Journalism and Broadcasting Professor Wes Baker to Retire at end of Semester
by David Grandouiller
Dr. Wes Baker, who has long been an integral force in the broadcasting and journalism programs at Cedarville, will retire at the end of this semester. His departure marks the end of a 40-year contribution to the university that cannot be understated.
It is a testament to the impact of his teaching that many of the faculty in his department are former students of his. His colleagues describe him as brilliant, a detail person, a great mentor, a bird watcher, a tough professor, a scholar, a book collector and a friend.
“When it comes to hiring a replacement, someone with his depth of knowledge and breadth of experience across different areas of the discipline, who wants to come out here to Cedarville to teach and shape Christian students — I’m not sure another person like that exists,” said Jeff Gilbert, Assistant Professor of Journalism.
Baker began teaching at Cedarville in 1977, before the advent of a journalism major and when the broadcasting and digital media major involved only radio, broadcast journalism and sales management.
From his first years here, he played a key role in developing the discipline. When Baker arrived, he was the only professor in the program. Then, heproposed to bring back a recent graduate, Jim Leightenheimer, to teach some of the radio classes. Leightenheimer, now Associate Professor of Communication, graduated in 1982 and gained two years of experience at a radio station before coming back to Cedarville at Baker’s invitation.
When asked what he learned about Baker once they became colleagues, Leightenheimer said, “I didn’t realize when I was his student the level of respect that Wes is given in the academic and professional parts of our discipline.”
Baker’s reputation, however, did not prevent him from continuing to serve the school by stretching his knowledge into new areas. With Leightenheimer concentrating on the radio program, Baker began developing the television curriculum and continued to help expand the department over four decades.
When Dr. Baker felt he had developed the television side far enough, the university hired Jim Kragel, Associate Professor of Communication, to take it over. Baker then worked on computer-based media until he could make way for Professors Gilbert and Jeff Simon. Baker said he has enjoyed that there are always new things to learn and to develop. He continues to build on his background in media jobs.
On the other hand, working in new areas has been a challenge, Baker admits, particularly when the field has continued to change. He has rarely taught the same class twice, either because he was developing a new area of study, or because he had to change the curriculum to keep up with changes in the industry. More than the program and the classes, however, Baker’s work has really been about people he has invested in.
“He cares about everybody,” said Gilbert. “The students all admire him in many ways. And he probably has more of a sense of humor than they realize. I’ve realized that more working with him. I’ll miss the times sitting around talking, or going down the hallway to tell him a funny story so we can have a good laugh and relieve a little stress.”
Baker said he will miss the relational side of his work, as well. He characterizes Cedarville as having a sense of family. That intimate environment has defined Cedarville for a long time, according to Dr. Baker, especially in earlier years when the school was smaller. He said when Dr. Jeremiah was president, all the faculty could fit in the president’s garage for a banquet. Baker remembers when they held chapel services in Apple, and Maddox was the north end of campus, except for a maintenance barn and a farmhouse that served as health clinic. Even though the university has grown to be a much larger institution, Baker affirmed he still feels a familial atmosphere on campus.
“As needs develop, we take care of one another and are concerned about one another and pray for one another, and often are in church together with others,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed working in that environment where people are not just professional colleagues, but your friends and brothers and sisters in Christ as well.”
In addition, Baker has sometimes been reminded, by a Christian colleague at a major research university, the value of studying and teaching within a Christian environment. He says that Cedarville has always been worldview-oriented, which is something that shapes the way he thinks about his professional work and his classes. But if Cedarville has helped to shape Baker’s worldview, he, in turn has shaped worldviews at Cedarville, those of his students and his peers.
“Dr. Baker has invested his life in shaping students who are reaching millions of listeners and viewers each day … people who are working to shape culture from a Christ-centered perspective,” Leightenheimer said.
Baker draws this influence from his own interests and his education. One of those interests is studying the cultural impact of image and word, and their relationship to one another. He taught a class called Image and Word in a Visual Culture, exploring how the “ongoing tension between image and word has shaped much of the Christian understanding of the use of image and word, as well as attitude toward culture, and how it’s shaped culture based on the choices that were made along the way.”
He has long been concerned with questions of value and purpose in media, which he believes is as important to his work as technical excellence. In his Ph.D. at The Ohio State University, he studied some of the preeminent cultural critics and thinkers on the topic of media.
He explained that his philosophy of media has been influenced by writers such as Jacques Ellul, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong and others like them. He has labored for many years with his colleagues to maintain a balanced curriculum of theory and practice. They want to develop graduates who would approach their work in the media with a concern not only for technical excellence, but also for the ethical and philosophical implications of their work. Baker gets excited when he talks about how he has witnessed that labor pay off in the lives of his students.
“The most rewarding thing is seeing the grads and where they’ve gone, seeing somewhere the light bulb comes on and they’re out there doing great things,” he said.
It is no wonder that the pleasure he takes in the growth and success of others is reciprocated with gratitude and respect.
Leightenheimer spoke for many when he wrote, “Dr. Baker has long been known for his Godly example, his care for students, his brilliant scholarship and professionalism, the level of work that he invests in courses and students. He is a thoughtful and generous colleague and friend.”
David Grandouiller is a senior English major and a campus news reporter. He’s a fan of the Double Rally Burger with cheese and of Sufjan Stevens.