On Increased Accountability in Higher Education, Communication is Everywhere

From Kansas City to Washington, DC, at conferences about General Education, the Humanities, and the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Communication (as a discipline and as a practice) is simply everywhere.

  • How do we communicate the importance of General Education to students, parents, and colleagues?
  • How do we best communicate the value of social and behavioral sciences to policymakers who don’t appreciate the role of social science and who don’t support the continued federal funding of such research?
  • How do we best communicate how the humanities contribute to the “common good” to students and parents who believe the errant discourses about employability and college majors?

AAC&UIn its mid-February meeting on General Education and Assessment, the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) presented a series of challenging and provocative panels organized around the meeting’s theme: “From Mission to Action to Evidence: Empowering and Inclusive General Education Programs.” As should be evident from the theme, many of those panels involved meaningful discussion about how best to communicate to various audiences. At AAC&U, two levels of communication emerged.

On a disciplinary level, participants at the conference often engaged in careful discussion about how best to demonstrate the value of communication skills and knowledge as an important part of the General Education program. Increasingly, colleges and universities are discovering that students, parents, employers, and just about everyone else is recognizing the centrality of communication skills and knowledge for students’ professional, personal, and civic success. Often cited was AAC&U’s 2015 report “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success,” that recounted the results of AAC&U’s survey of employers and students alike. Communication skills and abilities were clearly the most important sets of learning outcomes for college graduates.

On a more practical level, scholars and administrators at the AAC&U meeting were also quite concerned about how best to communicate the importance and value of general education and assessment to their colleagues and administrators in an increasingly challenging political environment for higher education. So Danette Ifert Johnson, the immediate past president of the Eastern Communication Association and an associate provost at Ithaca College presented a discussion of “Making General Education Reform Stick: Using an Organizational Change Model to Guide Implementation” to a standing-room only crowd. Another Communication scholar, Lori J. Carrell, who is now the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Minnesota-Rochester offered a plenary session presentation highlighting the communication challenges facing General Education reform efforts—and received a standing ovation!

Communication, as both discipline and practice, was also on full display at the annual meeting and advocacy day for the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) and the National Humanities Alliance (NHA). On two successive weeks in March, these two groups convened scholars, administrators, and association officials in Washington to discuss how best to advocate for the humanities and social sciences.

COSSAAt COSSA, attendees heard from scientists who have been attacked in the news media and over social media channels by politicians and others who deem their research frivolous. From “shrimp on treadmills” to sociological explorations of the Chinese dairy industry, these scholars offered a bleak assessment of the media and political landscape even as they remained optimistic about the potential for social and behavioral scientists to respond successfully to such attacks.

NHAThe keynote address at NHA was presented by Scott Jaschik from Inside Higher Ed, who highlighted the challenges confronting the humanities as these disciplines seek to preserve funding for humanities research and to enhance legitimacy and viability on college campuses and in society at large. Jaschik’s comments highlighted the emerging sense among humanities scholars everywhere of the imminent importance of effectively communicating the value and place of the humanities in promoting what NEH chairman Bro Adams has called “the common good.”

Even the physical and biomedical sciences are coming to see the value and importance of Communication: NCA just received an invitation to the National Research Council’s 2015 Harry and Byrna David Lecture, featuring none other than Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Her title: “Communicating the Value and Values of Science.”

Whether as a discipline or as a practice, Communication is everywhere.


  1. Trevor, thank you for your cogent and helpful discussion of the value of communication education to our students and of the importance of communicating the value of the humanities and social sciences. I do believe it is incumbent on communication scholars to follow Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s lead in getting the word out about our discipline and its many contributions. For example, we bemoan that others in the interdisciplinary conversation often do not know about or cite literature from our discipline.One solution is to write these scholars and share what Communication has to offer. Send them citations and articles. We can strategically place our scholarship in the local and national media. We can attend interdisciplinary conferences and publish outside our discipline. I appreciate NCA’s work in becoming an increasingly prominent voice for the Communication discipline in Washington DC and nationally.

  2. Don M. Boileau says:

    Thanks Trevor. It helps to know about themes at other conventions and some of our members who are successfully making efforts to spread the word.

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