From the President - Promoting the Discipline

From the President
May 5, 2021

In my previous column, I shared my enthusiasm for the discipline of Communication, noting such qualities as its expansiveness, strength of scholarship, and quality of instruction. I also noted the dedication to disciplinary, community, and public service expressed through the efforts of the members of this discipline. I recognize the significance and impact of this discipline. If you are reading this column, you likely recognize those qualities as well. For those of us who engage in the discipline on a daily basis and who have made it a focal point in their lives, however, it is easy to lose awareness of the fact that other people might not fully recognize its significance and impact.

The Communication discipline is significant, is impactful, and has a great deal to offer, and we should not keep those facts to ourselves. We must continuously promote the discipline. Such promotion is especially necessary in increasingly challenging academic environments, which are fraught with rising competition for both majors and resources, program restructuring and elimination, shifting notions of the purpose and value of higher education, and myriad other concerns.

The Communication discipline is significant, is impactful, and has a great deal to offer, and we should not keep those facts to ourselves.

In what follows, I want to discuss which groups we might be targeting through such promotion and several Communication discipline-specific issues to consider when doing so. A few caveats are in order before getting started: First, the actual outcome and influence that can be achieved with each group will vary and will not always be immediately noticeable. Instant gratification is not something that can be anticipated, and our influence may not always be known. We sometimes have to just trust that we are making a positive impact in the discipline by engaging in its promotion. Second, what might be done to promote the discipline will differ depending on one’s position or role. The actions taken by graduate students, professors, contingent faculty, department chairs, deans, school directors, association leaders, and others will differ, but all members of the discipline can have a positive and meaningful effect. Third, many people already are actively engaged in the promotion of the discipline. These suggestions serve as a reminder of the importance of promoting the discipline and as guidance for those individuals not yet involved.

We should promote the discipline of Communication to students. This group may seem obvious, but we must continuously recognize the importance of both recruiting and retaining/graduating majors. Idealistically, recruiting and retaining/graduating majors is a good thing because we know the positive impact that a degree in Communication will have on the lives of students. Pragmatically, recruiting and retaining/graduating majors is a good thing because decisions about funding and program preservation or elimination are often dependent on raw numbers of students. Retention and graduation numbers are especially vital, so it is critical to ensure that the students in our classes successfully completing our programs.

Many student recruitment and retention/graduation strategies are shared among disciplines. However, Communication is unique in many ways that provide us with advantages over other disciplines. There is an initial hurdle, though: Students generally do not arrive in college as Communication majors, both because Communication courses are taught less often in K-12 than courses in other disciplines and because misconceptions about the discipline frequently exist, with people often not fully aware of its expansive range of study. Fortunately, many students have personal and professional interests and goals that our discipline can fulfill. We must never forget that students need to be made aware that our discipline is the place to satisfy those interests and goals. Also, because an introductory Communication course is often mandatory to complete general studies requirements, the discipline of Communication has an unparalleled advantage over most other disciplines. We must never take that advantage for granted and we must always recognize the introductory course as a powerful recruitment tool. Finally, students want to make a positive social impact more than ever and they want to make certain they can secure good employment upon graduation. Our discipline, more than most others, enables students to make a positive social impact and secure good employment, beyond the personal and relational development and other benefits received from our courses. We must promote all of these qualities to students.

The centrality of Communication in personal, professional, creative, and civic worlds means that our work can inform and enhance the work of other disciplines in profound ways.

We should promote the discipline of Communication to other disciplines. Making sure our colleagues in other departments know the value of the discipline of Communication is also important. We can examine this from idealistic and pragmatic perspectives once again. Idealistically, cross-disciplinary efforts are beneficial to the advancement of scholarship, and students from other departments can benefit greatly from our courses. Pragmatically, cross-disciplinary efforts strengthen the position of our programs, increasing recognition of our scholarship and increasing the numbers of students enrolled in our courses. The centrality of Communication in personal, professional, creative, and civic worlds means that our work can inform and enhance the work of other disciplines in profound ways. However, we should not expect other disciplines to recognize the value of our discipline and come to us. Rather, we need to inform and reach out to them. Other disciplines may be less likely to engage in such promotion, and one might question why we should be expected to do so, but most other disciplines do not have Communication’s expansive and multifaceted impact. Promoting the significance and value of our research in helping to answer the questions posed in other disciplines will ultimately bolster and enhance our own research and discipline. In addition to sharing our scholarship, we must make sure that others recognize the benefits of requiring students to take our introductory course for general education completion, especially when other disciplines may question why their courses are not required and when institutions may be seeking ways to decrease general education requirements. We must also let other disciplines know about the personal and professional value derived by their students from enrolling in our other courses as part of elective or required curricula.

We should promote the discipline of Communication to our institutions. This one might be more actionable for Communication program chairs, directors, and deans, but it is important for everyone to appreciate. As with any other discipline, our institutions should be made aware of the value of our courses and degrees, the achievements of our graduates, and the successes and contributions of our faculty, staff, and students. Above all, we must ensure that our institutions recognize and understand how the discipline of Communication supports their respective missions, values, and goals. This is another area in which our discipline has an advantage over others, in terms of both existing needs and emerging post-pandemic realities. Though institutional missions and strategic plans vary, there are often common elements, especially with the latter, which the discipline of Communication supports quite well. We must promote how our programs support the philosophies and priorities established by our respective institutions and how our programs assist in achieving our institutions’ objectives and goals. It is also important to recognize the increasing shift toward applied, practical institutional directives and outcomes, a shift that has been accelerated by the global pandemic from which we are beginning to emerge. These new priorities will likely be permanent, and we must promote how our discipline can adapt to such changes in academic environments.

We should promote the discipline of Communication to our communities. In part, the promotion of the discipline to our communities involves engagement in community support and service. Calling for increased community engagement in my previous column, I noted that the ability to use our skills and expertise to assist and support our communities sets us apart from other disciplines, with their areas of study not as readily transferable. Supporting and developing community initiatives not only benefits our communities but also encourages awareness of the discipline and its societal value. Extending beyond public service, the promotion of our discipline to our communities also involves establishing links with businesses, nonprofits, government entities, and media outlets. Informing them about our work and creating connections with them will assist in increasing recognition of the scope of our discipline and the extent of its impact. Such actions will also assist students by opening additional avenues for internships, service opportunities, and employment, further advancing awareness of the discipline and its relevance.

We cannot keep the significance, impact, and contributions of the discipline of Communication to ourselves, especially given increasingly challenging academic environments. I encourage you to think about ways in which you might promote the discipline through your personal efforts and what the National Communication Association might do to support those efforts. I will continue doing the same. Personally knowing the tremendous value of the discipline of Communication is reassuring but insufficient. We must share the discipline’s value with others.