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ASU names Battinto Batts new dean of Cronkite School

May 13, 2021

Journalist and educator who led fundraising efforts and oversaw programs for Scripps Howard Foundation to start July 1

Editor’s note: This story is featured in the 2021 year in review.

Battinto Batts Jr. has held a number of dynamic jobs over the past few decades: award-winning newspaper journalist, lecturer, philanthropist, strategic communications professional, higher education administrator and nonprofit executive.

He’ll soon make a new addition to his curriculum vitae: dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

A man in a suit smiles in front of a bookcase with books and an award on display

Battinto Batts will begin his post as dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on July 1. 

“The Cronkite School is a beacon among its peers in higher education, which means the job of its dean is more layered,” Batts said. “At the end of a visit to the Cronkite School in 2011, I thought, ‘This is a place where I would love to be able to come back and join the university.’ Now, to be chosen as the school’s dean … I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.”

Batts will have about six weeks to do just that. His post starts July 1.

Nancy Gonzales, Foundation Professor of psychology at ASU and the incoming provost, anticipates that Batts, like founding Cronkite Dean Christopher CallahanIn November 2019, Callahan was announced as the next president of the University of the Pacific, the nation’s oldest chartered institution of higher education in California. — who led the transformation of the ASU journalism school into one of the nation’s top programs — will be an impactful leader. 

“On behalf of the entire academic enterprise, I welcome Battinto to ASU and am thrilled that such an inspiring leader will lead the Cronkite School as its dean,” Gonzales said. “Journalism is vital to the health of society. Shaping the next generation of journalists and media professionals to positively impact our country and globe requires a vision for and commitment to inclusion and excellence. I am confident that Dean Batts has the experience and perspective required to lead the Cronkite community with these ideals at the core of his work.”

Batts said Cronkite’s dedication to excellence, experiential education and applied research and programs drew him to the job. Batts also said in his application process that his big mission will be to help all ASU students succeed.

“I offer additional personal perspectives and insights that are particularly relevant, given the university’s commitment to address issues related to underrepresented groups and individuals,” Batts said. “A commitment to diversity, inclusion and empowerment is inherent for me. … I want to help make the Cronkite School the model for higher education in terms of diversity and a source of expertise in terms of news coverage and communications research on topics that are relevant for communities of color.”

Batts believes solid journalism is needed now more than ever in smaller communities and larger cities as well as nationally and internationally.

“Cronkite is a trusted leader and will even be more so in order to help us confront this crisis in confidence and mistrust in the media,” Batts said. “The best way to do that is to turn up Cronkite’s volume in terms of presence and awareness beyond where it already is because Cronkite is already well-known.”

He has big plans for the Cronkite School.

I want to continue to elevate Cronkite as a household name and to make it more of a global brand,” he said. “I want the school to reach additional audiences so that when people think of journalism and media education, they immediately think of Cronkite. I want to further leverage and integrate platforms such as Arizona PBS into the teaching and learning realms. We must also spread awareness of the school and collaborate with other academic units as part of an interdisciplinary approach to teaching, research and content development.”

Batts said his experience in philanthropy will be to the Cronkite School’s benefit when it comes to attracting additional funding resources for the school.

“My experience in philanthropy has enabled me to demystify the process of how and where funders decide to award resources,” Batts said. “It comes down to capacity, expertise and commitment. I rate the Cronkite School as a ‘goal-line program,’ meaning it’s always in a good position to score when it comes to funding."

At the Scripps Howard Foundation in Cincinnati, which he joined as director of journalism strategies in 2016, he collaborated with the foundation’s board of trustees and E.W. Scripps Co. leaders to manage journalism initiatives and set funding priorities. He also worked with trustees, advisers and staff to develop a strategic plan for the direction of the foundation’s programs, resources, fundraising efforts and award money from a $65 million endowment to journalism programs across the country. Batts was also an architect of the Howard Centers for Investigative Journalism that the foundation awarded $6 million in grants to establish at the Cronkite School and at the University of Maryland.

The Virginia native also has held posts with the University of Cincinnati, Hampton University, the William R. Harvey Leadership Institute, The Virginian-Pilot, the Tampa Bay Times, the (Newport News, Virginia) Daily Press and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. His career began at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where he covered law enforcement in the Richmond, Virginia, metropolitan area.

