The Elimination of the Program in Speech

1. The Change

The catalogue for 1970-1971 contains a section discussing the faculty and program for the Department of Speech and Drama. Twenty faculty members are listed and 117 courses. In 1971-1972, the catalogue was changed. There was now a Department of Drama with a faculty of fifteen members and 100 courses. There was no longer any mention of speech as a program or division, although three courses taught by an associate professor of speech were still listed within the Department of Drama.

2. The Sequence of Events

The action reflected by the catalogue change in 1971 was the end of a long process. In 1946 the Department of Speech and Drama (a part of the College of Liberal Arts) listed 76 courses in the catalogue and a faculty of ten. About 45 percent of the courses (and 60 percent of the faculty) were in drama and theater arts: the remainder were in public speaking (35 percent), speech correction and psychology, teacher training, radio broadcasting, and English for foreign students. The department grew during the next decade. By 1954, the catalogue listed some 126 courses. Forty percent of the courses were in drama, 20 percent in speech correction, psychology, and audiology, 20 percent in rhetoric, public speaking, and oral interpretation, and the remainder scattered among radio, television, teacher training, and general subjects.

The faculty also grew. By 1954 the faculty was divided into five groups. The first was a group concerned with speech correction, speech science, and audiology; the second was a group concerned with radio and television broadcasting; the third was a group (five faculty members) concerned with rhetoric and public speaking; the fourth was a single faculty member concerned with English for foreign students; the fifth was a group concerned with drama and theatre arts. The department offered baccalaureate, masters, and doctorate degrees in several areas, including speech. In addition to teaching courses, the department was heavily involved in a number of non-courses responsibilities, most notably the provision of dramatic performances on the campus, some consulting on speech and hearing problems, and coaching of an intercollegiate debate and forensic team. The chairman of the department was a professor of drama.

The 1954-55 period was the high point for speech (as a part of the Department of Speech and Drama) at the university. Over the following fifteen years it underwent a series of transformations. In a general sense, it was reorganized. Most of the components found new homes in the university; rhetoric and public speaking did not. The result appears to stem from a series of related episodes starting in 1956.

In 1956 a new dean was appointed to head the College of Liberal Arts. The dean came to the university with the expressed intention to make the university into one of the best in the country. Departments were encouraged to seek national reputations through new appointments. A series of events affecting the speech program followed the arrival of the new dean. Although he was not responsible for initiating all of them, there is no question that he contributed to the climate that produced them:

  1. One of the full professors in rhetoric and public speaking retired in 1956 and was not replaced at that level.
  2. In 1957 the faculty involved in speech correction, psychology, and audiology left the department to form a new section in the College of Medicine at the university.
  3. In 1958 the undergraduate major in speech was eliminated (though not undergraduate courses or the graduate programs).
  4. Also in 1958 the most highly regarded young professor in the speech program was allowed to resign his assistant professorship to accept an appointment at a competing major university.

In a period when most programs at the university were expanding and improving, the speech program was contracting and allowing its best faculty to leave.

In December 1961 a new dean, with similar attitudes, became Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Within the next two years, there was a new spurt of activity. By this time the faculty in rhetoric and public speaking consisted of one full professor, one assistant professor who had been there for several years, and three instructors or acting assistant professors who had only recently been appointed. One of the latter served as coach of debating. The associate dean of the College initiated a series of contacts with members of the speech faculty concerning the future of the program in speech.

The conversations between the associate dean and the speech faculty appear to have been conducted with relatively little notice to, or concern by, the chairman of the Department of Speech and Drama. The latter position was held then, as it was throughout the period, by a professor of drama.

According to the associate dean (in a memorandum to a faculty member teaching in the radio and television part of the program):

Art Jensen [the only remaining full professor in rhetoric and public speaking] indicated concern about the future of the speech program and the speech faculty. I suggested that he and his group address a memorandum to me outlining their needs and plans. At his request I have agreed to meet with his group on the afternoon of Thursday, February 22, just to get acquainted with them and their interests.

