The School of Communication Studies aspires to achieve excellence by becoming a global leader for innovative learning, scholarship, and societal engagement with a particular emphasis on interpersonal and organizational communication.
History of the School of Communication Studies
The origins of the Communication Studies program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville can be traced back to its roots as a division within the English Department. In 1968, a new department of Speech and Theatre was created that offered the BA and MFA degrees. After approximately 20 years of operating as a combined unit, the Speech and Theatre program was divided into two units in the College of Liberal Arts. The Department of Speech Communication was created on July 1, 1987. Professor Lorayne Lester was selected as the first department head.
As a unit, the communication program’s development has followed three phases. The first phase was a transitional one during which the focus was on curriculum development, recruiting new students, and drafting new policies and procedures for the program. During this time, the leadership of both Lester and his successor, Professor Faye Julian, laid the foundation of the current program.
The second phase of the program was characterized by change, led by the school’s third director, Associate Professor John Haas. In 1996, the faculty entered into discussions with the faculty of the College of Communication to explore the creation of a combined unit that would unify the study of communication on the UT campus. In the spring of 1997, the faculties of both units voted to approve the move of the Speech Communication Department from the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Communication. The Speech Communication program officially moved to the College of Communication on July 1, 1997. The program physically moved to the Communication Building in December 1999.
The next few years saw a number of leadership changes in the college as well as central administration. The college underwent a major restructuring in which the School of Information Sciences joined the unit, and the name was changed to the College of Communication and Information. In addition, the department was renamed the School of Communication Studies.
The school continued to grow throughout this time of change and took on new responsibilities, including greater participation in the college-wide graduate program and the addition of a general education requirement. The program’s facilities improved considerably with the addition of new research equipment and classroom facilities.
The third phase of the program emphasized the program’s development on a national stage. The program evolved from one rooted in humanistic inquiry to a social science orientation with a strong emphasis on research. New faculty were recruited from some of the most prestigious programs, such as Michigan State University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. Its undergraduate degree prepares graduates for advanced study as well as for careers in a wide range of fields including law, public service, management, sales, medicine, and education. Our faculty seeks for this program to be among the very best in the nation for the scientific study of human communication.
After 27 years of leadership, Haas moved back to faculty in 2022, and Professor Jon Hess joined the school as its fourth director. The Tennessee Speech and Debate Society moved into Communication Studies in the following year. As we near a quarter of way through the century, the school seeks to solidify its place as a national leader in its undergraduate program, continue to gain stature for its research and graduate training, and make a tangible impact on the state of Tennessee and in the Communication discipline through its scholarship and outreach.