Interim Institute director will be Comm. Studies dept. chair

by Beacon Staff • April 2, 2008

But after several months as Interim Director of the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, West said he realized that professionally, academically and personally, Emerson fit him.,When Dr. Richard West took a job at Emerson College, he had no intention of staying. His one year sabbatical from the University of Southern Maine was supposed to be a time of extensive reflection and rejuvenation.

But after several months as Interim Director of the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies, West said he realized that professionally, academically and personally, Emerson fit him.

"It's a perfect academic storm," he said. "I can't ignore the opportunity to be a part of this excellence."

After doing extensive research on the "personality" of the college, West entered a nationwide pool of applicants for another position at Emerson.

This month, he was selected to chair the newly-titled Communication Studies Department.

His top priority: tell the country about the Emerson College communication program.

The biggest draw for West, he said, was the school's integration of theory and practice with so many faculty members still actively involved in their industries.

As the Educational Policies Board Director for the National Communication Association, West said he is familiar with communication curricula across the nation.

To him, Emerson stands out for its student-centric practices-everything the faculty, staff and administration does, he said, is determined by what they think is best for the students.

"You don't get a lot of that stuff at other schools," he said

West is also president of the Eastern Communication Association. He sits on the Executive Council of the National Communication Association, the nation's oldest scholarly speech association, and is a member of the International Listening Association, a professional organization dedicated to studying the impact of listening on human activity.

He plans to promote Emerson's program as much as possible through these and multiple other organizations and associations.

Former Interim Chair of the department Linda Peek-Schacht said West's strong belief in listening to and integrating student voices in departmental decisions makes him the perfect candidate to guide communication at Emerson as the college expands and broadens its scope.

When Peek-Schacht stepped in as Interim Chair of the Organizational and Political Communication Department in 2004, her goal was to use her corporate and political background to strategically build an identity for the department.

She said she looked forward to returning to full-time teaching after her scheduled two-year stint, but the school held off a search for a permanent chair until it secured Janis Andersen as the permanent Dean of Communications last fall.

Now, West is taking over as the OPC Department becomes the Communication Studies Department.

According to Peek-Schacht and West, the department is not spliting. Within the new Communication Studies department, the majors will be an expanded version of the current Communication Studies major and Political Communication: Leadership, Politics and Social Advocacy.

The courses within the major will remain the same with the new course code CC.

West said he's thrilled to see the college develop a broader course of communication study to run parallel to the more specific programs like political communication, which he believes have already put Emerson on the national map.

"It makes you more marketable," he said.

West said his favorite part of the application process for department head was making a presentation to students in Peek-Schacht's leadership class.

He said many of the students' questions were more sophisticated than those he's gotten at national conferences. He said he was also inspired by the students' motivation, creativity and energy.

Sasha Brown, a junior majoring in Leadership, Politics and Social Advocacy, said she saw all those things in him as well.

"He has an Emerson spirit," she said.

Andersen said that, of the five finalists interviewed by the college, West was chosen for his discipline and professionalism.

Before starting at Emerson, West worked at the University of Southern Maine for six years as a Department Chair and two as Associate Dean of the College of Art and Sciences.

While he recognizes those accomplishments, Clark Crowley, a marketing communication major in Peek-Schacht's leadership class, said he would have preferred a candidate with more strengths in the professional arena as opposed to the scholarly.

"I would expect someone to have more real-world experience," the senior said.

Michael Weiler, an associate professor and part of the five-member search committee, said that the school was looking for someone with the skills to help develop the department's Communication Studies major.

"We felt, given his broad background in the discipline, he would be well-qualified to help us in that process," Weiler said.

Other members of the search committee were Associate Professors Ted Hollingworth and Gregory Payne, Melia Bensussen, chair of the Performing Arts Department, and Phillip Glenn, previous Acting Chair of the OPC Department.

Glenn will finish the semester as Acting Chair and will return to full-time teaching next spring, after a semester-long sabbatical at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

He said he is glad to see West, a person he said has a good record of teaching, research and services, step in at what he sees as a great time in the history of the department.

"I'm not just being Pollyanna here," Glenn said. "I think we're poised for advances in quality and quantity in terms of both the number of majors and the department's reputation."