The Department of Communication brought together two units at the University of Washington: the School of Communications and the Department of Speech Communication. Through a series of discussions and interdisciplinary initiatives beginning in the mid-1990s, faculty in these units decided to create a single program in which a diverse body of students could study communication across different media and contexts. Instead of simply folding together two separate curricula and maintaining traditional disciplinary distinctions, the faculty have developed a program based on four related principles: pluralism, interdisciplinary theorizing, collaboration, and public scholarship.

Intellectual and cultural pluralism

The principle of pluralism manifests itself in the variety of intellectual and cultural traditions housed within the Department of Communication. Faculty and student interests encompass a wide variety of domains, such as rhetorical theory, international communication, face-to-face interaction, and the relationship of both old and new communication media technologies to sociopolitical change. Faculty and students also reflect multiple cultural traditions. To provide expertise in both humanistic and social scientific approaches, the Department offers seminars focusing on diverse methods, ranging from ethnography to experimentation and survey research to textual analysis and criticism. We believe that such intellectual pluralism within a graduate program is a tremendous strength. Yet, it also needs a framework. To lay a foundation for this diverse array of subjects and methods, M.A. and Ph.D. students begin their studies with a core curriculum that illuminates the advantages of a pluralistic approach to communication scholarship.

Interdisciplinary theorizing

Consistent with its commitment to intellectual pluralism, the Department of Communication emphasizes the importance of reaching across disciplinary boundaries. By its very nature, the study of communication intersects with other scholarly traditions, such as history, linguistics, English, anthropology, sociology, social psychology, political science, and ethnic and gender studies. Each of these disciplines has produced theory and methods relevant to communication research and pedagogy, so graduate students are encouraged to take courses outside the Department as part of their programs of study. Ph.D. students are required to include one faculty member outside the Department on their supervisory committee. In addition, students are encouraged to become involved in interdisciplinary colloquia series and other events that bridge the boundaries between departments. Students are also welcome to pursue graduate certificates across the university.

Innovation through collaboration

To facilitate pluralism and interdisciplinary connections, the Department emphasizes a collaborative approach to graduate study. The principle of collaboration is embodied in the Department’s promotion of ongoing teaching, research, and service relationships among faculty, students, and organizations outside academia. For instance, faculty with complementary expertise teach courses together, work on research teams with students, form partnerships with community organizations, and serve together on supervisory committees. Students are encouraged not only to collaborate with faculty, but also to work with each other on research projects and in activities outside the university. Such collaborative enterprises offer exciting intellectual challenges, which are at the heart of a twenty-first century research university.

Public scholarship

All too often, rigorous and relevant scholarship undertaken in colleges and universities does not become known to the broader society. Given the importance of communication in human affairs, it is necessary that our scholarship and citizenship go hand-in-hand. Thus, a core principle of the department is a commitment to take one’s research goals and findings beyond the academy. Students are encouraged to engage in constructive dialogue not only with academics, but also with other citizens, diverse communities, and political and cultural leaders. Such dialogue increases the potential transformative power of communication scholarship, while also fulfilling a central mission of a public research university.

Faculty statement on public scholarship

In 2004, the faculty approved a formal statement on public scholarship. This statement is designed to clarify the meaning of this principle for faculty and students who wish to carry out public scholarship projects. The statement reads, in part:

“Scholarship and citizenship go hand in hand. Although scholars in higher education ultimately work on behalf of their communities, their nations and the world, much of their scholarship stays within the traditional research process, subject to peer review and publication in discipline-based journals and books, although available for review and application by persons and institutions outside of the academy. Scholars also directly engage the world beyond the academy, drawing on scholarship developed in the rigor of disciplinary tradition. Productive efforts of this kind, herein called public scholarship, may take many forms, such as popularization of research-based ideas in a variety of media and formats, facilitation of deliberation about such social values as equality, justice and freedom, and explanation or appreciation of texts, concepts, values or events. Such efforts can promote constructive dialogue with and among students, citizens, diverse communities, and political and cultural leaders.”

Additional language in the faculty statement can be used for purposes of evaluation for tenure or promotion, and the full statement is available on request from the department.