A Profile of Dr. Jean Moore: Host of WRTI’s ‘University Forum’
(Originally published in April, 2000, in Tempo magazine)
Dr. Jean Moore is the host and executive producer of the award-winning WRTI public affairs program University Forum. The show addresses pertinent social issues: mental and physical health, violence, women’s issues, and more. She brings to the airwaves the vast and varied experience she accumulated in the public domain as a social worker and social welfare administrator.
She describes herself as a first-generation American; her parents had come to the U.S. from Jamaica. About growing up in Harlem as a Jamaican American she says, “I had different collective experience than many African Americans.”
“My parents made it understood that my brother and I would excel in school,” she says. “My mother registered us in what she considered the best school even though it was out of our school district in a predominantly white area, and we had to walk very far to get there. And we both were sent to a community musical school where he studied and soon excelled in violin, and I studied piano.” Both siblings also went on to a highly lauded academic school, the Music and Art High School.
With her eye on a journalism career, Moore matriculated at Hunter College in New York City where she would later graduate Phi Beta Kappa. Hunter, at that time, was an all-female, tuition-free school. “Even the books were free,” she explains. “I would not have been able to attend college otherwise.”
The school was progressive and promoted activism even before the civil rights movement. “I became involved in many proactive organizations that included interracial and inter-religious dialogue,” she recalls. “I led a 700-person march of the Intercollegiate Unity Council on Albany to promote educational access for all races.”
Another out-of-town journey proved much more painful. On a trip to Washington as a delegate to an NAACP convention, Moore was told to move to a segregated car when the train crossed the Mason-Dixon Line. That’s when the whole weight of the African-American experience came crashing down on her.
These undergraduate experiences were influential in her decision to change her focus to social work. But before she graduated, she took course work in radio broadcasting. It was great fun and would prove fortuitous in the future.
The lone black professor at Hunter, whose class she was not enrolled in, sought Moore out and became the mentor who recommended her to Bryn Mawr College for its graduate social work program. Moore matriculated there on a scholarship and a fellowship. “It was a broadening experience,” she says. “I lived in a residence hall with students from many different countries.” It was a social experience, too. She met a Philadelphian, Robert Moore Jr., and they were married three years later.
Along with two children, what followed was a fast-paced career in social work and administration in local, state, and federal agencies: the Veterans Administration, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, and HUD. In 1969, she was recruited by Temple’s School of Social Administration as an associate professor. Her mission: to develop a program that would recruit and retain alternative students - adults without the usual academic credentials - to earn degrees in social work. It was called New Career Ladders in Social Welfare.
Many issues had to be addressed for her students: academic achievement, child care, financial planning - what Moore calls the “reality issues.” Many of the students did graduate, and some went on to obtain master’s and doctoral degrees. Jean Moore did, too, when she was awarded her doctorate at Temple in 1978.
In 1977, Moore coordinated a Graduate Extended Degree Program that let practicing social workers earn graduate degrees in evening classes over an extended time frame. In 1985, at the request of the State Chancellor of the State System of Higher Education, she took what she thought would be a short leave to become the executive assistant to the president of Cheyney University. Her job was to help secure the school’s re-accreditation. Three months turned into six years. But that accomplished, she joined the administration at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. And there she donned yet another cap when the manager of the university’s radio station asked her to do a weekly public affairs program.
She called upon the broadcast training she’d had “quite a few years back” at Hunter and slid comfortably into the role of host and executive producer. The show titled University Forum transferred to Temple’s campus in 1997 when she began broadcasting over the Temple University Public Radio network. And she continues to invite guests to the show who shed light on topical themes: AIDS, child welfare, mental health, physical health, and housing.
Often she features Temple faculty, like communications expert Dr. George Gerbner, on the effects of violence shown on TV, and math professor and author John Paulos on innumeracy. One of the shows that was close to her heart was about the Tuskegee Airmen, the segregated corps of black airmen in WWII who fought for the right to serve, flew combat missions over Germany, and compiled a distinguished record of services. Three veterans were featured on the show which she dedicated to her brother, a Tuskegee airman himself, who had recently died. That show won a national award as did shows on AIDS, fighting blindness, and an interview with historian Dr. John Hope Franklin. And, recently, her show was syndicated on the Radio for Peace International, a shortwave educational radio station in Costa Rica that is received globally.
How does she prepare for the vast array of topics and the broad spectrum of personalities she interviews? “I do a lot of research. Also, I am kind to my interviewees. I’m not interested in sensationalism. It’s my job to encourage them to do the talking because I operate under the principle that the show is not about me.” --Ruth Waldman Schultz