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History of CMST at UT

The history of the Communication Studies program at the University of Tennessee 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 B.A. and M.F.A. degrees. After approximately twenty 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. Dr. 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 able leadership of both Dr. Lester and Dr. Faye Julian laid the foundation of the current program.

The second phase of the program was characterized by change. In 1996 the faculty entered into discussions with the faculty of the College of Communications 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 in the College of Arts and Sciences to the College of Communications. The Speech Communication program officially moved to the College of Communication on July 1, 1997. The program physically moved to the Communications Building in December 1999.

The next few years offered 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 college name was changed to the College of Communication and Information. In addition, the Department was renamed the School of Communication Studies to better reflect the nature of the program and acknowledge changes in the field.

The Department continued to grow through 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.

As we enter the third phase of the program’s development, we find ourselves at an exciting time in the program’s history. The program has evolved from one rooted in humanistic inquiry to a social science dominated orientation with a strong emphasis on research. We are recruiting new faculty from prestigious programs such as Michigan State University and the University of Illinois. We successfully prepare graduates for advanced study as well as for careers in a wide range of fields including law, public service, management, sales, medicine, and education. Building from a solid foundation, we seek to be among the very best programs in the nation for the scientific study of human communication.