Words from the Chair

David Domke

One of the best things about being a Department Chair is that I get a good sense of the scope and quality of research, teaching, and service contributions by all of our faculty, staff and students. I can see much more of the full field of our activities than I could glimpse as an individual faculty member before becoming Chair. From this vista, here’s what I know: We have a group of truly superb and diverse people in our community.

I want to take a moment to share just one insight.

In the past couple months I have written letters in support of three departmental faculty for two
prestigious campus awards.

• Malcolm Parks was nominated for the Marsha Landolt Graduate Mentoring Award, which is given annually to a UW faculty member who has made outstanding contributions to the education and guidance of graduate students.

• Matt McGarrity and Ralina Joseph were nominated for the Distinguished Teaching Award, which is given annually to a very small number of faculty who have made exceptional contributions to instruction and engagement of students.

The competition for these awards is very stiff. Nominations are usually put forward by students, and the nomination is an honor in itself, regardless of who ultimately receives the award. In my four-plus years as Chair, several other departmental faculty have been nominated for these honors as well — Valerie Manusov, Ralina Joseph, and Lisa Coutu for the Landolt Mentoring Award, and Randy Beam, Usha McFarling, and Laura McGarrity for the Distinguished Teaching Award. Over time, we have received a number of campus-wide awards (a list of the kinds of awards is here), and I believe Communication may have the most currently active recipients of the Distinguished Teaching Award of any unit on campus.

Whenever we put forward nominations, I collect letters of support by students (current and former) and faculty colleagues, at UW and elsewhere. And I read the materials prepared by our nominees as part of their portfolios. We go through a pretty similar process when we hire, promote, and reappoint colleagues. In all instances, I get to read people’s descriptions of their work and thinking, and also to read others’ impressions of these folks.

Here is what I have learned: One of our core departmental principles is excellence through cultural and intellectual pluralism, and we have become exactly this kind of community.

Every day I see faculty colleagues who pursue distinct routes to being outstanding educators that
are vastly different in approach — and yet I see remarkably similar outcomes of educational pursuit and support, growth, and success for our students. Across social scientific and humanistic
approaches, with points of focus on a number of face to face and mediated contexts, and employing countless techniques of research and teaching and service, we provide a robust intellectual environment.

I see the same diversity of approaches with yet the same deep commitments among our staff.

Maybe I’m just feeling upbeat because we have seven — seven! — new faculty hires joining us in autumn. Or because we’re about to hire a “Department Storyteller” staff member who will focus 24/7 on the compelling things going on in the Department. Or because we raised $38,000 at our student fundraiser in April. Or because our new Communication Leadership master’s program and our academic Ph.D. program both received a stunning number of applications by potential students. Or because we’re creating a new Communication Commons gathering place in the building, to be unveiled in late summer.

That is a lot of good things, and there are many more. But here’s what I know: all of our successes are grounded, in some significant way, in the remarkable range of perspectives and approaches among faculty, staff, and students. To be both diverse and superb are uncompromise-able and intertwined goals for us.