Towson U's newest academic department: Communication Studies

By Jan Lucas on August 27, 2018

Department of Communication Studies restructures curriculum, expands major to TUNE

Communication, in varying forms, has long been a popular course of study at Towson University.

Now it’s more relevant than ever.

In July the 20-year-old Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies became two independent entities: The Department of Mass Communication, under chair Jung-Sook Lee, and the Department of Communications Studies, with Associate Professor Jennifer Potter as its chair.

"There were practical reasons for the separation," explained Potter, who has taught communication studies at TU for nine years. "The two disciplines were housed in the same department, but over time they’d become very different. Faculty working in different majors didn’t always understand one another’s work, which made evaluations difficult."

As the department’s smaller partner, Potter says communication studies faculty and students sometimes felt overshadowed by mass communication. "Mass comm was what everyone knew about," she said. Communication studies, with fewer majors and a more theoretical bent, lacked visibility despite its steadily growing enrollment.

“With about 1,200 majors and a faculty of 35, a two-major department was too big and too hard to manage,” Potter added. “We had to rethink who we were and what we wanted to achieve.”

The answer pointed toward reinvention. By 2016 the country had arrived at a unique cultural moment when important questions were being raised about the intersections of advocacy, identity and culture in public discourse. Many in the field believed communication studies could offer innovative ways to address the needs and interests of TU’s growing and diverse student population.

To that end, Potter and her colleagues worked with the existing department, as well as with College of Fine Arts & Communication Dean Susan Picinich and the Office of the Provost, to make the case for a Department of Communication Studies with a related — but distinct — focus on advocacy and public discourse, identity and culture, and leadership and organizational culture.

“The Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies faculty overwhelmingly supported the creation of two separate departments,” Picinich noted. “By 2017 Provost Chandler had endorsed the rationale, which called for growing both departments.”

The provost’s approval included the stipulation that TU in Northeastern Maryland (TUNE) offer the entire communication studies major beginning in fall 2018.

The program teaches students how to navigate—and succeed in—an increasingly complex world.

Its curriculum includes several new courses, including Communication and Social Protest, Sexual Communication, Communication and Popular Culture, African American Communication, and Leadership Communication.

Students may choose from a communication studies major or minor, as well as a combined major in political science and communications studies.

In addition, the department offers study abroad and internships, as well as a new Public Communication Center designed to assist all TU students in honing their public-speaking skills.

Potter says the newly independent department is likelier to attract additional students, which in turn will require a faculty larger than the current roster of 11 full-time and 25 part-time positions.

“Students are looking for this kind of program,” Potter said. “It’s really important for them to be able to engage across cultures.”

She notes that 47 percent of the department’s nearly 450 students are people of color.

Whatever their motivation, Potter says the discipline’s range of real-world applications is a big plus for graduates.

“Communication studies gives them the kinds of skills they’ll need to flourish in a variety of settings,” she said. “There are so many potential careers.”