Posts tagged Susan Douglas

Professor Susan Douglas, My Time as Chair


Douglas_165On 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!

2015 Communication Studies Commencement

Grads and GuestsGraduates, can you believe it?  We really did graduate.  We’ve packed up our lives here at U of M, trying to make sense of this inevitable closing chapter.  We experienced a bizarre combination of nervousness, sadness, excitement…and even sweat.  I predict that many of you have already made the painstaking and exhausting move out of your Ann Arbor housing (good-bye forever, dingy college furniture!).  And most of you, I’m sure, took time to say good-bye to faculty and friends.  I even suspect that a few of you have already started your full-time jobs – an exhilarating, yet terrifying thought.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been spending these last couple weeks trying to overcome my serious post-grad nostalgia (Is there an official diagnosis for this?).  In my attempt to fondly remember the past, while excitedly anticipate the future, it is clear to me that Ann Arbor will always be special.  Whether it is a football game or maybe a job that draws us back, we will find ourselves revisiting our deeply rooted feelings of love, pride, and yearning for this phenomenal place.  Talk about an emotional roller coaster.

We must admit, however, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect end to our undergraduate chapter at U of M.  We have the Department of Communication Studies to thank for this.  On May 1, 2015 we graduated and the normalcy we found in our undergraduate careers vanished.  The real world instantly greeted us with a few harsh realities: it is no longer socially acceptable to wear leggings every day, sleeping in until noon on any given day is no longer the norm, nor is it okay to arrive 10 minutes late assuming there’s a “Michigan time” grace period.  Harsh reality checks for sure.


Some normalcy did remain on this special day.  As happens every year, the ceremony was held at the Michigan Theater — except the Michigan Theater felt a little different to us this time.  Professor and Chair of the Department, Susan Douglas, kicked-off the ceremony with a warm welcome.  Her opening remarks were insightful and certain, emphasizing the value of a liberal arts degree in addition to the media’s importance and power.  She affirmed that our liberal arts degree exposed us to diverse literature and perspectives, pressed us as critical and flexible thinkers, and refined our persuasive communication and research skills. These skills and more can only be taught through a liberal arts degree and will be crucially important as we tackle the continuing profound changes in communications technologies – technologies that grew and developed alongside us.  Douglas’ speech flawlessly encapsulated all of this and more, bringing together all of the things we had learned the past four years into perfect harmony.

0007Professor and Honors Advisor, Rowell Huesmann, introduced the Honors students: Jacquelyn Goldman, Marjorie McCurry, and Ellen Wagner.  He thoughtfully highlighted the rigorous requirements and expectations of the Honors Program – no easy feat.  At this time, he also presented the Mark Foote Distinguished Thesis Award.  This award was established in 2003 by the family of Mark Foote, a devoted University of Michigan alumnus and longtime leader in journalism.  The Distinguished Thesis Award is given to a Communication Studies undergraduate student for the most outstanding senior thesis in terms of scientific rigor and theoretical contribution.  Marjorie McCurry was the recipient of the award this year – you go girl!


Honors Thesis Students_ Jacquelyn Goldman, Marjorie McCurry, Ellen Wagner

Pictured: Honors Students, Jacquelyn Goldman, Marjorie McCurry, and Ellen Wagner 

I was fortunate enough to speak as president of the Michigan Association of Communication Studies (MACS) alongside my Co-EVP, Chris Beindorff.  While my speech relayed my deep love for all things U of M and hopes for my fellow graduates, Chris spoke of a hero that influenced his life and will continue to do so: his grandfather.  Both speeches expressed our appreciation of U of M and more specifically, our journeys through communications.  Together, we encouraged students to create a meaningful life, find inspiration, be excited for the next chapter, and yet never forget your memorable times at U of M: a perfect combination of looking back and looking forward.

Student speakers_ Alissa Ranger & Chris Beindorff

Pictured: Student Speakers, Alissa Ranger & Chris Beindorff

Jon Hein served as the keynote speaker at this year’s ceremony.  Jon graduated with a B.A. in Communications and History from U of M in 1989.  He first came on the scene when he coined the term “jump the shark” and created the website,, in 1997.  Jon hosts “Fast Food Mania” on the Discovery Channel Destination America and the collectibles show “For What It’s Worth” on VH1 classic.  He is also a producer on “The Howard Stern Show” at Sirius XM Radio where he has hosted a variety of programs including “The Wrap Up Show” for the past decade.  In other words, he’s a pretty big deal.

Jon Hein 1

Pictured: Keynote Speaker, Jon Hein

Although his invaluable experience through the field of communications took him all across the country, Jon asserted that Ann Arbor will forever be “home.”  He expressed his deep love for U of M, making it clear that he truly does bleed maize and blue.  With charisma, passion, and enthusiasm, he shared his successes, failures, and lessons learned.  Jon explained that he found his success through one simple equation: talent + persistence = luck.  He firmly believes that as U of M students we’ve already shown our passion to succeed, which has carried us through the past four years.  As students at this competitive university, we are already immensely talented.  Now, our task is to work hard, pay our dues, and not be easily discouraged.  This is where persistence comes in.

He recognized that it may not always be possible to land your “dream job” right away, but he urged students that with talent and persistence, you can be lucky enough to turn your passions into reality.  As Jon asserted, “This is the time in your life when you can make bold choices and go for it.” He reiterated that we need to take advantage of our time right now because it’ll never be here for us again.  “You’ll never have the freedom you have right now.  Make the most of it. Now is the time to go for it. Nothing is tying you down or holding you back,” he continued.

