Aug. 27, 2021

In Memoriam: David B. Mitchell, 1948-2021

Dr. Mitchell was a professor and the former department head of Communication, Media and Film
Dr. David B. Mitchell

It is with a profound sense of loss that we mourn the untimely death of our colleague and friend, Dr. David B. Mitchell, PhD, professor emeritus and former head of the Department of Communication, Media and Film at the University of Calgary.

David was an intellectual leader, a mentor and inspiration for peers and students, and the creative force and steady hand behind a number of innovative projects with long-lasting academic and practical legacy.

David was there at the inception of our department, and before that the Faculty of Communication and Culture, and contributed tremendously to the shaping and expansion of our graduate programs. He was the editor of
Communication Theory Today, a seminal collection exemplifying the original Canadian approach to the area. He taught the subject for many years, showing generations of students how key concepts in critical and cultural theory can inform communication studies. 

The scope of David’s academic pursuits comprised erudite theoretical interpretation and head-on engagement with critical issues of media development and communication policy. He was a visionary in the field of digital technology and a driver of several important initiatives that put our unit at the forefront of the inquiry into digital media applications and policies.

Thanks to David’s expertise and enthusiastic leadership, our faculty was successful in receiving Canadian Foundation for Innovation funding for the construction of the first videoconferencing lab at a Canadian university. Based on the new possibilities for collaboration created by this lab in the early 2000s, David was able to form an interuniversity team, the SuperNet Research Alliance. The alliance received major three-year funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Initiative on the New Economy Program to study the social, economic, and cultural impacts of the SuperNet, the network of fibre-optic and wireless connections that linked government, schools, libraries and communities across the province. David spearheaded the multidisciplinary undertaking that involved 14 professors and eight differently focused subprojects methodically, with clear vision and superb organizational and analytical prowess. Under David’s tutelage, many graduate students gained experience in field work, proved themselves as valuable team members and were set for successful careers as academics and policy analysts.  

This and other large-scale projects were driven by David’s firm commitment to bringing the insights of the social sciences into social practice. He worked with national and provincial IT providers and the CANARIE: Advanced Networking Applications Services and Technologies Program on InSite, an initiative aimed at enhancing the way collaborative research teams work by using videoconferencing over the CA*net3 high-speed network. He was also involved in the nascent development of telehealth in Alberta. Our recent experience during the COVID-19 quarantine has shown how forward-looking and critically important such efforts have been.

David was a network builder in many senses. He worked to create synergies among like-minded academics across Canada, collaborated with policy-makers and administrators, sought to expand international educational exchange and supported the joint graduate conference of the University of Calgary and University of Alberta. His many roles — among which were those of editor of the Canadian Journal of Communication for six years, president of the Canadian Communication Association, and director of the Graduate Program in Communication — give a clear indication of his immeasurable contribution to the university and the national academic community.   

At the centre of this illustrious career stood someone who was never a careerist; who added a touch of playfulness, wit and humour to everything he did; who genuinely enjoyed helping others; who always had time to chat, listen, discuss, advise and laugh. David was one of a kind: a gentleman, an artist, an intellectual, a principled leader and a wonderfully kind human being.

This tribute to Dr. Mitchell was written by Professor Maria Bakardjieva.

To honour the legacy of Dr. Mitchell’s contribution to teaching and research at the University of Calgary, Communication, Media and Film has established an endowed scholarship fund, the Dr. David B. Mitchell Graduate Scholarship in Communication and Media Studies.