Faculty, alumni and students remember ‘committed’ communications professor
On Wednesday, campus faculty, staff and students reflected upon the tenure of Jack J. Valenti School of Communication professor Frederick Schiff, who died in July. Schiff traveled the world and inspired several of his former students to follow their ideas and goals.
Friends and colleagues shared their personal “Fred stories” — distinct stories that could only be about Schiff — in the O’Quinn Room at the Alumni Center. After a short welcome message from Temple Northup, the director of the School of Communication, colleagues and peers were invited to speak about their connection with the late professor.
“I was shocked when he passed away,” Northup said. “The news just didn’t compute for me. We had just been exchanging emails about Schiff’s plans for the upcoming semester.”
Friends remembered hearing stories from his full life: traveling through Latin America with only a 50 pound sack of rice, a pot and a dog, and his coverage of the Dirty War in Argentina in the 1970’s. Eventually, after a whirlwind career, Schiff settled as a professor at UH.
Even shortly before he passed, Schiff was preparing for the upcoming semester with ideas big and small.
Schiff supported the local arts community, attending operas, ballets, music festivals and engaging in local and community newspapers across Houston. During his career, Schiff once earned a grant to study over 120 daily newspapers across the country and report on his findings.
One of the speakers who shared their stories at the ceremony was former peer David McHam, whose office was near Schiff’s.
“I first got to know him when I started teaching at UH,” McHam said. “Schiff was always planning something new.”
One of Schiff’s former students, Luz Rebollar, spoke about the newspaper she runs, The Scuttlebutt, and Schiff’s influence on her.
In Rebollar’s class with Schiff, one day he assigned a brainteaser, asking students if they could create a newspaper, what would it be and who would be the audience. Rebollar suggested a newspaper for veterans, and Schiff gave her feedback that inspired her.
“He told me it was a good idea and I should do it,” Rebollar said. “When I told him I started (The Scuttlebutt) he was proud and gave me more advice.”
Schiff taught numerous courses over the years for the department, and Northup believed his legacy will linger for the professors and students.
“He was an eccentric guy,” Northup said. “He was absolutely unwavering in his commitment to journalism and teaching journalism. More than anyone, he was committed to trying to improve our students’ writing.”