James Baughman, who spent more than 30 years as a journalism professor and instructor at UW-Madison, died Saturday morning from lung cancer at the age of 64.
Highly revered by both his earliest students and current journalism undergraduates, Baughman came to Wisconsin in 1979 as an instructor and became an assistant professor in 1981, according to a School of Journalism and Mass Communication release. He earned full professorship in 1990 and led the J-School as its director from 2003 to 2009.
Baughman was a leading researcher in the history of mass communication and wrote four books related to its effects on society (which he’d tell you could be purchased on Amazon.com). However, his personal accomplishments never usurped his commitment to educating the next generation of journalists.
“He had a style where he always demanded excellence of you … but he always made that excellence seem attainable,” said Katy Culver, an assistant J-School professor and former student of Baughman’s. “There weren’t any goals that were beyond something we could achieve.”
Baughman earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia but always emphasized his Ohio roots, routinely using the phrase “mad as a wet hen” and fruitlessly rooting for Cleveland sports. His lectures were full of wit and presidential impersonations, giving him a down-to-earth persona that endeared him to hundreds of students.
His classes covered topics such as history of mass communication, literary journalism, creative nonfiction and opinion writing. When teaching history of mass communication, Baughman closed every semester with a moving lecture on students’ futures.
“The main thing I remember from [the lecture] is just that sense that you were going to go out in the world and do good things,” Culver said. “He never spoke with sentiment. He wasn’t a Hallmark card. Yet he always inspired you.”
Spurred on by such inspiration, dozens of his former students took to social media to share their favorite Baughman stories and express their condolences. The City of Madison proclaimed Saturday as James Baughman Day. But the void in Vilas Hall will remain.
“He’s irreplaceable,” Culver said. “There will be no replacing a person like Jim.”