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Retiring and Remembered: Ken Burke

Professor Ken Burke came to California in 1984 after having taught at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Tex. for seven years. He left after not receiving tenure because he “didn’t fit the mold of SMU,” he said.

(Courtesy of Ken Burke)
(Courtesy of Ken Burke)

He ended up in San Jose, where he was working in as a producer and production manager for Panorama Productions.

“I do seriously think California was an eye opening experience,” Burke said about moving out west.

In 1987, Burke met Nina Kindblad, [who was] his wife, at a Paul Simon concert. Soon after, Kindblad gave him directions to her place in Oakland. Burke drove up from San Jose and saw a sign that said “Mills College” on the side of Interstate 580.

“I wondered what Mills College was,” Burke said.

Burke stumbled onto his career at Mills. After three years at Panorama, there was no longer a job for him creating media. Soon after, he heard about an opening at Mills.

In the fall of 1987, Burke began teaching at Mills in the Communications department, teaching classes such as sociology of mass media, video production, and screenwriting.

Burke found the experience of being at a small women’s college an interesting challenge after having attended University of Texas at Austin and teaching at SMU and Queen’s College, City University of New York. He also recalls the Mills College Strike of 1990, which he remembers as an impressive sight.

“It was absolutely invigorating to see the passion from students,” Burke said.

It wasn’t just the students that Burke learned from, but faculty and staff members, too. Being without a department for a few years led to Burke calling himself a nomad at the College.

After the communications and drama departments were terminated, Burke was department-less until he was asked to join the art department. Since December 2011, he has been writing a film review blog with Bay Area theater critic Pat Craig. The blog, Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark, has been Burke’s project that he will continue once his retirement is official on May 31.

With the blog, he said he feels no responsibility to a publication or to please people with his reviews. The reviews are longer than what one sees in a newspaper because he does research while writing.

“It’s a slow process because I’m a slow writer,” Burke said.

Though the future of film studies at Mills remains in the air, Burke hopes people will see the importance of mass media.

“I’m certainly a visual enthusiast,” Burke said. “[I] hope I have imparted some of that on students.”