Dr. Bill F. Chamberlin

Eminent Scholar

UF Department of Journalism

2002-2003 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner

The opportunity to develop superb teachers and scholars through a PhD program has been the most important part of my University of Florida career. My contributions have developed from the joy I receive working with students and the fact that graduate studies in my field of mass media law really began about the time I started my own PhD program.

Helping to Creating a New Academic Field

Changes in the last four decades to our media and legal systems has led to the need for special training for teachers of law affecting broadcasting, cable, internet communications, advertising, defamation, privacy, and access to government information. In the 1960s, most major programs in mass communications required undergraduate courses in mass media law, but most teachers were trained as historians or learned their media law as editors of publications. In the early 1970s, when I was a doctoral student, no university could boast of a PhD specialty in the law governing mass communications that required competence both in mass communications and law. I was perhaps the first mass communications PhD student to go to law school for training to teach media law, and the first teacher to systematically integrate legal training into PhD requirements in mass communications. I have developed the two doctoral programs in media law—the one here and the one at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—that dominate the field in the numbers and quality of graduate students, and the numbers and quality of conference papers and research publications. I have created at UF joint degrees leading to a JD/Masters of Mass Communications and a JD/PhD, the latter possibly the only one in the country.

Teaching Research

At UF, I designed a two-course legal research methods sequence that students take in addition to other research and law-oriented courses. I also developed a course in First Amendment theory to ensure our graduate students an appropriate theoretical framework beyond general theory in mass communications. Six principles pervade my research courses. First, the acquisition of new knowledge and quality teaching depend on rigorous and systematic research. Second, research methods need to match the questions being asked. Scholars can utilize a variety of research methods to develop knew understanding of the issues related to the law of the mass media. Third, research needs to be designed and written for the market available. Students need to be taught not simply how to research, but also how to prepare their work for publication, navigate the publications market, and work with journal editors. Fourth, students need direct hands-on research support. They need someone to help them learn how to ask appropriate research questions and develop effective research designs. They also need someone willing to take the time to scrutinize their manuscripts closely enough so that their research design, methodology, data gathering, and interpretation meets the highest professional standards. Sixth, students need to work in a research environment that approximates what they will face after graduation. They need opportunities to have their work critiqued and have an opportunity to benefit from those critiques. So, unlike faculty members who require research to be handed in at end the semester and subject only to brief comments and a grade, I develop opportunities for constructive critiques by all members of each class of every student’s paper. I also thoroughly comment extensively on the papers, require rewrites and review them carefully a second time.

Financing Research

Research in mass communications law generally has not had access to public or private research money. I developed two doctoral assistantships when I was first hired at UF. I have since played a major role in creating three additional research assistantships with private money. The five assistantships, until Fall 2001, constituted a major proportion of the college’s research assistantships. I also sponsored a variety of research projects as the Founding Director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, in order to give students opportunities to do both research for academic journals and applied research of interest to the Center’s constituencies.

Treating Students as Individual Human Beings 
and Working Out the Details

Mentoring and advising doctoral students is so rewarding to me in part because I believe mentors and advisers need to do whatever is necessary to help students through a new, challenging, exhaustive and often frustrating experience. The process includes finding appropriate funding, helping to get credits transferred, and working around classes not being offered. It also involves dealing with the family problems of single mothers and health crises who cannot afford health insurance. The doctoral experience takes enough energy, fortitude and commitment by students that they need to know someone will care and help. They need to know that someone with experience will help them design a doctoral program that will lead to a job and then help them during the scary time of finding a job in a finite market. A good adviser meets with students to help them plan their coursework, develop a research agenda, and prepare, research, and write conference papers and their dissertations. A good advisor commits to being at his student conference paper presentations in order to provide support and be able to make suggestions for improvements. My advisees know I am readily available to help them. I also have played significant roles on key research publications, including helping to start a journal and selecting editors, so that I can make sure my students have good publication opportunities.

The Record

In 14 years at UF, I have advised to graduation 12 PhD students and 16 masters’ students, including 12 who completed the joint JD/Masters in Mass Communications. I advised four doctoral students while at the University of North Carolina. I currently am working with seven doctoral students and nine masters’ students. Every student who finished their first year at UF with me has finished the dissertation, and finished within five years. My students are teaching at some of the best journalism and mass communications programs in the country, including Indiana University, Penn State University, the University of Missouri, the University of Tennessee, the University of Alabama, the University of Miami (FL) and UF. Most significant to me, all of my former students, except for one, love their current jobs. I have co-authored with UF students and former students one book, 2 book chapters, four law non-refereed law reviews and law journals, six refereed articles and 11 conference papers. However, I consider it part of my job to help students with their research in class and for theses and dissertations, and therefore do not accept co-authorship unless I contribute to a manuscript beyond my teaching and mentoring roles. My graduate students, while in residence at UF, have presented close to 100 conference papers and 50 published journal articles. My current and former students have provided one-quarter of the articles-more than double that of the students of any other program-published since its founding by the one refereed journal dedicated to mass media law.

My mentoring has led to my most intense and rewarding teaching experiences. More than that, it has led to close personal relationships with all of my former advisees. We meet together at conferences, even for a reunion at one annual convention. I publish with them and they publish with each other. I help them find new jobs and seek offices in national organizations. They consult with me when they have major career decisions to make. They share with me their traumas and joys. Professional life cannot get any better than that.