In our journey to “just go for it,” he recognized a few lessons he learned along the way:

  • “Always try to surround yourself with people who are smarter, funnier, and just as passionate as you are.  It raises your game.”
  • “Maintain your creative outlet.  Never let it go.”
  • “You need to be self-aware.  Don’t let your limitations hold you back.  Build upon your strengths.”
  • “Reach out to fellow Michigan graduates.”

I don’t know about you, fellow graduates, but these words will resonate with me forever.

And just like that, we graduated from the Department of Communication Studies.  As I look back at old photos, I am reminded that Jon Hein was right.  We really have had the time of our lives these past four years.  We learned, we failed, we succeeded, and we grew.  We truly lived.  But we can’t dwell in the past.  We are more alive now than ever and there is still so much to experience.  In the words of Jon Hein, “It’s okay to look back as you’re looking forward.”  You bet, Jon Hein.  I plan to do just that.

First Annual Communication Studies Fall Convocation 2014

At the first annual 2014 Fall Convocation, declared Communication Studies students were presented with the opportunity to “say hello” ahead of the inevitable “goodbye” that comes around at the end-of-year graduation ceremony.

Department Chair Susan Douglas said the event was the brainchild of Professor Amanda Lotz, with the goal of providing concentrators the opportunity to network, socialize, and introduce themselves to one another.



Professor Douglas Gives Keynote Address for Women’s Week at UPenn

On February 8, Professor and Chair Susan Douglas delivered the keynote address to kick off the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women’s annual Women’s Week at the University of Pennsylvania. READ MORE »

Susan Douglas Speaks at James Madison University

On Wednesday, April 6th, Professor and Chair Susan Douglas gave the annual Dominion Lecture at James Madison University. This event was sponsored by the James Madison University’s Faculty Women’s Caucus. Douglas spoke about her latest book, Enlightened Sexism.

Click here for an article about the event in James Madison University’s paper, The Breeze.

Susan Douglas was Keynote Speaker at Murray State University’s Celebrate Women Luncheon

Professor and Chair Susan Douglas was the keynote speaker at Murray State University’s Celebrate Women Luncheon which was held on Monday, March 28th. Douglas spoke to the group about her book, Enlightened Sexism.

In her talk, Douglas discussed the idea that “enlightened sexism is basically the widespread perception that the work of feminism is done and that women have achieved full equality with their male counterparts. She said popular culture plays a large role in this because it presents illusions of power, including many TV shows where strong women are shown in jobs previously reserved for men, acting as doctors, attorneys and judges. Since this creates the illusion that women have made more gains in society than they actually have, it opens the door for men in power to hold women back from getting further.”

The event is recapped by the Murray Ledger & Times here.

Susan Douglas Speaks to NPR

Professor and Chair Susan Douglas spoke to NPR about her new book Enlightened Sexism in addition to discussing some of her previous work.

Douglas explained that popular culture is not just entertainment. It transmits all kinds of values and attitudes to our society. Through our consumption of it, we are told who to admire, who to scorn, what success is, what defines beauty, love, and all kinds of other things. She explains that we, as consumers of the mass media and popular culture, need to be conscious of what is out there and know how to “talk back” to it.

Some of the other topics mentioned in the interview were the evolution of radio and its importance to the growth of mass media, the contrasting portrayls of women on television today and the “Mommy Myth” and the gap between idealized celebrity moms and normal, everyday mothers.

Let Us Now Praise Gov. Scott Walker

In Professor and Chair Susan Douglas’s latest column for In These Times, she discusses the ongoing protests in Wisconsin and the contrast between the anger regarding the proposed cuts for the salaries of public workers and the joy and worker solidarity of the thousands of protesters.

She writes, “Because the representativeness of the Tea Party has been seriously overstated, and the megaphones of the right-wing media magnify minority views, the “common sense” we’ve been treated to is that most Americans want to rewind us back to 19th-century style laissez-faire capitalism. But the demonstrations in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the country, and the spirited images of worker solidarity they’ve produced, put the lie to the myth that Americans are selfish and reject a communitarian spirit.”

America’s ‘Can’t Do’ Spirit

In Professor and Chair Susan Douglas’s latest column for In These Times, she recaps events that occured in January and discusses the ‘can’t do’ spirit that is plaguing American politics.

She writes, “With the exception of the magnificent Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, and Gail Collins and Bob Herbert in The New York Times, we were told repeatedly that the Tucson shooting will not, I repeat not, result in increased gun control, not even to regulate the size of the magazines used by the likes of Jared Lee Loughner to mow down nearly 20 people. Indeed, in the wake of the shootings, what was most salient was America’s “can’t do” spirit. Can’t control guns. Can’t have civil discourse. Can’t have better mechanisms for identifying and treating crazy people.”

Douglas also wonders if whether “the ossified television news broadcasts now part of the “can’t do” media, while Facebook, Twitter and blogs are their “can do” counterparts?” as shown clearly through the youthful spirit of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt. Read the full In These Times column here.

Barbie and Ken…Back Together?

This past Monday, on Valentine’s Day, Barbie and Ken reunited after a seven-year seperation. Prior to their split in 2004, Barbie and Ken had been an item for 43 years. In recent weeks, Ken has been campaigning to win Barbie back through billboards in New York and L.A. and his own website.

Professor and Chair Susan Douglas spoke to the Detroit Free Press about the “couple’s” reconciliation and her thoughts about Ken. She notes, “I find the whole conversation ridiculous. … I don’t care if they get back together. I’d like her to eat some pizza.”

Douglas goes on to explain, “It’s become kind of an insult to refer to somebody as a Ken doll…It means he’s well-groomed and polite and very cookie-cutter in his appearance and personality and that he is bland and dull and unexciting.”

The world will now have to wait and see if Barbie and Ken’s reconciliation lasts.