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Longtime Journalism Professor, Former Dean Dwight Teeter Dies at Eighty

Dr. Dwight TeeterThis obituary was prepared at Teeter’s request by his friend and colleague, UT Journalism Assistant Professor Mike Martinez.

Dwight L. Teeter Jr., 80, a journalism educator for more than four decades, an expert and author on media law and journalism history, and a mentor to countless graduation students, died February 27 in Knoxville following a long illness. Arrangements for a celebration of life will be announced soon.

He retired from the UT at the end of 2014 after completing fifty years of university teaching at seven American universities. Teeter was dean of UT’s College of Communications from 1991 to 2002 and returned to full-time teaching in 2003. Prior to that, he was a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee; the William P. Hobby Centennial Professor of Communication and chair of the Department of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin; professor and acting chair of the School of Journalism at the University of Kentucky; associate professor at the University of Wisconsin; visiting associate professor at the University of Washington; and assistant professor at Iowa State University.

He began his journalism career as a reporter with the Waterloo (Iowa) Daily Courier with occasional stints as editor for the city, wire, and state desks.

UT Journalism Professor Ed Caudill told the Daily Beacon, “He loved Mexican food, dirty jokes, fly fishing, and the First Amendment. Not necessarily in that order.”

A legal scholar and historian, Teeter co-authored thirteen editions of Law of Mass Communication, a widely used college textbook first published in 1969. His preface to the thirteenth edition reflects the impact in the United States of “what seems to be a perpetual state of war” and of technological changes, new media, and social media on communications law. “Citizens and communication law issues multiply as government and law enforcement agencies use ‘national security’ as a blanket excuse for increasing official secrecy. Privacy interests continue to collide with intrusive media activities, governmental snooping and private businesses’ quest to strip privacy from individuals in the name of better marketing strategies.”

Teeter was the founding author of the textbook with the late Professor Harold L. Nelson of the University of Wisconsin. Don R. LeDuc, professor emeritus of communication at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, joined Teeter for the seventh (1992) and eighth (1998) editions. Bill Loving, professor of journalism at California State Polytechnic University, joined both Teeter and LeDuc for the ninth edition in 1998 and remained for the succeeding editions with Teeter. The textbook heads toward its fourteenth edition and its forty-sixth anniversary in 2015.

Teeter also wrote media law and history books, and articles with several of the top scholars in his field.

Teeter was president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) from 1986 to 1987. In 1973, he co-founded the Law Division with the late Professor Donald M. Gillmor of the University of Minnesota. As clerk of the division, he started the newsletter now known as Media Law Notes. In 1968, he started the history division newsletter, Clio Among the Media.

Teeter has served on the editorial boards of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Communication Law and Policy, Mass Communication Review, and Journalism Monographs. He was the associate editor of American National Biography. He was a founding member and served on the editorial board of Critical Studies in Mass Communication.

In 1991, he received the Society of Professional Journalists Distinguished Teaching Award. In 2006, he received the Hazel Dicken-Garcia Distinguished Journalism Historian Award, presented at UT Chattanooga during the Symposium on the Nineteenth Century Press, the Civil War and Free Expression. In 2001, he received the Distinguished Service Award from AEJMC.

Teeter taught six Pulitzer Prize winners over the years. He sent Associated Press photographer Neal Ulevich a congratulatory note after his Pulitzer Prize award, jokingly taking credit for Ulevich’s success. Ulevich, ever the quick wit, responded that he had to settle for a Pulitzer, saying that knowing Teeter cost him the Nobel Prize.

Along with his teaching in the United States, Teeter lectured at the Norwegian Institute of Journalism in Fredrikstad, the Dutch School of Journalism at Utrecht, the Danish School of Journalism in Aarhus, and the Napier University School of Journalism in Edinburgh.

Teeter, who never hid his admiration for US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, loved to tell about shaking hands, at age ten, with the then-California governor when Warren visited Avenal, California, to dedicate a community hospital.

“I haven’t washed this hand since,” Teeter would quip.

To pay for his education while studying for his bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, Teeter spent summers working as a roustabout for Standard Oil Company of California in the Kettleman Hills oil fields.

Teeter continued his education at Berkeley, studying for a master’s degree in journalism. Anticipating a US Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of anti-obscenity laws in Roth v. United States, Teeter attempted to gather information for his master’s thesis in Boalt Hill, Berkeley’s law school library. Law school Dean William L. Prosser threw him out of the library, saying only law school students could use it.

After inviting legendary California defense lawyer Jake Ehrlich to speak to the student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Teeter related the story about Prosser’s ban of the law library. Ehrlich snorted contemptuously, “The problem with Cal’s law faculty was that the professors do not know the difference between Blackstone, the legal authority, and the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago where you used to be able to get laid for $5.” He then invited Teeter to use the law books in his office.

Teeter completed his education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison with a doctorate in mass communications with specializations in American history and law.

Teeter was a proud member of the Truckee-Donner Historical Society and loved to research his family history in Truckee, California. Teeter’s great-grandfather Jacob (Jake) Teeter grew up in New Jersey but migrated west and settled in Truckee, where he became a constable responsible for Truckee and the entire eastern end of Nevada County. Jake Teeter gained a reputation as a tough lawman and was well respected, but was shot to death in a gun battle in 1891. He is buried in Truckee’s cemetery. Teeter wanted his and wife Tish’s cremains buried with Jake in Truckee.

Teeter’s wife of fifty-four years, Letitia (Tish) Thoreson Teeter, of Bismarck, North Dakota, died in 2009. He is survived by three children, Susan Teeter Hall and husband Michael Hall of Alexandria, Virginia; John (Jack) Thoreson Teeter and wife Geralynn DelGiudice Teeter of Crozet, Virginia; and William (Bill) Weston Teeter of Marble Falls, Texas, as well as one grandson, Jonathan William Teeter of Crozet, Virginia.

Contributions in Teeter’s memory may be given to the Truckee-Donner Historical Society, PO Box 893, Truckee, CA 96160.

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