June 11, 2009

University Historian Retires After 41 Years of Service


When Richard Baznik arrived on campus in 1968 at the age of 25 for his new job as director of university publications, he made a vow to his wife, Donna.

"I told her I would only stay two years or leave earlier if I became bored or stopped learning," says Baznik.

Forty-one years later and approaching retirement at the end of the month, Baznik says neither happened.

Over the decades, his roles and responsibilities at the university have evolved from that first job as the publications director (1968-70) to director of university communication (1970-76), special assistant the president (1976-87), vice president for public affairs (1987-2000), vice president for community and government relations (2002-03), to his current role as the university historian and director of the Institute for the Study of the University in Society (2003-present).

He has also taught SAGES classes as a lecturer and fellow, journalism classes in the Department of English, and graphic design courses as part of the Intersession.

Before Baznik officially vacates his role as historian, he will leave an as yet untitled new history of the university. The nearly 400-page book-in-progress follows the development and role of the university from the 19th into the 21st centuries in the context of what was happening in the greater community and society.

In writing about the university and interviewing some 250 people for the book, he says he gained an appreciation for the1800s—something he had not expected before his research.

In his various roles, he has seen the university's transition through new presidents, strategic plans, and campus physical and programmatic changes. He has been involved with major decisions—and has some advice.

"Just because you are in the room when the decision is made, don't assume you know all the factors involved," he says.

In his research for the new history book, he found that the 1967 federation was the seventh time the two rival schools had attempted to join educational endeavors. The first attempt was in 1886, just a year after Case School of Applied Science (later Case Institute of Technology) moved from downtown to University Circle.

In 1967, it finally happened as both institutions were on the verge of needing new presidents and were financially challenged by increased enrollments.

Baznik arrived at the end of the new university's first year.

It was a unique and challenging time, which Baznik quickly found out shortly after his arrival.

One of his first "herculean tasks," he says was to produce a new course bulletin.

What a task it was to develop a coherent list of courses from two institutions with different prerequisites, course numbers, and degree requirements. In the days before computerized documents, he entered a room filled with tables of every kind stacked high with piles of papers outlining all the courses offered by every department from the two institutions.

Six months later he and his staff made sense of those papers in completing the university's first course bulletin.

Then he went on to produce the new university's first annual report. In 1988, he would establish CWRU Magazine (now Think). Later he would establish the "Campus Markings" contest to have people look for campus architectural treasures. To spur discussion about current events, with Alexander Lamis from political science, they founded the public policy forum (now known as the Friday Brown Bag Lunches).

During those early years on campus, he also moved media relations (then known as public relations) into the modern age by hiring a staff that worked closely with local television stations and reporters to understand how to work with reporters who brought cameras and microphones and not just pencil and paper.

He tapped the talents of a WKYC reporter, Andy Guthrie, to give some short seminars on television to the staff.

His work has earned him numerous recognitions, among which are the 2006 President's Award for Distinguished Service and a nomination for the J. Bruce Jackson, M.D. Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring for his work as a freshman advisor in 2006.

Although he was a leader in forging new milestones for Case Western Reserve University, what also stands out for him are the working relationships on and off campus and the friendships he has made with faculty and staff throughout the years.

Those friends will join Baznik to celebrate and recognize his years of service and contributions during a special reception on Friday, June 12, from 4-6 p.m. in the Hovorka Atrium. The public is invited.

Share your memories of Baznik.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, June 11, 2009 12:22 PM | News Topics: Campus Life, features, news

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