‘Fab Four’ of J-school retire

June 15, 2021

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(From left) Susan Knight, Linda Lumsden, William Schmidt and Nancy Sharkey


Call them the “Fab Four” of journalism knowledge at the University of Arizona. 

Professors Susan Knight, Linda Lumsden, William Schmidt and Nancy Sharkey retired from the School of Journalism at the end of the spring 2021 semester with a combined 60 years of teaching experience.  

“I’ve been here for some way, in the journalism school, for 28 years straight,” said Knight, a professor of practice who received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in journalism at the university. 

Knight began her teaching career in 1991, after working for the University of Arizona Press, Tucson Weekly and Arizona Daily Star. During her tenure at the university, her courses included reporting public affairs, feature writing, journalism ethics and the Inside the Beltway class.  

“I’ve experienced Susan two ways, both as a student and as a colleague,” said Associate Professor of Practice Michael McKisson. “I’ve been fortunate to have that experience on both sides. … It is so clear how much [Knight] cares about her students.” 

Knight won the university’s 2020 Gerald J. Swanson Prize for Teaching Excellence. 

“I never thought I could have a better career than being a newspaper reporter and editor,” Knight said. “The last 28 years have been fantastic.” 

Lumsden, a journalism history expert, is the author of five books. Her work includes researching numerous forms of social movement media, including the suffrage press, black press, feminist press and socialist press as well as the occupy movement media and online “contentious journalism” in Malaysia, where she spent a year as a 2012-13 J. William Fulbright Core Scholar. 

“In so many ways, this was the right place for her,” said Professor of Practice Maggy Zanger, who noted that Lumsden plays as hard as she works. “It allowed her to do the kind of work she wanted to do. … She has done impressive work on the role of women in journalism, the role of social movements and marginalized people.” 

“Linda has not only been a really great colleague but has become a really great friend to a number of us,” Zanger said, referring to Lumsden as the “social glue” for the school. 

Schmidt, a professor of practice, came to the university after a distinguished career at The New York Times, where he was deputy managing editor before retiring in 2013. In addition, he served as a correspondent for The Times in both the U.S. and London and ran foreign bureaus in Cairo and Moscow for Newsweek. 

“[Schmidt] has mentored and made a difference in so many students’ lives in the past eight years,” McKisson said. “The impact [he] has had in this program and on journalism in general, with the students he has mentored, will have a lasting impact for years to come.” 

During his tenure at the university, where he taught courses on feature writing and advanced reporting, Schmidt co-founded the Journalism on Screen series and directed the Center for Border & Global Journalism. 

Sharkey joined the school in 2010 after 25 years in various editorial positions at The New York Times and 20 years as an adjunct professor at Columbia University. Her courses at UA included reporting public affairs, editing and reporting. 

She co-founded, along with Schmidt, the Journalism on Screen series at the Loft Cinema. One of the founding editors of The New York Times Student Journalism Institute, every spring Sharkey also brought students in her Inside the N.Y. Times class to New York, where they would tour The Times and other media outlets. 

“[Sharkey’s] office door was always open to students and colleagues,” said Assistant Professor Susan E. Swanberg, noting that many of her students developed an interest in journalism because of Sharkey. “Her wonderful arrangement in her office made one feel comfortable as soon as you stepped in the door.” 

Sharkey twice won the school’s Hugh and Jan Harelson Award for Teaching Excellence as well as the Undergraduate Upper-Division Teaching Award from the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences. 

The university designated Knight, Lumsden and Sharkey as emerita professors and rewarded Schmidt with emeritus status. 

The legacy of the four professors will live on, said Paloma Boykin (’08), academic adviser for the J-school.  

“They have not only taught me a lot but shared their knowledge about journalism to thousands of students and impacted so many lives,” Boykin said. “They really went above and beyond to get to know and mentor students and connect them with resources that would help them become successful in and outside of the classroom. 

“The ‘Fab Four’ challenged students academically and personally but met them where they were and worked with them to become a better version of themselves,” she added. “That’s what we’re really going to miss.”