Comm. department unstable, grad students say
UA communication graduate students said they are dissatisfied with the direction of the department, the lack of a permanent department head and the loss of top professors in recent years.
Some students in the department said they are concerned that the previously high-ranking program is in danger of losing its stature because of the frequently changing head and faculty members.
"We graduate students are furious," said Jason Siegel, communication graduate student. "They (department officials) promised a head for three years."
Siegel said he and other graduate students have complained to Provost Paul Sypherd concerning the state of the department. He said they were reprimanded for making complaints and the situation was not remedied.
Sypherd declined to comment on the issue.
The communication department has had three acting heads during the last four years. The last permanent department head was Bill Crano, who left in 1995.
The first acting head was Sally Jackson, communication professor and faculty associate for distributed learning. Jackson served for one year, and then associate communication professor David Williams postponed his sabbatical for two years to take over as acting head.
The current acting department head is Michael Dues, a multi-year communication lecturer, who is planning to oversee the department through the next school year, causing some students to question the department's stability.
"We should've only had an acting head for one year," said Matt Stoner, a communication graduate student. "This is all very unusual."
Siegel is also disappointed with his department and said officials have promised students a permanent department head.
"He (Dues) has lied to students," Siegel said.
But Dues said the department is taking time to replace the professors who have left the department before finding a permanent head by 2001.
He said budget constraints have slowed the process, but they have found two new assistant professors so far and will look for a professor at the associate level next year.
"We've negotiated with the dean and the provost to build up the faculty to 12 - we've begun the process and have hired wonderful new people," Dues said.
He said all of the decision making is decided by the faculty rather than a single head and has all taken place under the acting head.
Charlie Hurt, the acting dean for the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said the department will go through an Academic Program Review - which is mandated by the Arizona Board of Regents to find out what kind of head will suit them.
"This is critical in our view to what kind of faculty members we should look for," he said.
Katheryn Dindia, department chair of communications at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, was chosen by the faculty to fill the position in January, but declined the position in September.
Dues said there were a variety of reasons why the candidate decided not to join the UA. He said when he talked to Dindia, she responded to the offer favorably, but did not accept it.
But Art Ramirez, president of the Association of Graduate Students in Communication, said politics within the department caused Dindia to turn down the job, adding that Dues is taking too long to select a department head.
"There was just a lot of wasted time going on," he said.
Ramirez added that in recent years the department has declined.
"When I came into the department in 1992, it was a top-notch program and slowly it's just gone away," Ramirez said. "Over the last half year, the environment has become un-student friendly."
Graduate students also expressed concern about recent faculty changes within the department.
Two prominent professors resigned in the mid-1990s, shortly after an attempt by Holly Smith, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, to shut down the graduate communication department, Siegel said.
Bill Crano, who was department head at the time, said he left the university in 1995 because of ongoing struggles in the department.
Crano said the department was in better shape in 1991 than it is now.
More students were enrolled as graduate students, they were bringing in extra money for research and the graduates were finding good jobs, he said.
While the department was not shut down, Crano said he left because of Smith's actions.
"That doesn't make sense to anyone that knows anything," he said. "I left because things didn't make sense anymore."
Crano said he could understand Smith's intentions if the department was struggling, but he did not understand why it was being "beaten to death" when it was doing well.
Crano has since become a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in California.
Professor David Buller also left the department and is now doing health communication research for a private company in Colorado.
Smith is currently on sabbatical and referred questions to Hurt when she was contacted via e-mail.
Hurt said Smith did not try to close the graduate department, but was told by members of former UA President Manuel Pacheco's administration to focus more on undergraduate education.
"At that time, the university was going through difficulties, a number of units were asked to reduce the size of the graduate programs," he said.
Hurt said the program never closed because it was a quality organization.
Siegel said the current graduate students originally came to the UA to study under Crano, Buller and Judee Burgoon and Michael Burgoon, professors in the department.
The Burgoons are leading communication professors, who helped establish the research program in the 1980s. The professors declined to comment on the situation.
Ramirez said the Burgoons fought to keep the graduate program alive.
The Burgoons are still involved with the program, but because of the issues they had with department and the dean, they have agreements to work indirectly with their students, Ramirez said.
He said Michael Burgoon is still advising students in the department, but has been working for the UA College of Medicine since the spring of last year. Judee Burgoon is teaching and advising communication students, but reports to a supervisor outside the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, instead of Smith.
According to Communication Monographs, an academic journal, Judee Burgoon is the third-most-prolific author in the field and one of the leading female researchers in communications. Michael Burgoon is the seventh-leading author.
According to a Schuman Communication Research journal published in June, the UA department was ranked among the top five universities in the country for communication theory and research, and in the top three for human communication research.
Siegel said that without the Burgoons, the department would not be in the rankings at all.
Since the faculty left, the department has suffered and changed direction, Siegel said.
Dues said the former UA professors left for different reasons.
"I do not believe they were harassed into leaving," he said. "They did not have a good relationship with the dean so they felt they were harassed."
He added that the faculty who left are making "considerably more money where they are now."
He said the communication department and Smith do not have serious problems with each other.
"Our relationship with the dean has been cooperative and supportive," Dues said. "The story that the dean drove them away doesn't fly with me."
He added that he could not comment about specific personnel issues.
Siegel said with these professors gone, the department is heading away from research and becoming more speech-oriented.
"From a graduate student's perspective, they're making a speech department," he said. "At least they should tell the graduate students so they can go elsewhere."