Professor and Chair of Communication Sut Jhally Retires

Sut Jhally
Sut Jhally

After a long career as a professor, educator, researcher and film documentarian, Sut Jhally, professor and chair of the department of communication, has retired.

Jhally began teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1985. His scholarly interests include popular culture and media from the interdependent perspectives of critical cultural studies and political economy. While his focus is on advertising and consumer culture, Jhally is broadly concerned with ideology, consciousness, and politics.

During his time at UMass Amherst, Jhally was involved in several publications and projects that brought him widespread notice. He has written or edited six books and various articles, book chapters, editorials, reports and interviews.

“Sut is greatly beloved by so many of our undergraduates, in communication and beyond, because he helps them see the broader political, economic and cultural impact that media and communication have on our social world,” said Mari Castañeda, professor of communication and dean of the Commonwealth Honors College. “The lasting impact he will have on the department and UMass Amherst is the demonstration that media analysis and media creation are vital for moving further social justice ideologies and interventions.”

In 1992, Jhally founded the Media Education Foundation, dedicated to producing and distributing documentary films and other educational resources meant to inspire critical thinking about the social, political and cultural impact of American mass media.

In addition, he has directed and produced more than 40 film projects including “Dreamworlds: Desire/Sex/Power in Music Video;” “Tough Guise: Media, Violence and the Crisis of Masculinity;” and “Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire.” These videos explore and engage with issues such as gender, sexuality, race, commercialism, violence and politics.

Erica Scharrer, professor of communication and incoming chair of the department, said throughout his tenure Jhally drew hundreds of people to film screenings, panels and other events on campus. Those events spoke directly to the pressing global issues in social, economic, and racial justice and human rights.

She said, “My favorite expression of the transformative experiences students had in Professor Jhally's classes came the year in which some graduating communication seniors had T-shirts made that said taking classes with ‘the Jhally Lama’ would be one of their favorite memories of UMass,” recalled Scharrer.

As an educator, having taught countless UMass students in his large in-person and online lectures, Jhally won the Distinguished Teacher Award and was dubbed “Best Professor” by the Daily Collegian. In 1992, he was named one of New Woman magazine's "People of the Year.” Jhally has also been awarded the Distinguished Outreach Award and was selected to deliver a Distinguished Faculty Lecture in 2007.

"Plain and simple, Sut made us think. He challenged my views on topics and challenged me to physically think differently,” said Wesley Dunham ’99. “A class could be painfully uncomfortable or the most exhilarating place to be. It has been over 20 years since I was in his classroom and I still reference classes, discussions and things I learned in his classroom to this day."

As of late, Jhally’s pioneering status in the online teaching realm provided significant leadership and support to the Department of Communication when it moved to remote teaching along with the rest of the university this past spring.

Jhally still plans to continue in the classroom part-time after his retirement and impact future UMass students in the coming years.

“I, for one, have greatly benefited from Sut’s presence in the department,” Castañeda added. “He’s been an incredible mentor and big supporter of my engaged scholarship for the entire course of my career. I will miss his laugh and good cheer at faculty meetings, and I wish him the very best in his new scholastic journey as a retired faculty member.”