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University of Missouri

Celebrating Communication

The Department of Communication celebrates 75 years.

Switzler Hall Mizzou

Switzler Hall, home of the Communication department, is the oldest classroom building on campus. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

In the late 1930s, three faculty members of the University of Missouri Department of English decided they wanted to be speech and theater professors, not English professors who teach speech and theater. In line with the national trend of speech departments splitting from English departments, the University of Missouri Board of Curators approved the formation of the Department of Speech and Dramatic Art May 15, 1940.

From a curriculum of about 12 courses in public speaking, rhetoric, drama and theater history in 1940 to nearly 80 courses in interpersonal and family communication, mass media, organizational communication, and political communication in 2015, the Department of Communication has grown into one of the largest departments in the College of Arts and Science. Communication hasn’t changed — it’s still the process of creating shared meaning — but the department’s approach toward it has evolved significantly during the past 75 years.

Michael Porter, associate professor emeritus of communication, has seen much of that change since he was a young faculty member in 1979. “It was very much an industry-oriented curriculum. We weren’t there to deal with the social impacts of the media in society,” Porter says. “The faculty we’re hiring now are much more theoretical scholars, much more research-oriented.”

The department supports three research institutes, including the Terrorism and Disaster Center, the Political Communication Institute, and the Family Diversity Institute. Communication faculty collaborate with researchers across disciplines in the School of Social Work, the Missouri School of Journalism and the College of Education to tackle social issues and concerns.

“I really see a major movement toward helping to improve the social order by the research that’s done in this department,” says Porter, who retired June 1, 2014, after 35 years at MU, the last four as chair of the department.

During Comm Week April 20–24, 2015, the department will celebrate its 75th birthday. Alumni will return to campus to share their success stories with current students, and undergraduates will display their research projects in a poster session. The celebration will continue through the 2015–16 academic year.