“That was my first job out of college, and what stuck with me from the many crime scenes and cases I covered was how fragile life is, and how fortunate that I am,” Batts said.

Batts grew up in Ettrick, Virginia, near Virginia State University, a historically Black institution. It is the United States’ first fully state-supported four-year institution of higher learning for Black Americans. Batts said being raised near a university provided access to many mentors and role models who were committed to education and creating opportunities for others. In high school, he earned money mowing lawns throughout the community. One couple he worked for, the late Harry and Mae Johnson, were educators at VSU and world travelers who encouraged him to dream of a life beyond Ettrick.

“They exposed me to the importance of education by mentoring me and providing a good example of what it was like to be a role model,” Batts said. “In our community, it was an honor to be chosen to work for the Johnsons because of their stature. I believe that it does take a village to raise a child, and their example, along with that of my parents, who were also educators, made education a part of me.”

A writer from an early age, Batts’ original vocation was journalism, but education is what propelled his career and opened many doors. That’s something that resonates with ASU President Michael Crow.

“Education opens up incredible access to opportunities and ideas,” Crow said. “It’s a key part of our charter here, and Battinto Batts will continue that pursuit as he takes over the helm of the Cronkite School. Access to and the free exchange of ideas aren’t just a part of education; they are the lifeblood of journalism and Batts is well poised to expand those opportunities for more students and significantly influence the future of journalism.”

After he received his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Virginia Commonwealth University, Batts got his master’s degree in media management at Norfolk State University. He said going for his doctorate in higher education management required a leap of faith, prompted by another mentor in his life, Hampton University President William R. Harvey.

“I had been covering higher education as a journalist, then got into teaching as an adjunct faculty member at Hampton, then later as a full-time faculty member,” Batts said. “Teaching really helped bring my passions together and understand my purpose better. Dr. Harvey advised me to get my doctorate, and that’s what really started my career in academic administration. He saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself to that point.”

His doctoral dissertation, “An Exploration of the Relationship Between Social Media Use and Engagement Among African American Student Leaders,” was inspired by his experiences in media and education and a desire to address challenges in degree attainment that minorities sometimes confront.

Batts has served in various roles in academia: professor of news writing, editing and ethics; administrator for a leadership institute; assistant dean for academic affairs; and director of journalism strategies.

He said his style of leadership is to “lead from behind,” utilizing influence and collaboration to gain support for initiatives, programs and external partnerships. He said the best part of the job, however, is interaction with people.

“I have a servant spirit within me, and I want to provide to students mentoring, guidance and support,” Batts said. “There’s also wonderful interaction with faculty and other administrators across campus. So it’s really all woven together.”

He enjoys mentoring all students, particularly students of color and different ethnicities.

“Like all young people, they need someone who is accessible, who listens to them without preaching and who can provide an example of staying on the right path,” Batts said. “I try and offer to them my experience and how I am able to help them continue their educational journey. That’s important.”

So is family.

Batts is married to Tamala, who went to high school in Phoenix. They have four daughters — Lyndsay, Mayah, Olivia and Jourdan — and a grandson, Brycen.

“My family feeds me,” Batts said. “Nothing is more important to me than being a father and a husband.”

Kristin Gilger, who served as interim dean of the Cronkite School since June 2020, will return to the faculty as Reynolds Professor in Business Journalism and executive director of the National Center on Disability and Journalism.

Reporter , ASU News


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ASU research pinpoints cost savings of moving mentally ill from homelessness

ASU research pinpoints cost savings of moving mentally ill homeless to housing.
May 13, 2021

Providing stable, supportive housing can save $21,000 per person per year

New research from Arizona State University has found that it’s cheaper to build permanent, supportive housing for people who have chronic mental illness than it is to let them become homeless.

A study done by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy has, for the first time, quantified the cost savings at about $21,000 per year for each chronically mentally ill person who has stable housing and support services, breaking the expensive cycle of emergency room visits, police interactions and incarceration.

The money would be saved in costs for health care, criminal justice and housing services provided to these community members, according to the recently released research report, titled “Housing is Health Care: The Impact of Supportive Housing on the Costs of Chronic Mental Illness.” The Morrison Institute is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at ASU.

