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Cole, Ira W. (Ira William), 1924-2002



  • Existence: 1924-2002


Ira William (Bill) Cole was born April 21, 1924 in Mattoon, Ill. He graduated from high school at a relatively young age and traveled on the Illinois Central Railroad, where his father was employed, across the country and to Mexico City, sending back stories on Mexican culture to the Mattoon school board. He enrolled at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1941 but put his education on hold to serve in the U.S. Army during 1942-45. (He was later recalled to military service as a public information specialist during the Korean War.) He married Sally Savage, whom he had met at Illinois, in 1944.

Cole returned to the University of Illinois after the war and earned a Bachelor of Science in journalism in 1948. He also reported for the Champaign News-Gazette in 1941-43 and 1946-47. Cole earned a Master’s degree from Illinois in 1952 in journalism and political science. He served as assistant to the director of the School of Journalism at Illinois from 1948 to 1956 and director of the School of Journalism at Pennsylvania State University in 1956-57.

Cole was appointed dean of the Medill School of Journalism on Sept. 1, 1957, at the age of 33. During his 26 years as dean, he oversaw the creation of several professional and educational programs for journalism students. He led efforts to develop the graduate broadcast school, the Medill News Service in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, and the Teaching Newspaper student internship program. He established and directed the Gannett Urban Journalism Center in 1966 through grants from the Ford Foundation and the Gannett Newspaper Foundation. The center trained reporters in the coverage of urban, economic, political and social issues. Cole worked to attract more diversity to the Medill faculty and student body and supported the Consortium for the Advancement of Minorities in Journalism through the Gannett Center.

Cole was often a controversial figure, especially toward the end of his career. In 1980 Cole resisted a faculty plan to impose bylaws on the school that would give them more control, and some blamed him for the subsequent resignations of three Medill professors that year. Also in 1980, he personally bought the private plane Medill had been renting for administrative trips such to Teaching Newspaper meetings and set up an airplane rental company operating out of his office in Fisk Hall. He primarily rented the plane to Medill and paid the pilot out of funds provided by the Gannett Foundation, listing him on the payroll sheets as a Medill professor. Some blamed Cole for Medill’s loss of accreditation in 1982, although the university maintained it chose not to seek further accreditation because, as a private institution, it did not want to release faculty salary information. Finally, some students and faculty complained of what they called his autocratic style and inaccessibility to students.

Cole resigned as dean in August, 1983, in order to devote his full attention to the Gannett Urban Journalism Center, which he continued to direct until his retirement in 1987. He moved to Mexico with his wife after retirement but relocated to Connecticut a few years after her death in 1993 to be closer to his daughter. Cole died June 7, 2002, of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Medill School of Journalism Records of the Dean, Ira W. Cole

Identifier: 16/16

The Records of Dean Ira W. Cole fill 15 boxes and span the period 1957 to 2002. The papers include biographical material, general correspondence, administrative subject files and publications and speeches.

Dates: 1957-2002