From the President - Difficult Decisions and Transformational Changes

November 11, 2022

In my first column as NCA President in February 2022, I expressed my profound sense of honor as I assumed this role, as well as my recognition of the enormous responsibilities that accompany this service. One of the fundamental commitments that I made when I was elected as an officer was to contribute my energies to reinvigorating our conversations about the values that we shared and how those principles inform our Association’s practices and prospects. In 2021 while I served as NCA’s First Vice President, I appointed the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) Strategic Plan Task Force, and soon their significant report and recommendations will be presented to the NCA Legislative Assembly at our upcoming Annual Convention in New Orleans. Next, for my Presidential initiative, I chose to engage our Association in a robust and comprehensive strategic planning process this year, something that NCA had not undergone in over a decade. Our new NCA Strategic Plan also will be presented to the NCA Legislative Assembly at the Annual Convention.

In concert with the IDEA recommendations, our new plan will orient NCA toward a bold future with a strong vision, mission, and set of core values. Reaffirming our values and articulating our objectives, however, are only the beginning steps in our Association’s transformative change process. Now, the difficult work remains to be accomplished, as we must come together to determine the specific practices and programs that we will implement to realize our commitments to IDEA and our new vision for NCA. Engaging in strategic planning provides an opportunity for reflection, renewal, and realignment, but these processes also call upon us to be willing to debate, deliberate, and honor our many voices and perspectives. As we make the difficult choices about how to advance our Association, our challenge is to embrace the prospects for transformative change that truly will make a difference for our members and for the communities in which we work and live.

Implementing a new strategic plan, therefore, is a key moment that calls for NCA to take a careful and critical look at our legacies and our opportunities. As with the processes of reflection and assessment that characterized our Centennial eight years ago, we need to be prepared to wrestle with the complexities of our past and use these insights to guide our future choices. Engaging in this self-reflexivity will not, and should not, be an easy journey for us. The history of our Association’s identities and institutional practices necessarily has been marked by negotiations and differences.

In their introductory chapter to A Century of Communication Studies: An Unfinished Conversation, Pat J. Gehrke and William M. Keith astutely conclude: “The central fact of our history is the ambiguity of ‘we.’ ‘We’ can mean ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ a unified entity that emerges from diversity, but it also can refer to a multiplicity of voices, sometimes in harmony, but not necessarily unified.”¹ Gehrke and Keith argue that NCA’s history can be understood as defined by the intersection of unity and diversity, with these forces variously taking precedence at different times in our history. For me, “diversity” is an incomplete concept that insufficiently captures the past struggles and the future potentialities that reside within NCA. Yet, I believe that it is this force of multiple voices and perspectives that have defined us, dominate our current historical moment, and must propel us forward.

Ensuring that our membership is fully embodied and invested in designing NCA’s future directions is essential. In their essay in A Century of Communication Studies, “Sexing Communication: Hearing, Feeling, Remembering Sex/Gender and Sexuality in the NCA,” Charles E. Morris III and Catherine Helen Palczewski recount significant instances of gender and identity struggle in NCA’s history, and argue that “these moments should make clear that none of the Association members can, or should, pretend these intersections are not always present.”² Indeed, as Morris and Palczewski conclude: “To account for a full history of the discipline, one must account for the full range of bodies that populate its institutions, scholarship, and gatherings."³ As “we” move forward to chart our Association’s future, it will be crucial to acknowledge and address the embodied experiences and perspectives of all our members. These differences have and will continue to be the source of our strength and vitality, both within our Association and across our discipline.

Significantly, the process of creating our new strategic plan revealed significant gaps in what NCA’s leadership and the National Office knows about our members and your needs. We have become a very different organization than the one that existed when we last crafted a strategic plan over 10 years ago. Consequently, with the Executive Committee’s support, the National Office engaged with two consulting firms to gather crucial information, regarding membership experiences and inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, which will allow us to assess our choices and make informed decisions regarding the implementation of our plan. The launching of a new strategic plan also is a reminder that NCA’s financial and human resources are not limitless, nor can we initiate new directions without taking careful stock of our current programs and practices. We will have to make some difficult choices as we examine the viability, worth, and responsiveness of our Association’s initiatives and institutional structures.

Most importantly, as we embark on the next stage of choosing NCA’s transformative paths, our core values must serve as the unifying force that guides our deliberations. Even when we disagree about our desired directions, we are called to act in concert with our shared principles. As forthrightly expressed in NCA’s Credo for Ethical Communication, “We endorse freedom of expression, diversity of perspective, and tolerance of dissent to achieve the informed and responsible decision-making fundamental to a civil society.”4 Just as these values are essential to our democratic deliberations, so they also must be applied in our Association as together we determine our priorities and decide our future courses of action.

At the start of this year in my first column in Spectra, I issued an invitation for you to join in our efforts this year to renew our commitments and envision our future. Now, as our new strategic plan is nearing completion, I again invite you to contribute to shaping our alternatives and deciding our next steps. We want to hear from you: What should NCA do to implement our mission, vision, goals, and objectives? Visit the Strategic Plan link on the NCA homepage and contribute your ideas, thoughts, and suggestions:

When I began my term as NCA President, I hoped that many different voices would be engaged in formulating our future vision and mission. Now, as we prepare to boldly venture into that transformative future, we need your passion, energy, and commitment to assay our possible paths carefully and critically. Our members will choose how to lead NCA forward and what our Association will achieve, and I very much look forward to taking that journey with you.

¹ Pat J. Gehrke and William M. Keith, “Introduction: A Brief History of the National Communication Association,” in A Century of Communication Studies: An Unfinished Conversation, eds. Pat J. Gehrke and William M. Keith (New York: Routledge, 2015), 1.

² Charles E. Morris III and Catherine Helen Palczewski, “Sexing Communication: Hearing, Feeling, Remembering Sex/Gender and Sexuality in the NCA,” in A Century of Communication Studies: An Unfinished Conversation, eds. Pat J. Gehrke and William M. Keith (New York: Routledge, 2015).

³ Morris III and Palczewski,” 155.

Credo for Ethical Communication, National Communication Association,