media faculty affiliated with the Institute of Communications Research, where Carey earned his doctoral degree, was a research professor, and served as director (1969-1976). The ICR, housed within the College of Media, is the world’s oldest program for interdisciplinary research and doctoral education in communication and media studies. The first James W. Carey Faculty Fellow will be selected for the 2021-2022 academic year and will receive a stipend to support research activities.

“Our father's education took off at the U of I and so much of his life as a teacher and scholar orbited around Gregory Hall,” said Dan, one of Carey’s sons. “He had remarkable ties to students and faculty in the University. We wanted to honor that depth of relationship and to make it a lasting one for the future.”

Carey (MS ’59, advertising; PhD ’63, ICR) began his career as a professor of journalism, working his way to dean of the College (1979-1992), during which the major in media studies (now media and cinema studies) was established. He received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Illinois in 2000 for his contributions as an author, educator, and administrator. After his time at Illinois, Carey spent the remainder of his career at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism from 1992 to 2006, where he helped establish their doctoral program.

“For nearly 100 years, the College of Media has been guided by the principles of innovation, collaboration, and creativity, which Dr. Carey represented so well,” said Dean Tracy Sulkin. “To continue this tradition, it is crucial to attract, retain, and recognize our talented faculty who embrace these philosophies in their scholarship, teaching, and service.”

Carey is known for developing the “ritual view of communication,” a theory that links communication with participation, association, fellowship, and the possession of a common faith, as opposed to the common “transmission view,” in which communication is the dissemination of information. A ritual view of communication is “not the act of imparting information or influence but the creation, representation, and celebration of shared even if illusory beliefs,” Carey wrote in Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society.

“I think all education, all scholarship is ultimately an aspect of citizenship,” Carey said in an interview within his book James Carey: A Critical Reader. “We end up making a living with our education, but the end of education is to prepare one for life in society, for public life in the widest sense, for life among our fellow men and women.”

Carey was beloved by his students. In a 2003 issue of Mass Communication Education, the late John J. Pauly (BS ’72, MS ’74, journalism; PhD ’79, ICR) published “Remembering a Mentor: James Carey." 

“A Carey lecture resembles a grand magic show, bursting with fireworks, sleight of hand, dramatic flourishes, and the occasional personal aside. … His writing luxuriates in theoretical, historical, and literary allusion. … But the most important lessons Carey taught me were about being a professor,” wrote Pauly. The lessons were: Be serious about your work; honor the university tradition; look for the human; and leave the door open. “Carey’s students learn that there is always room for one more chair at the table, for one more spoon in the pot.”

In 2006, WILL interviewed his former doctoral students Clifford Christians (research professor emeritus of communications; professor emeritus of media studies and journalism; and former director of ICR) and Steve Jones (distinguished professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago). They remembered Carey as an eloquent communicator who valued plain language, clarity, and honesty, who was an organic member of the community and loved the public university, and who was admired across campus for his wisdom.

Linda Steiner (PhD ’79, ICR), professor of journalism at the University of Maryland, remembered Carey for his important insights and storytelling. 

“Carey’s teachings and writings had enormous impacts on me,” Steiner said. “So it’s really an honor for me to engage in this campaign to do something to celebrate his service to the field, to the University, to ICR, and the College of Media.”

To join Carey’s family, former students, colleagues, and friends in our fundraising campaign to grow the endowment, please visit the College of Media giving page, click on the orange “Give Online Now” button, and select the Carey Fund under “Nurture Excellence in Media Faculty.”

—Holly Rushakoff

Ziff and Carey on tandem bike
Professors Howard Ziff and Jim Carey ride a tandem bicycle outside Gregory Hall in the 1970s. (Photo by Dick Hildwein, a longtime faculty member who taught photojournalism.)