Old Gold: Sam Becker, Mr. University of Iowa

Old Gold: Sam Becker, Mr. University of Iowa

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Late professor's 'title' earned after 70 years of association
Sam Becker portrait, 2000When longtime communication studies professor Sam Becker passed away in November 2012, he left behind a 70-year association with the University of Iowa. Photo by Kirk Murray.

(Editor’s note: The Old Gold series provides a look at University of Iowa history and tradition through images housed in University Archives, Department of Special Collections.)

Old Gold is no mathematician, but he loves statistics. So he broke out the calculator recently and determined an interesting fact: Sam Becker, the UI Foundation Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies, had been associated with the UI for nearly half its existence—44 percent—at the time of his death at age 89 in November 2012.

Sam Becker, pictured in the 1940 UI yearbook
Sam Becker, 1940 Hawkeye yearbook

Think about it: The scholarly gentleman, who entered the State University of Iowa in 1940, earned all three of his degrees here, joined the faculty in 1950, chaired the Department of Communication and Theatre Arts from 1968 to 1982, and served the university in a variety of administrative and voluntary capacities, was associated with the university for about 70 years. The only exception was time in service to his country during World War II, when he was stationed in the Pacific Theater in the U.S. Army. He was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery.

Professor Becker’s career paralleled the development of television and the advancement of mass communication, areas of research that interested him greatly. He was long engaged in the study of radio and television coverage of presidential campaigns, the power of persuasive communication, and the impact of communication on teens’ smoking habits.

In his tribute, Bruce Gronbeck, UI professor emeritus of communication studies, wrote of the title ascribed to his longtime colleague and friend:

1980 portrait of Sam Becker
Sam Becker, 1980 portrait

“It took him a long time to become ‘Mr. University of Iowa,’ though given his association with it as student, faculty member, department chair, university faculty president, chair of too many departmental, collegiate, and university search committees (including a presidential committee in 1987-88) to mention, acting director of the School of Art and Art History, and interim vice president for academic affairs—the last two of these AFTER retirement—it is little wonder that the title stuck. Especially after being only one of three faculty members in contemporary times with buildings named after them when still on the faculty. He was working with the Emeritus Faculty group, adult education programs, and the UI Foundation fundraising efforts until his death.”

To Professor Becker, though, his greatest accomplishment was supervising more than 60 Ph.D. candidates, according to Gronbeck. Many of them went on to pursue successful academic careers of their own. For an educator, scholar, and philanthropist, it is the legacy of a life well spent.


David McCartney, Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, 319-335-5921


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