For more than 40 years, Geoffrey Cowan has been a leader in communications and public policy. He has served as an attorney, VOA’s 22nd Director, director of UCLA’s Communications Law program, Dean of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and former president of The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, California, which serves as a retreat center for meetings of heads of state and prominent scholars.
Cowan's father Louis was former president of the CBS television network and professor at the Columbia School of Journalism. His mother Polly was a TV and radio producer as well as a civil rights activist. Geoffrey followed in their footsteps, first as editor of The Harvard Crimson, then as a participant in 1964’s Freedom Summer, registering black voters and starting a farmers co-op in rural Mississippi. The majority of Cowan’s life revolved around journalism and communication, and civil rights. In 1972 he became the first director of UCLA’s Communications Law program, spending more than 20 years there teaching. From 1979 to 1984 he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, where he was involved in the growth of National Public Radio. In 1994 President Bill Clinton appointed Cowan to his father’s previous position, director of the Voice of America. Voice of America runs in his family - not only was his father VOA’s second director, but his sister Holly Cowan Shulman wrote a classic study of VOA’s founding and early years.
While at VOA, Cowan was credited for increasing the number of language services from 47 to 53 and for the creation of the new international talk show, Talk to America, the China Forum radio-TV simulcast in Mandarin, and the Farsi-language Roundtable With You for an Iranian audience. In 1994 VOA became the first international broadcaster to offer its material via the internet.