|December 27, 2010|
|The Sorry State of PR Education|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|Due to heightened interest in education and especially PR education, this website is repeating counselor Bill Huey's critique of PRSA's 2007 report on PR education. (Huey is president of Strategic Communications, a corporate and marketing consultancy in Atlanta, and author of “Carbon Man,” a novel about greed.) |
Are you a PR practitioner, perhaps with an advanced degree, who is thinking of teaching at a university someday?
Fugggedaboudit. They don't want you. In fact, they don't want anybody who hasn't got a "terminal degree," (e.g., doctorate) and isn't totally committed to publishing silly little articles in journals nobody reads.
That's the message buried deep within the pages of The Report of the Commission on Public Relations Education, published recently by PRSA and ironically titled, "The Professional Bond."
It might as well have been titled, "The Way Forward."
While not as high-profile as The Iraq Study Group Report, it is equally dense in its language, circular in its reasoning, and otherworldly in its recommendations, particularly with respect to the types of learning PR students should achieve and the types of teachers who should impart it.
Most so-called schools of communication only got into PR education to expand their hegemonies and prop up sagging programs in journalism.
As in the 1999 commission report, the ideal full-time educator is a Ph.D. with significant professional experience. This rara avis would also be, "aware of the relationship of the public relations body of knowledge to other communications-related knowledge, e.g.,
interpersonal, rhetorical, organizational and small group, and thus would be able to integrate a range of knowledge into their teaching and research."
According to the report, "Faculty having such scholarly breadth could develop competing paradigms of public relations that would be based on different metatheoretical and philosophical foundations, which could be shared in an interdisciplinary, multicultural and global context."
Next, through a series of circular arguments, the report manages to close the door on the possibility of experienced professionals contributing to PR education. The kernel of the argument is contained in two sequential passages:
"The critical shortage of qualified public relations educators has become even more acute [since the 1999 report] because of the increasing numbers of public relations students who are filling the nation's classrooms."
Despite this critical shortage, the commission's solution is not more teachers but more Ph.D. programs. The reason?
"Colleges and universities are being pressured even more by their regional accrediting bodies to fill faculty positions with candidates having Ph.D.s. As a result, public relations educators are being valued more for their academic credentials than for their practitioner
experience, which previously might have compensated for the lack of a terminal degree."
Pressured by accrediting agencies? Is that the real reason? Let's take a look at some other professional schools, which are certainly accountable to accrediting agencies as well as to state licensing boards.
The Yale School of Architecture has 24 professors on its faculty. Of those, four have doctorates. Most have master's degrees in architecture.
I choose architecture because, like PR, it is defined through its practice, and draws on a number of disciplines such as engineering, art, graphic design, landscape design, lighting, and materials science. Part art, part science, its practitioners work in a variety
of settings, ranging from government to mammoth architectural firms to two-person design firms and one-person consultancies.
Now let's get closer to home. Over at the Columbia School of Journalism, where there are 32 full-time faculty members, only four hold doctorates -- two of them in sociology Yet, somehow, they manage to hang on to their accreditation as well as a reputation for
excellence in training journalists.
Let's face facts: putting it off on regional accrediting agencies only masks the real agenda -- either to become a research university or to enhance one's standing as a research university. One of the most insidious features of higher education today is that virtually every university aspires to become a research university, whether or not
they have any business doing so.
The reasons are many, but in general universities classified as "Research Extensive" by the Carnegie Foundation attract more funding, pay better salaries, and offer a higher plane of perks and privileges, such as teaching fewer courses, or smaller seminars instead of large fundamentals courses.
So, from Louisville to Long Beach, Mobile to Mankato, Pensacola to Pullman, universities insist on hiring Ph.D. faculty who will contribute to the frequently misconceived mission of becoming a research university. They don't care if the terminal degree is in PlayStation 2, or if the doctoral thesis was about socialization effects of PlayStation 2 on immigrant populations, later published as an article in The Journal of Immigrant Population Research
(circulation 428). They want people like themselves.
This doesn't gainsay the fact that today there are some outstanding PR educators with credible professional experience, such as Donald Wright of Boston University, also one of the members of the commission. But Professor Wright is hardly typical of the genre. Much more typical is someone who had a couple of years in government, education, or the non-profit world, then returned to graduate school to escape the drudgery of actual PR work.
If you want to corroborate this, check out some of the current listings at Higher Education Jobs.com, where Oral Roberts University has a new listing for an assistant professor of public relations, Ph.D. required. Oral Roberts University is about as far from being a research university as I am from the United Arab Emirates, which is also advertising for an assistant professor fluent in English and Arabic, Ph.D. required.
Colleges and universities that two decades ago were little more than glorified high schools are requiring the Ph.D. to teach in an applied field like public relations. Talk about the death of common sense!
Maybe PR shouldn't be taught in universities at all. After all, most so-called schools of communication only got into PR education for the basest of reasons, i.e., to expand their hegemonies and prop up sagging programs in journalism. More student head count, more credit hours taught, equals more funding to be allocated among all the little
departmental pots in the college.
Instead, perhaps PR should be taught at special schools, set up along the lines of The Portfolio Center in Atlanta, where courses are taught by practicing professionals.
There, students who didn't learn anything useful in college can prepare themselves professionally and develop portfolios that often lead to their first job in the field.
In that scenario, universities could keep teaching metatheoretical paradigms while students get another shot at actually learning something about practices in their chosen field of study.
Whatever the remedy, something has to be done, and done quickly. PR education is in desperate straits, and the whole enterprise is in danger of collapse from its own dead weight. Just ask anyone who's hired a PR graduate who can't write a lick, or who doesn't know what a closing date is, or even where the Midwest is.
Finally, remember this: While universities want your support-in the form of scholarships, grants, internships, or eventual jobs for their graduates, they don't want anything to do with the likes of you, especially in their classrooms.
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