BYU communications department earns school status

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Associate Director of the School of Communications Dr. Dale Cressman replaces "department" with "school" in BYU's course catalog. (Steven Potter)
Now-Associate Director of the School of Communications Dale Cressman replaces “department” with “school” in BYU’s course catalog. (Steven Potter)

BYU’s Department of Communications has achieved school status, a change that takes place immediately and will benefit both faculty and students.

The school includes journalism, public relations and advertising programs. Outlets for student work in those programs include The Universe, 11News, The Ad Lab and Bradley Public Relations Lab.

Department chairman and now school director Ed Adams said the change has been decades in the making and earned in earnest over the past six or seven years.

The first proposal by a department chair to request a designation change from a department to a school was drafted in 1979 by Dallas Burnett to College of Fine Arts and Communications Dean Lael Woodbury. There have been eight subsequent proposals, the most recent submitted by Adams to Stephen Jones, dean of BYU’s College of Fine Arts and Communications, on Oct. 27. The proposal before that was submitted by Adams almost 11 years ago.

“If I go back and rewind when I put forth that last proposal, we had been removed from the air at KBYU, we didn’t have Ad Lab, and we didn’t have Bradley Agency,” Adams said. “As far as awards and recognition, that’s pretty recent history. I’m not really sure we earned it in our earlier proposals. I know we wanted it earlier, but wanting it and earning it are two different things.”

What is now the School of Communications was first assembled in 1935 as a department of journalism in the Brimhall Building and remained housed there until 1963, when the department moved to the Harris Fine Arts Center. That same year, it took in advertising from the School of Commerce or School of Business, and public relations came in as an agricultural extension. It wasn’t until 2005 that the communications program moved back to the Brimhall Building, with the formation of the Ad Lab and Bradley Lab soon after. Awards and national recognition followed, helping the department earn “school” status.

“It’s probably something that I gave up on after I retired,” Burnett said. “This is a great tribute to what the department leadership in the last few years has accomplished.”

Raymond Beckham—who served as an administrator and faculty member within communications for more than 20 years, founded the Cougar Club and served as the school’s first sports information director—is pleased with the news after 35 years of attempts to reach “school” status.

“There have been some presidents who have been very supportive of communications and some that have not,” Beckham said. “So it’s been a natural transition to become a school finally, but we’re just very happy that it will put us in a new category of academic status on the national level among our peers.”

Status, though, was not the main goal, according to Adams. In the 2014 proposal, Adams listed the reasons and benefits of going from a department to a school:

1. Increasing our influence among peer programs in journalism and mass communications.

2. Increasing opportunities for our students in the job market and with programs offering advanced degrees.

3. Attracting more resources to enhance our mentored learning environment.

With the designation change, the title of “department chair” changes to “director,” but nowhere in the proposal is there an emphasis on status change for the sake of it; it all comes down to the students.

“This really came down to a matter of the administration and the (BYU) Board of Trustees agreeing that we give our students — who are wonderful — the best chance for graduate school, internships, for scholarships and for employment when we explain or characterize what our program is to external audiences,” Associate Director Dale Cressman said.

BYU ranks 14th among the top 50 communications programs in the country according to size, with an enrollment of 1,278 as of Winter 2013. To date, BYU’s communications program was one of two in the top 50 designated as a department, even though it ranked ahead of much smaller programs designated as schools.

After 35 years and nine proposals, the effect on day-to-day activities will be slight. The greater impact will come when students apply for graduate schools and compete for internships. The accepted proposal argues that “students would benefit from the more recognized designation, and we would be able to better attract resources.”

“Our students deserve the best we can give them, and in our discipline one of the things that we can do is position you well by explaining what education experience you can have,” Cressman said. “That’s really the bottom line.”

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