PROVO — Two years ago, Ed Adams and Michael Perkins sat in a hotel room at Washington, D.C., and mapped out the future of the communications department at Brigham Young University.
They were the two leading candidates to become the new department chairman, but the vacancy wouldn't be filled until they returned to Utah. Adams and Perkins didn't worry about that. The longtime friends shared a vision and decided they would work together to implement it no matter who was picked to lead the department.
Word came later that Perkins was selected. He chose Adams as assistant chairman, and they worked for two years on the broad strokes conceived that night in Washington, until Perkins died Aug. 14 in a kayaking accident in Idaho. On Thursday, BYU named Adams as the new chairman, and Friday he said that development is both easy and difficult.
"Yes, in some ways it's hard to step in for a good friend and colleague," Adams said, "but it's also easy to step in for a good friend because we had a clear vision together of where we wanted to go. I'd much rather Mike be in this position."
That relationship was a key component in the decision to name Adams as Perkins' successor, said Newell Dayley, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications.
"He is fully aware of the direction that Michael Perkins was moving and resonates with that vision and will carry out the essential components," Dayley said. "He is a fine scholar, a seasoned and careful administrator. Our appointment of Ed is an affirmation of the admiration and support of his colleagues."
A large, affable man, Adams is kinetic.
"He's very energetic," Dayley said. "He doesn't spin his wheels much."
He has earned some of his respect in the department during regular afternoon chocolate milk breaks. It's a pastime he used to share with Perkins.
"The first time those two walked into my office and plopped down and opened their chocolate milks, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop," said Robb Hicken, faculty adviser to the school newspaper, the Daily Universe. "But the great thing about Ed is that he's willing to dig his fingers in and see what's happening so he can make good decisions. He tries to sense our needs and assess our concerns."
Like Perkins, Adams would like to see the department gain status as a school of communications. They also were uncomfortable that the campus judged the department on what appeared each day in the Daily Universe and moved to increase faculty participation in mentoring students in the newsroom. At the same time, they made a decision to help journalism students by placing increased emphasis on an entry-level news-writing course over a communications theory class.
Adams also wants to continue to emphasize research as a way to keep faculty fresh and current.
The desired overall effect is to make BYU more student-friendly for budding journalists, advertisers and public relations professionals.
"I learned a long time ago that while I thought my research was making a difference, and it is to a degree, that it's about the students that you help," he said. "I can't think of anything better to aspire to than to have someone say you did something, you said something that changed my life."
Adams earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix, a master's from BYU and a Ph.D. from Ohio University. It was there that he began the friendship with Perkins, who was at Drake University. He worked for five years with a magazine publishing company and then began teaching at Angelo State University in Texas.
His research has focused on the business and economic history of media. For example, he has studied the health of newspapers during the Depression and found them to have fared surprisingly well.
"I'm more interested in the why," he said. "Telling good stories is fun, but I want to know what happened to get us to this point where we are today."