Former director and longtime professor Hemant Shah retires from SJMC


Hemant Shah at a podium at the 2019 SJMC graduation celebration
Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism and then-director Hemant Shah speaking at the 2019 SJMC Graduation Celebration. Captured at Discovery Building on 10 May, 2019 by Brett Anderson Photography.

By Emily Knepple

Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism Hemant Shah is retiring after over three decades with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

Headshot of J School Director Hemant Shah
Hemant Shah, Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism

Shah joined the department in 1990 and is affiliated with the Asian American Studies program, the Center for South Asia and the Global Studies Program. He earned his B.A. in communication and sociology from the University of California-San Diego, his M.A. in communication studies from Purdue University and his Ph.D. in mass communication from Indiana University.

His research examines the role of mass media in different types of social change. Shah has conducted fieldwork in India and Uganda and his work has been published in many journals, including the Asian Journal of Communication, African Media Review and Journalism Quarterly. 

Shah came to UW-Madison to teach courses on international communication and journalism skills. As time passed, those courses changed to respond to the changing media landscape and Shah began teaching a set of courses on race, ethnicity and media at both the undergraduate and graduate level. 

At the time he came to UW, his areas of focus weren’t spoken about broadly. But, in the classes he’s taught, he’s exposed students to a new way of thinking that’s only become mainstream in the last decade. Under his guidance, students have learned about communications in a larger contextual sense and have been tasked with thinking critically about their own media consumption.

“Hemant was a leader in studying race in the field of communication long before it became a major question,” said Professor Emeritus Lew Friedland, a longtime colleague of Shah. “His work on race and modernization set the standards for the field. He was also a director who brought all groups together and was able to establish trust and collegiality at a critical moment in our department’s life.  His impact continues to be felt today.”

During his time in the SJMC, he served as Director of the school from 2014-2020. As Director, Shah saw how committed and loyal the faculty are to each other and the students. In 2019 when the fifth floor of Vilas flooded, he shared that every person came together to find practical solutions and, of course, open, available office space. During his time as Director, Shah worked hard to retain talented faculty members within the department by using resources and internal support. 

“I have loved being a part of this community, the SJMC community as well as the larger UW-Madison community,” Shah said. “I think it’s one of the great institutions in the country, if not the world, and it’s just amazing how much intellectual stimulation that one can get at a place like this, even without seeking out, but if you seek it out it’s unparalleled.” 

Deb Pierce, Hemant Shah and Pat Hastings sing Varsity
Hemant Shah (center) sings Varsity with Distinguished Teaching Faculty Deb Pierce (left) and Pat Hastings (right) at the 2019 SJMC Graduation Celebration. Captured at Discovery Building on 10 May, 2019 by Brett Anderson Photography.

He will miss his colleagues and the intellectual stimulation they provide, but will remain a part of the SJMC community as an emeritus faculty member. He plans to spend retirement in Arizona, where he hopes to catch up on reading and take up a new hobby: digital photography. Although Shah will have more free time, he’s looking forward to new challenges.