A child of the 1960s, David Whillock remembers his hometown’s college football team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, beating TCU at several games of the now defunct Southwest Conference. Today, the Fayetteville, Ark., native sits in Fort Worth as dean of the College of Communication. Whillock joined the university in 1991 and served as chair of the radio-TV-film department from 1995 to 1999, when he took the post of interim dean of the College of Communication until 2002. During his stint as interim dean, Whillock oversaw the split of the College of Fine Arts and Communication into two units in 1999. In April, Whillock was selected to replace William Slater as dean of the college.
Q: How was your experience as interim dean of the college?
A: It was weird. I found we were going to break up the colleges. I had a “baptism by fire” – I had the negative issues first. In some ways, I’m glad that happened. It was during the splitting up of the college when I realized the College of Communication had some issues to deal with. We had three file cabinet drawers full of students and one of faculty. We took two and three-quarters of those students to communication but only one-fourth of the faculty over here. We still have that issue. That will still be a priority for me.
Q: How were you notified about the promotion?
A: The provost gave me a call and gave me an offer. I didn’t blink twice. I’ve hit the ground running, especially with the Schieffer School. We really want the Schieffer School to shine. That is on the front burner. But we also have to help the other units of the university. Our communication studies department has the top scholars in the field, they’re growing and we want to support both the teaching mission and the research mission of the unit. We have an award-winning and very successful Radio-TV-Film program. We have positions to fill there. We have close to 380 strategic communication majors, and we need faculty to support that student body.
Q: Would improving the student/faculty ratio in the college mean reducing the number of adjunct faculty?
A: Adjunct faculty is very important to what we do. I don’t want to totally wipe out adjunct faculty because they are professionals in the field who can come in and bring in those contacts and that knowledge. We might think about how we select them. We have very good adjunct faculty. The quality will probably remain the same, but I wish the quantity would go down a bit so we can have more full-time faculty. And that’s just going to take some time. I don’t want to ever be without those professionals who can support our program.
Q: How did you transition from a history major in college to a graduate student in film?
A: My focus was American history. A kid in the 1960s with Vietnam and all, I began to get more interested in other histories, and so I shifted from American history to Chinese history. So in reality, while my degree states that I have a bachelor’s degree in history/political science, my focus was on China. My father was in the 1st Marine Corps Division in World War II, and one of the jobs after the war was to go to China to disarm the Japanese. So he had a lot of stories about China, and my interest level kind of grew from there. Richard Nixon opened China up for trade and politics, and I wanted to go to the Foreign Service, took the exam, passed it, but my first appointment but was not in China. I waited around, and I decided to get a master’s degree. My first memory was in the backseat of an old Chevrolet watching “Jailhouse Rock.” My father loves cinema and I love cinema. So I thought, “I’m a history major, I’ll go study a different kind of history.”
Q: What where you like as a college student?
A: It depends on what part. I have three degrees. I was a typical student at Hendrix College. My social life was very important to me. My economics class was like at 7:30 a.m., and I thought I was going to die. I tried not to sleep through it. We didn’t have energy drinks so I did a lot of coffee and that. I was not a type-A student by any means, and a lot had to do with interest.
This interview was conducted in April.