A few weeks later, Professor Jensen died, leaving the program in rhetoric and public speaking without any tenured faculty members. The associate dean met on November 19, 1962, with the untenured faculty members in the program. This meeting, as well as others about the same time, are recalled differently by the different participants. The associate dean was to say 15 months later, in recalling the meeting, that he had informed the faculty that "the situation obtaining in the Speech program was unprecedented in University practice - namely, that work on the graduate level was being directed by a group of faculty members not one of whom had been carrying on an active program of research and publication such as is usually involved in graduate teaching and one of whom had not yet completed the work for his Ph.D. degree." This interpretation is supported, though not conclusively, by a memorandum written by the associate dean to the chairman of the Department of Speech and Drama indicating procedures for phasing out the doctoral program. This memorandum, however, was not seen by the speech faculty.

The speech professors involved interpreted the message of the meeting to be that the Ph.D. program in speech should be reorganized. Toward that end, they undertook a series of meetings among themselves about the program. The debating coach, an assistant professor, became spokesman for the group. In May 1963 he sought a meeting about "our doctoral program" and the difficulty the faculty was having shaping a program to meet the associate dean's requests. His memorandum gained a penned comment from the dean of the College directed to the associate dean: "What doctoral program? There is to be none."

At the same time, the deans were moving toward establishing a new Department of Communication Science as a modern, academically respectable form of "journalism" program. The idea was to develop a new program based on three components:

  1. The television and radio parts of the speech faculty.
  2. The stronger faculty in an existing journalism program.
  3. New behavioral science faculty to be recruited.

In 1963 the new department was formally created and the second exodus of program and faculty occurred from the Department of Speech and Drama.

In February 1964, the associate dean and the debating coach engaged in a last exchange over the matter. The associate dean complimented the professor on his work as debate coach and for his devotion to his subject, but noted that the coach had "let that very devotion blind you to the meaning of events." The associate dean also indicated that he expected that the debate coach would probably be denied tenure. The coach left the university the following summer, and a new assistant professor was hired to continue the coaching responsibilities.

Although all graduate seminars were eliminated, courses continued to be provided by four non-tenured members until 1968. In that year, two events occurred. The program in English for foreign students was transferred (along with the relevant faculty member) to the Department of Linguistics; and the senior assistant professor in speech was promoted to a tenure position as an Associate Professor of Speech and Education, in effect moving to the College of Education.

By this time, there was a new associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts. He was faced with the question of the renewal of contracts in speech for non-tenured faculty. On the basis of a brief review of other speech departments in the country and of the scholarly work of the faculty in this program, the associate dean recommended that the program in speech be discontinued. The recommendation came at the same time as pressures grew to find ways of saving money in the university budget and was accepted quickly by the dean and the provost of the university.

During the whole process, three groups were involved slightly but neither continuously nor effectively. The leadership of the Department of Speech and Drama was not active. During the period, the chairmanship changed several times. It was however, always a professor of drama. They were actively concerned with securing foundation support for the drama programs. As one of the chairmen said, "We never knew what was going on. Things were decided elsewhere, not here." Speech professors did not feel that the chairman represented them. Discussions about the future of speech were carried out between speech faculty and outsiders without involving the chairman of the department.

Secondly, the students were not involved to any appreciable extent. Student enrollment in speech courses were persistently high. Indeed high course loads were at one point cited by an administrator as a problem in the program. A student referendum supporting a continuation of the program in speech resulted in a favorable vote, but it did not become a significant student issue. Third, the alumni were not activated. Although there was some support expressed for the debating program, there was never a clear alumni position in support of the speech program as a whole. Nor was there any effort to organize such a position.

March, James G., and Johan P. Olsen. 1976. Ambiguity and Choice in Organizations. Bergen, Norway: Universitetsforlaget: pages 254-258.

Case Study Questions

1. In what ways were goals and processes unclear and problematic?

2. In what ways was participation fluid?

3. Do you observe decision making by flight?

4. Do you observe decision making by oversight?

5. How would you characterize the decision making in this case?