(Photo: Lance Murphey)
Richard F. Ranta is a household name around the University of Memphis campus.
As founding dean of the school’s College of Communication and Fine Arts, he’s a cornerstone in the development and growth of the discipline and an advocate for higher education.
Recently, the American Advertising Federation Memphis honored Ranta with the 2011 Silver Medal, an award Ranta said came as a surprise.
“It has been a terrific career that I’ve engaged in,” he said when accepting the award in late January.
What’s not surprising is the fact Ranta always has been heavily involved in a wide range of education endeavors. The northern Minnesotan grew up curious – exploring the land he lived on and eventually making his way to the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he began a career in television. From KDAL TV, where Ranta worked as a floor manager, board worker and news/weather assistant, he went to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., to continue his education, receiving his master’s degree and then doctorate from the University of Iowa. His majors touch a gamut of disciplines – history, communications, education and theater – while his minors include political science and diplomatic history.
During the years Ranta spent furthering his education, he began his career as a professor. He taught debate at Hampton University in Virginia before taking the position of assistant professor at the University of Virginia, where he stayed for three years teaching courses in evidence as part of a pre-law program, oral communication and history of public address.
“I like to keep busy. It’s such a change from being in an office meeting people or sitting behind a computer. I love being outside.”
– Richard F. Ranta
That was until the fall of 1972 when the University of Memphis recruited Ranta and made him an offer he said he couldn’t refuse. It included a position as assistant professor, which marked the beginning of his extensive contribution to the University of Memphis. However, it wasn’t long before he was promoted to associate professor and then again to full professor.
Ranta became very involved in the changes at the University of Memphis, starting as interim dean at the University College before becoming assistant vice president of academic affairs. In that position, Ranta was able to work closely with his mentor, Dr. Jerry Boone, who was, at the time, vice president of academic affairs and interim president.
Ranta was able to create the College of Communication and Fine Arts, which at the time consisted of the art, journalism, music, speech and drama departments.
Along with the unveiling of the new college, a radio station and art museum were born; WSMS-FM 92 started off small and has grown into the 25,000-watt powerhouse it is today, streaming jazz and sports broadcasts online and beyond the Memphis city limits. The art museum at the University of Memphis opened around the same time and features the celebrated Egyptian Collection.
Ranta also hoped to incorporate music and dance into the university, as well. In 1980, a commercial music program was established.
Now known as the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, things weren’t always as nice. There was a definite need for a building that would accommodate the many special needs the program had.
“We had kids practicing their musical instruments in restrooms,” he said.
That wasn’t acceptable for Ranta, who as a child was heavily involved in choir and also played the accordion and the keyboard.
Ranta has held influential community and national positions, including chairman of Tennessee Humanities Council, member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and chairman of its Education Committee, finance chair of the National Communication Association and member of the production team for the Grammy Awards.
In fact, Ranta is heading to Los Angeles next week to work on the 52nd Grammy Awards show.
“I’ve had an interest in a variety of things,” Ranta said. “My wife says I never sleep.”
Ranta can be found around the U of M campus on almost any day, but when he does have down time, he prefers to spend it outside.
“I like to keep busy,” he said. “It’s such a change from being in an office meeting people or sitting behind a computer. I love being outside.”