Communication alums launch $1.5 million drive to revamp, improve facilities

An architectural rendering of what the new digital media lab could look like.


An alumni committee is formulating a plan to raise $1.5 million to transform much of the lower level of Briggs Building into a state-of-the-art wing for communication studies.

The department includes digital media, journalism, video and audio production, public relations, advertising and speech.

The committee is co-headed by Hank Durkin, class of 1973, and Ron Fournier, class of 1985.

Both said they had amazing experiences as students working for The Varsity News (when the paper was located near the clock tower).

They said the camaraderie they felt in that space was vital and that students today deserve a similar experience.

“It was really important to have a place where those of us who loved journalism and communication could hang out and feel like it was our own,” said Fournier. “It was our first newsroom, it was our frat, it was our home. It is one reason why I am so excited to be part of this project, to help create that kind of cohesive center where like-minded people come together around a love of communicating. It’s important to have one cool place to emulate the place you’re going to go off to after” Detroit Mercy.

The facility being planned will be located in the “garden level” of Briggs.

The plan calls for the relocation of all communication facilities: a digital-media studies lab, The Varsity News office, broadcast studio, audio studio and CST faculty offices.

Currently, they are spread over three floors of Briggs.

All facilities would be improved rebuilt and improved, they said, with such additions as green screens for live video broadcasts.

Durkin and Fournier, who were interviewed together Sept. 14 by The Varsity News, believe it is important labs and studios be fully digital.

“Half of what happens in journalism today is digital media,” Durkin said.

They also envision it being an informal space where students can have lunch, socialize and study between classes.

The $1.5 million budget that the university is forecasting covers refurbishing the space and replacing and improving equipment.

The committee, which includes more than a half dozen other alumni, is also exploring creation of an endowment fund to allow for updates to equipment without the need for future fundraisers.  

How will the money be raised?

A list of communication graduates is being formulated, with some affluent alums being targeted for large gifts and many being asked to contribute at smaller levels, they said.

They also plan to seek support from foundations such as the Knight Foundation and from corporations that may have an interest in the university and its ability to produce graduates who communicate well.

The project is expected to take three years, including this year.

A current freshman should benefit from the project.

Assuming fundraising goes well, Durkin believes a ribbon cutting could be held at the start of the 2022-23 school year.

Durkin and Fournier have both had long and successful careers.

During his four years at the university, Durkin was an active member of The Varsity News, rising to editor. He said the experience was not only work for him but also much of his social life.

After graduating, he worked at newspapers before joining Microsoft, where he had a flourishing career.

Durkin has been a financial booster of the university for many years, contributing to athletics and The Varsity News. For many years he funded an annual trip to a college media conference in New York City for young Detroit Mercy journalists.

As a student, Fournier also was active with The Varsity News, where he served as editor – and met his future wife. He said the experience meant everything to him.

Fournier had a splendid career in journalism, rising to be Washington, D.C., bureau chief of the Associated Press, covering presidents and the White House. He also worked at Atlantic Magazine and the National Journal and as publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business.

He is now president of Truscott Rossman, a public relations and lobbying firm, and serves on the university’s board of directors.

Journalism is an industry that has been experiencing major challenges, but it remains close to both of their hearts.

“The truth is under attack,” said Fournier. “We have too many leaders in society, especially political leaders but not just political leaders, who are taking advantage of the way technology and social trends have changed us, and are successfully hijacking the truth, spreading lies and false conspiracy theories and turning a republic of relatively informed citizen into lemmings. And, frankly, it’s scary.”

He said attacks on the media are a by-product of hijacking the truth and destroying democracy.

“If our leaders are able to get us to doubt the credibility of independent media and if we devolve into a society of people who spend our lives in intellectual bubbles never confronting opinions that differ from our own – never having our minds open to others peoples’ views – the American experience is on tender hooks,” Fournier said. “Yes, journalism is endangered and demonized but it’s bigger than that. People shouldn’t worry about just the tender feelings of reporters and journalists or even the fate of their local news and TV station. Once they come for the media, they’ll come for the rest of us.

“If we don’t have a thriving independent news industry in this country, this country is in a world of hurt,” he said.

Durkin added that journalism is critical because it is important for people in our country to be informed.

When looking at other countries around the world, “We can see what happens when there is no free press,” he said, adding that there is a reason why our nation’s founders enshrined a free press in the First Amendment.

They both hope that the new facilities at Detroit Mercy will contribute to a better society.

Communication facilities are located on three levels of Briggs building: basement, first floor (pictured) and third floor. / Photo by Devonne Mccullough