Black and white photo of East campus in 1915The School of Communication is one of the oldest departments at Western Michigan University, first formed in 1906 as the Department of Expression, a supplemental department to the teaching training curriculum. Since its genesis, the School of Communication has taken many incarnations, including:

Department of Speech (1918-70)

Seven years after the department changed its name to the Department of Speech, the addition of a speech major and minor expanded the Western State Teachers College catalog. During this expansive 52-year time frame, the department went through many changes, additions and developments:

  • 1921: Laura Shaw became the first head of the department.
  • 1958: Vice President Russell H. Seibert established the Center for Communication Research and appoints Dr. Charles T. Brown as the first director, beginning the strong research focus of the department.
  • 1950: WMUK (formally WMCR-FM) is created and media and broadcast specialists begin to join the department.
  • 1952: WIDR is created.
  • 1965: The speech pathology and audiology program separates to become the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology.
  • In the late 1960s, the concept of interpersonal communication emerges under the direction of Dr. Charles Brown and the department becomes increasingly focused on intra- and interpersonal communication while moving away from performing arts and public speaking, which leads to the next name change in 1970.

Department of Communication Arts and Science (1970-87)

Just as radio helped to shape the department as the Department of Speech in the 1950s, the expansion of television influenced the department to branch out into television production and performance:

  • 1970: The first general master’s degree is offered.
  • 1970: Dr. William Buys became the first director of the graduate program. By the completion of his role in 1979, the general master’s degree had evolved into two separate degree options: interpersonal communication and organizational communication.
  • 1976: The performing arts faculty separates to form the Department of Theatre.
  • 1976: Dr. Richard Dieker is appointed as the new department chair. Under his leadership, the department continues to develop interpersonal communication courses, as well as add organizational communication and interdisciplinary public relations study to the departmental curriculum.
  • 1979: Dr. Shirley Van Hoeven is appointed director of the graduate program. Under her direction, the department expands its organizational faculty, course offerings and graduate school enrollment.
  • 1981: An interdisciplinary public relations major is added.
  • Mid 1980s: Film courses are added as electives.

Department of Communication (1987-2004)

The department changed its name in 1987 to better encompass the cross-disciplinary nature of the communication field, in general, and to better define the breadth of courses and majors available to students.

  • Late 1990s: Traditional distinctions between radio, television and film become less clear.
  • By 1993: The general communication major is dropped and six new majors take its place, including broadcast and cable production, communication studies, media studies, interpersonal communication, organizational communication and telecommunications management.
  • 1993: Dr. James Gilchrist is selected to serve as chair.
  • 1994: A new telecommunications master’s degree is added to the program.
  • 1999: Dr. Steven Rhodes begins his term as department chair.
  • 2000: The wide use of personal computers and digital media places a new emphasis on multimedia.
  • 2001: The journalism major is moved from the Department of English to the Department of Communication..
  • 2001: Dr. Leigh Ford is appointed director of the graduate program.
  • 2004: The Board of Trustees for Western Michigan University gives their unanimous support to change the name and status of the department from the Department of Communication to the School of Communication and appoints Dr. Steve Rhodes as the first director of the school.

School of Communication (2004-present)

Our new name, School of Communication, provides a level of visibility and recognition that benefits our students, alumni, faculty and emeriti while helping to expand our programs and spotlight the College of Arts and Sciences and WMU.

Each of our name changes has been a reflection of the changing nature of our department, its programs and our philosophy. Our latest change acknowledges our strengths, raises our prestige and accurately reflecting the quality, size and complexity of our department as it entered the 21st century.

  • 2019: Dr. Leigh Ford retires after 24 years of service to WMU. Dr. Cynthia Klekar-Cunningham, associate professor of English, is selected to serve as director.
  • 2019: The undergraduate programs were assessed and revamped. Five new majors were created, one of which has four undergraduate certificate options. The majors in journalism, organizational communication and public relations were eliminated, and majors in digital media and journalism and strategic communication were created, as well as certificates in diversity and inclusion, leadership and teamwork, new media and technology, and public relations.