Making a case for arts with Don McLeese


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If there is not a textbook that suits his class, Don McLeese writes one himself.

“If you develop critical instincts, you should be able to apply those critical instincts across the artistic spectrum,” he said.

A longtime pop-music and art critic at publications including the Chicago Sun-Times and Rolling Stone, he uses his experience in the field to help students at the UI build strong arguments to support their opinions.

Wife Maria McLeese, whom he met at a Marshall Crenshaw concert in Chicago 28 years ago, said, “He is more hip than other professors, which I think comes from his music-critic background.”

Don McLeese was approached to collaborate with the New York Times to develop the book, which was released this month, titled The New York Times Reader: Arts and Culture.

“I was looking for textbooks for that course, and not only could I not find one, but others at different universities didn’t have any, either,” he said.

He hopes the book will be received as more than simply an academic textbook.

“I knew that I wanted it to be more than a book to sit on a shelf,” he said.

His experience as an instructor was useful for McLeese in writing the book. He said he wanted it to be current but also cover a historical perspective.

McLeese understands the importance of encouraging students to keep their options open for the future. Teaching media journalism shows students another side of the field.

“Even if there is one thing you are most interested in,” he said, “you are better off being a generalist because you have no idea where your career will take you.”

His contributions to the UI led to the growth of the number of students at the school.

“Professor McLeese is an example that although people stereotype journalism schools as producing one kind of student, students from our school end up in careers of astonishing variety,” said David Perlmutter, the director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Outside the office, much of McLeese’s free time is filled with hobbies that relate to his work. He is an avid reader, a music fan, and a loyal follower of the Cubs.

“I think he is young-spirited,” Maria McLeese said.

Two college-age daughters may be part of what keeps Don McLeese young. Daughter Kelly McLeese, 23, is a pharmacy student at the UI, and she will graduate in May. Molly McLeese, 19, is spending her freshman year studying in Los Angeles.

In addition to teaching an Editing Workshop and Magazine Reporting and Writing as well as being as the associate director of graduate professional education, Don McLeese is working on a critical biography of the country singer Dwight Yoakam and his music.

“The timing was right, and he is a fascinating guy to write about,” he said.

The University of Texas Press will publish the book, which will likely be released in late 2011.

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