The research is important because policymakers want to see actual cost benefits before making changes, according to Laurie Goldstein, an engineer and a founder of the Phoenix-based Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill, one of the sponsors of the research project. She and her husband, Chuck Goldstein, spent years seeking help for their mentally ill son, who continually fled or was released from treatment centers before he could be stabilized. Goldstein spoke during a webinar on May 12 to discuss the research results.

“Folklore is not enough to drive policy issues. We need empirical research to back our assertions,” she said.

“The result of most academic research takes 17 years to get into the hands of people that could use that research, and that is something that Watts and ASU is trying to change.”

The Morrison Institute study included about 2,000 people with chronic mental illness in Maricopa County who were divided into three housing categories: those who were chronically homeless (about 39%), those who had housing but unknown support services (about 49%) and those who had permanent supportive housing (about 12%).

The study found:

  • The average cost for a person with chronic mental illness who is homeless is about $73,000 per year. For a person in housing with unknown support, it’s about $61,000. And for those in permanent supportive housing, it’s about $52,000 a year, about 29% less than the cost for homeless people.
  • About 75% of the costs for people with chronic mental illness is for health care — behavioral, physical and pharmacy.
  • The average criminal justice costs for a homeless person with chronic mental illness is about $5,400 per year, with about $2,700 of that in police costs and the remainder for incarceration and court costs. For the person in supportive housing, it’s about $3,300 a year, with about $2,000 in police costs.

The Morrison Institute for Public Policy held a webinar on May 12 to discuss the results of its research project, "Housing is Health Care." Screenshot by Charlie Leight/ASU News

“Here’s a happy instance where the humane, ethical thing to do also turns out to be the cost-effective thing to do,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College and the new vice provost for public service and social impact at ASU.

Serious mental illness is most commonly schizophrenia, severe major depression or bipolar disorder. Those conditions can be treated.

People diagnosed with chronic mental illness have a serious mental illness but reject treatment, have interactions with the criminal justice system, threaten suicide or self-injury and have episodes requiring crisis intervention. Sometimes they also have substance-use issues. This population creates a high cost in public dollars.

The ASU research team looked at the years 2014–19, when about 6,300 people in Maricopa County’s Medicaid program were identified as having chronic mental illness. That’s about 18% of all the people in the Medicaid program who were diagnosed with serious mental illness.

The report had two other parts — a case study of the two Lighthouse supportive residences for people with chronic mental illness in Maricopa County and a series of interviews with experts, family members and people with chronic mental illness.

Over the course of the research, nine people in the study moved from chronic homelessness to the Lighthouse residences, which offer around-the-clock, individualized support services and are the only two such homes in Maricopa County.

For those nine people, the average health cost went from about $123,000 per person in 2016, when they were homeless, to about $108,000 per person for 2019, when they lived in a Lighthouse residence, a drop of 12%.

The Lighthouse homes don’t evict tenants who break the rules, and that’s an important difference from most other programs because stable housing leads to stable treatment. The Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill is advocating for more residences like the Lighthouse homes.

The “Housing is Health Care” interviews with stakeholders provided a range of recommendations: more treatment and residences with support, more support during transitions from hospitalization or incarceration to housing, lower caseloads for professionals, and lowered barriers to affordable housing, such as not rejecting tenants with eviction or criminal records.

The people interviewed also talked about the need for support that’s potentially lifelong, according to Chrissie Bausch, the research analyst for the Morrison Institute who did the interviews.

“A family member made this comparison: If you have diabetes, you need care literally for your whole life, and some people’s diabetes is more severe than others. You need more intensive care,” Bausch said on the webinar. “Well, it’s the same thing with mental illness.”

Koppell said that the report covered only the “tip of the iceberg.”

“Another issue we in the Watts College care about is police interactions with the community and, specifically, the challenge of officer-involved shootings.

“We know from research in the Watts College that more than 70% of all officer-involved shootings involve somebody with a mental health concern. If you did a better job managing someone with mental illness, it is an inescapable conclusion that the number of officer-involved shootings would go down.”

The “Housing is Health Care” report was authored by Bausch, Alison Cook-Davis, associate director for research for the Morrison Institute, and Benedikt Springer, postdoctoral scholar. The Center for Health Information and Research at ASU collected and analyzed the quantitative data. The report, webinar and a series of accompanying videos can be seen here.

Top image by iStock Photos

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News