faculty profile :Robert Unger retires

Andreina Byrne

Beloved journalism professor leaves big shoes to fill

After two decades of teaching in the UMKC Communications Studies Department, Professor Robert Unger is retiring, though his legacy of investigative journalism will not be forgotten.

“Bob’s Pulitizer Prize-winning résumé in daily newspapers speaks for itself,” Communications Studies instructor Jonathan Rand said. “His reporting skills were never more impressive than when he wrote the book reconstructing the Union State massacre, and revealing eye-opening material that had previously been hidden from the public.”

Unger, who received his undergraduate degree from the University of Missouri, spent years with the Chicago Tribune and Kansas City Star  as an investigative reporter, international correspondent and columnist.

Unger has covered five presidential elections, three wars and two uprisings on the West Bank of Israel, and written a book discrediting the FBI’s account of the Union Station Massacre in Kansas City.

“I’ve been overseas more times than I can remember,” Unger said. “Getting to know people, getting to understand them a little bit, I think that’s what I love. The real people out there, I miss them. I’d like to go back to that.”

In 1995, he decided to contain his adventurous spirit and settle down as a professor at UMKC.

“It’s a different kind of rush [with teaching],” Unger said. “When I see students really succeed and do something well, it’s a rush.

“I contacted UMKC and said, ‘Ya know, I know you don’t have much of a journalism program there,’” Unger said. “In ’95, this was before the journalism world began to tank. I told the dean [about] the laboratory that we had right here for [students] to practice journalism. We were going to try [and develop a program] and call it the Urban Journalism Program.”

“That Bob was able to carve out such an important place for journalism at UMKC was amazing for a campus that doesn’t have a journalism school,” Rand said. “His Introduction to Journalism course has been so popular that it’s routinely been packed into two sections.”

Though Unger’s dreams for the Urban Journalism Program didn’t quite take off due to lack of funding, his legacy of tough love teaching and as a defender of the rights of the University News are ingrained in the journalism students’ lives that he has touched.

“Professor Unger is blunt and real with you, which I love about him,” said student Jordan Tankel. “He doesn’t sugar coat things, so you are actually able to get honest feedback. That being said, he likes to joke around with his students too; he’s witty and sarcastic.”

The experiences from the field have enhanced Unger’s ability as a professor.

“Unger knows how to utilize his real world experience in way that benefits the classroom,” said student Kharissa Forte. “He develops students from writers to journalists.”

For Unger, experience has taught him to keep on pursuing and questioning.

“When I was 17 years old, I told my girlfriend, who is now my wife, that I wanted to travel the world, interviewing presidents and kings, and I wanted someone else to pay for it,” Unger said. “That’s exactly what’s happened. The only thing I forgot to say was that ‘Oh yeah, and I want to be rich.’ I have seen everything. I’ve loved it, every minute of it.”

Unfortunately for future UMKC journalism students, Unger’s sarcasm and lessons will have moved on to another adventurous journey.

“His retirement will leave some very big shoes to fill,” Rand said. “And a very, very tough act to follow.”

Said Unger, “I have my reservations but it’s time for me to go home to be grandpa. My wife and I will probably travel some, and there are books that I want to write. So, I’m looking forward to it. It’s been a good ride.”

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