On June 30 I stepped down from serving as Department Chair after 11 years. Many faculty think that being chair is an administrative duty best avoided at all costs, but I have really enjoyed it because we have been able to build and enhance so much for our faculty and our students. It also helps to have really strong support from the College and the Deans, which we have had.
I became chair of the Department in July of 2004. We were housed in the Frieze Building—the old Ann Arbor high school, built in 2007—where North Quad is now located. To say that the building was antiquated and falling apart would be an understatement—nothing, the heating and cooling, the plumbing—worked properly and some of the windows were starting to fall out onto the sidewalk. So we hoped against hope that something might finally be done about the Frieze Building, but we had been told repeatedly that it was low on the priority list of upgrades or replacements. But then, that fall, President Mary Sue Coleman announced that the Frieze Building would be knocked down and a brand new building, combining academic offices and a new residential building, would replace it. Over several years of planning, College and University officials determined that the building would house units that focused, in the broadest terms, on communication, media and information. In 2010, Communication Studies, Screen Arts and Cultures, the School of Information, the Sweetland Writing Center and the Language Resource Center all moved into the building now known as North Quad. During the planning period, the Chairs, Directors and Deans got to play a major role in the design of their departments, from the layout to choosing furniture, which I had never done before and was fun. We were able to include some small meeting rooms and alcoves which our students use all the time for meetings or to hang out while waiting for advising appointments and the like. And we established a lab to support the research of our faculty, grad students and honors students.
In 2004 we had 11 faculty and hundreds of concentrators because the major was—and remains—very popular. So we really needed to hire more faculty in a host of areas. In my first three years as chair, with strong support from the college, I launched a very aggressive hiring campaign that I know tired the faculty out—for each person you hire there are at least three job talks, dinners and individual interviews, which is a lot of work especially for a small faculty. But during that time, the Department hired seven new faculty, and continued to interview and hire multiple people every year; as of September 2015, the Department will have twenty-four faculty and two lecturers. We’ve added faculty with expertise in the following areas: media effects, particularly on political attitudes and participation; on health behaviors, body image, children and obesity; and on attitudes about race and gender; history of the mass and emerging media, including radio, television, the Internet; the uses and effects of social media and mobile communications; media and globalization and comparative media studies; media and the environment; media industry studies; and journalism studies. By this point the Department had become home to one of the most sought-after majors in LSA.
I also wanted to strengthen the connections between currently enrolled students and the Department’s alumni, and in 2005 established the Alumni Connection, which brings in Communication Studies alumni working in a variety of fields—marketing, advertising, public relations, journalism, new and social media—to talk to current students about what they do in their jobs, how they got their jobs, and to offer advice on internships, networking and job hunting. This event now happens once every year. In 2006, we established the Entertainment Media Career Forum that, in cooperation with an alumni organization, the University of Michigan Entertainment Coalition, brings in alumni who work in the entertainment industry to talk to students about their jobs, networking and job hunting. This event happens every fall and these events are enormously popular with and helpful to students as they seek internships and careers.
In the late 1990s, the department had begun holding its own commencement exercises so students could have a more intimate and personal experience beyond the giant spectacle in the Big House, and it was typically held in one of the larger rooms in the Union. But with so many concentrators, we were outgrowing those spaces and had to limit the number of students’ family members who could attend, which was not what we wanted for this event. So we moved our graduation to the Michigan Theater and redesigned it so that it would include a keynote speaker and two student speakers. The venue is beautiful and now we can welcome as many family and friends who want to attend.
Improvements also came about in the Department’s graduate program, which, until the late 1990s, had been small and managed interdepartmentally. The Department brought the program squarely under its own the management in 2004; enrollment was increased to produce five to seven Ph.D. candidates each year; and a program of study was developed in which students would be well trained in, able to apply and interweave theories and methods from the field’s social science and humanities traditions. Our Ph.D. students have the opportunity to study in Oxford for the summer, or to participate in COMPASS, of which we were a founding member. The COMPASS program sends Ph.D. candidates to participate in public policy internships in Washington, DC over the summer.
U of M Alumni are some of the most dedicated and passionate alums in the country, and they do so much to support our students, our departments and the college. They have certainly played a key role in the vibrancy of the Department. In 1997, John Evans (U-M, 1966, in Speech) established the John Derby Evans Chair in Media Technology. In 2000, Arnold (U-M, 1948, History) and Connie Pohs (U-M, 1949, Spanish) established the Constance F. and Arnold C. Pohs Professorship of Telecommunications to support a faculty member whose research would focus on the uses and impact of mobile communications, with an emphasis on cell phones. In 2006, the Constance F. and Arnold C. Pohs Research and Technology Endowment fund was established to support research in a variety of areas and to help support the outfitting of new lab space in North Quad. Mickey Luckoff (U-M, 1958, Speech) established a scholarship program to support a student doing an unpaid internship in commercial radio broadcasting. Kara Sundlun House (U-M, 1997, Communication Studies and Political Science) established, in 2005, an award to fund a student wishing to do an unpaid internship in the area of broadcast journalism. Mark Foote Dalton, whose grandfather was an alumnus and longtime leader in journalism, serving over forty years as a national and international news correspondent for Booth Newspaper Syndicate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., has been enormously generous to the Department. The family established, in 2003, the Mark Foote Distinguished Thesis Award for the most outstanding senior thesis in terms of scientific rigor and theoretical contribution. The family also established a comparable award for the best Ph.D. dissertation. In addition, Mark Foote Dalton has donated annually to our strategic fund, enabling the Department to bring in speakers, co-sponsor events with other departments, and support various related activities. More recently, alums Adam Mesh (1997, Communication Studies) and Ken Davidoff (1993, Communication Studies and English) established paid internships for our students, and so many alumni—Tracy Wolfson, Jessica Kleiman, David Berson, Val Boreland, Tom Keaney, Peter Jayson and many, many others—have given back through donations or coming back to campus to talk to, advise and inspire our students.
In academic year 2014-15, we had an External Review conducted by four eminent scholars from peer institutions. We were extremely gratified by their assessment that we are “one of the top Communication departments in the country” and “a program that is justly recognized as among the best in the field.” It has been so gratifying to work together with our deeply dedicated, hard-working and impressive faculty to make our department what it is today. I will return to teaching and research and am excited about exploring new writing projects. Go Blue!