Visiting Professor Brings ‘Old Friends’ to Law School Class

Posted: September 14, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

When Brian Lamb comes to your house, he brings the entire federal government with him. Via television, that is. Founder and CEO of C-SPAN, Lamb won the support of key cable industry executives in 1979 for a channel that delivered unedited, “gavel-to-gavel” coverage of the U.S. Congress. Today C-SPAN is the nation’s eighth-largest cable network.

Thanks to Mason Professor Clay T. Whitehead, who is teaching a course on communications policy and the law this fall, Lamb will be speaking today at noon in Room 221 of Hazel Hall on the Arlington Campus. The event is free and open to the Mason community.

Brian Lamb and Alan Merten
President Alan Merten presents an honorary degree to Brian Lamb at the 2001 Commencement.
Creative Services photos

Lamb has been a longtime friend of the university. In 2001, he was the commencement speaker and was awarded an honorary doctoral degree in humane letters. Lamb and Whitehead are also old friends, dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidency. When Whitehead was the first director of the U.S. Office of Telecommunications Policy, he appointed Lamb as his assistant for congressional and press relations.

“Generally, he tried to keep me out of trouble,” Whitehead says.

Whitehead, who has a Ph.D. in management and economics from MIT, is a distinguished visiting professor at Mason. He is working on a book about the evolution of electronic communications. With a career that spans 40 years in academia, government policy and business, Whitehead has worked with many of the key players in the development and regulation of broadcasting and telecommunication and is now trying to place it in a historical perspective.

“I want to write about how electronic communication in the United States got to be the way it is, why it is important, what factors are shaping it, and what that means going forward for society,” he says.

Whitehead was responsible for much of the telecommunications policy set during the Nixon administration. He was integral in the “Open Skies Policy” that introduced competition into telephone and broadcasting and brought cable stations such as HBO and CNN directly to people’s homes. After leaving government, Whitehead founded the first private enterprise satellite business in Europe, now known as Astra, which brought commercial television broadcasting to Europe for the first time.

“We are living in an age when many new communications technologies are emerging, and we’re not sure yet what to do with them,” Whitehead says. There are new and emerging means of communication nearly every day, and these will shape the future of the economy and our culture.

“Just recently, my son signed me up for Google Talk. What is Google Talk? Is it a phone? Not really. Like instant messaging and video on cell phones, these new technologies continue to change the way we relate to one another and how we think about communication.”

Though he is teaching about these issues this semester, he’s also learning right along with the students. In addition to Lamb, other leading figures in the development of communications policy will be joining the class to speak with the students. What they will have to say will not only shed light on the course for his students, but will help Whitehead with his own research. Lisa Sockett, an adjunct professor at the School of Law, is assisting Whitehead in teaching the class.

On Oct. 26 at noon, another “old friend” of Whitehead’s will visit Mason to meet with the class and also to speak to the wider community. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will talk about how constitutional interpretation on telecommunications issues has affected society.

“These are all people I’ve known over the years who have played an important role in law and policy and have a good perspective on it,” Whitehead says. “They are smart and thoughtful and will contribute greatly to the class.”

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