President Designate Christopher Callahan:
A New Leader For a New Era
Dec 20, 2019
A warm and engaging personality. An energetic spirit. An insightful listener. A quick learner. This was how students, faculty, staff, and alumni described Christopher Callahan on the day it was announced he would be Pacific’s next president.
Callahan, the current and founding dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, led the school to its stature as one of the nation’s top programs. Still, he was noticeably humbled when Board of Regents Chair Kevin Huber introduced him to the Pacific community.
“I am honored to join the talented students and dedicated faculty,” Callahan said. “Pacific is an outstanding national university with an extraordinarily rich history spanning 168 years – and an even greater future. Our university has many advantages: inspiring professors who are laser-focused on student success, an engaged and diverse student body, talented regents, dedicated administrators and staff, loyal alumni and an enviable mix of outstanding professional schools with a distinguished liberal arts college at its core.”
His path to the Pacific presidency was not traditional. The son of a New York City police officer and homemaker, Callahan was the first in his family to graduate college. “My dad always worked two and three jobs while my mother took care of my sister and me. Knowing what my parents had to do to help us be successful is foundational to who I am and where I am today.”
Callahan pursued his passion for journalism at Boston University where he received his bachelor’s degree. He later served as a reporter and editor at The Associated Press, eventually becoming a Washington correspondent, covering Congress, the Pentagon and Supreme Court. He went on to obtain a master’s in public administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
The opportunity to be a lecturer while a graduate student sparked his interest in academia. After graduation, he joined the University of Maryland to help start a new experiential learning program in the state capital of Annapolis and the next year in Washington, D.C.
“I found the best of both worlds in teaching and journalism. Working with the students and watching them learn a profession I was passionate about made me realize I could give to them the same opportunities I had been given.”
In 1993, Callahan became assistant dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, and five years later moved up to become the no. 2 administrator in the college as the associate dean. His success in growing the college into one of the best journalism schools in the country led to what would become one of the most pivotal moments of his career—a call from Walter Cronkite.
“I remember the day. I had a message on my answering machine from someone saying he was Walter Cronkite, and I thought, this is just one of my friends playing a trick on me, so I erased it. To this day, I wish I had that recording.”
Cronkite had been working closely with Arizona State University after the school was named in his honor. In 2005, he was advising the university’s leadership and was instrumental in tapping Callahan to lead the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication as the program’s founding dean. Over the next 14 years, Callahan transformed the once struggling program into one of the nation’s best and most innovative schools of journalism.
He spearheaded the creation of a more than a dozen professional, experience-based learning programs for students, including Cronkite News, a multiplatform operation that features a nightly student-produced newscast on Arizona PBS, a robust multimedia website cronkitenews.azpbs.org and news bureaus in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. He also created professional programs including the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, the Cronkite Public Relations Lab and Cronkite Noticias, a Spanish-language multiplatform news outlet.
“When you love what you do, and have a passion for creating engaging and impactful programs and learning experiences for students, the rest falls into place. I wanted students to have immersive, hands-on experience, so we used the model of a ‘teaching hospital’ to create news laboratories where students could take what they learned in their classrooms and apply it under the guidance of great faculty.”
Callahan’s energy, enthusiasm and forward-looking optimism have helped him dramatically increase student enrollment, retention, diversity, graduation rates and recruitment of out-of-state students. He has more than tripled the size of the faculty, led the creation of new degree programs on the undergraduate, master’s and PhD levels, forged learning and research partnerships with major corporations and nonprofits nationally, and raised more than $100 million.
His success led to being named vice provost for Arizona State’s downtown Phoenix campus in 2011, which now has nearly 13,000 students across seven colleges. In 2014, he became CEO of Arizona PBS, one of the nation’s largest public television stations with a focus on public service and lifelong learning.
Nearly 15 years after leading the Cronkite School into a new era, Callahan was ready to take on a larger role. Pacific was the right fit.
“Pacific is truly a student-centered institution—students are first and foremost. Every university says that, but many fall short. Pacific is designed around the success of students. The focus on students is in the DNA of Pacific,” Callahan said.
“Pacific has incredible assets in place: the state’s oldest university, and a strong mix of liberal arts education surrounded by outstanding professional schools. It has three fantastic and differentiated campuses. And Pacific provides students the best attributes of a national comprehensive university combined with the close-knit, intimate learning environment of a small liberal arts college. It is truly the best of both worlds.”
Callahan was the unanimous choice of Pacific’s Board of Regents.
“Chris brings an energy and experience that match Pacific’s needs perfectly,” said Board of Regents Chair Kevin Huber. “He has an impressive record developing programs that are relevant to students, and he will bring great ideas for unifying our distinctive three-campus university in new ways to fully leverage Pacific’s undergraduate experiences and unparalleled professional schools and graduate programs.”
Added Norman Allen, vice chair of the Board of Regents and chair of the Presidential Search Advisory Committee, “Chris has an exciting balance of academic experience and entrepreneurial skill. He also understands how to engage with our entire community in a personable, relatable and productive way. Chris is exactly what Pacific needs right now.”
Callahan believes the most compelling characteristics of Pacific are its mission and its values, which are aligned with what is needed in higher education today. “Higher education is at an inflection point. The value of a college degree has never been more important and remains the key determinant of economic success. But it also creates a full person who is not just successful financially, but in their communities where they can be contributing and active participants in society and our democracy.
“The most important thing we can do as educators is create lifelong learners in a digital world where people constantly need to retool. Pacific fits in perfectly. It offers deep learning and applying that learning in real-world settings, which increases learning for the student and helps the community. There is no better combination.”
Callahan will become Pacific’s 26th president on July 1, 2020.