Prospects for the Future: The Communication Scholar as Citizen

Article excerpt

I was pleased with the theme Cindy selected, "CSCA at the Millennium, Prospects for the Future," because it so captures my hope for our discipline at the early dawn of the 21st Century. Although I believe the 20th century, with its advances in technology and transportation, science, art and education, created opportunities for communication at all levels and in all arenas, it is this century that could bring the discipline the greatest opportunity for the institutionalization of our research and scholarship by the expansion of our intellectual boundaries both within the academy and with external constituencies.

Does society need the communication scholar as citizen? You be the judge....

On Jan. 14, 1999 a 24 year-old woman opened fire in an office-building killing one person and wounding another. April 15, 1999: a 71 year old man shot 6 people at the Mormon Family History Library in Salt Lake City, killing two and wounding four. Five days later two teenagers made Columbine the site of the worst school shooting in United States history. On May 20 another teenager, 15 year-old T. J. Solomon wounded six students when he fired 14 shots from the rifle he typically brought to school. One of the suggested motives was that Solomon was angry about his girlfriend breaking up with him. In July, 1999, 44 year-old Mark Barton went on the worst killing spree in Atlanta's history, shooting nine people to death and injuring 12 more. His wife and two children had earlier been found bludgeoned to death in their home. August 5, a 34 year-old man walked into his former place of employment and shot and killed two co-workers. He then went to another of his workplaces and killed a third man. No motive was given. November 2, 1999, a 40 year-old man murdered seven co-workers in Hawaii because he was worried that he was going to be laid off from his job. The next day, November 3rd, a man in Seattle walked into the shipyard at which he was formerly employed and killed two workers and wounded two others. And just last month, three additional incidents captured national attention when, here in Michigan, a six year old boy pulled a gun from his pants and shot a six year old classmate to death. The next day in Pennsylvania a man went into a rage because of a broken door in his apartment building and killed two people and critically wounded three others; and in Georgia a teenage boy was shot to death and two other teenagers were wounded. Other than the last three, all of these events occurred in an 11-month span in 1999. While overall national statistics show violent crime to be decreasing, instances of mass murders seem to be on the rise. In fact, I cannot remember a time when mass murders, especially those based on hate, have happened with such frequency as they did in that 11-month span.

I use this litany of horrors to emphasize my contention that we must link our work as scholars to the most fundamental problems of our communities in new and more forceful ways, and that we are uniquely positioned to do so. The thoughts I wish to share with you today involve the re-discovery of the role social science generally, and several areas of our field specifically, can play in the arena of policy making; and how we may begin to address the "so what" question which our discipline has traditionally faced.

As you know, the theme for the 2000 Seattle convention is, "Communication: The Engaged Discipline," and the 2001 CSCA Conference theme is "I dream of a Community Where ..." The focus of those conventions mirrors the purpose of my remarks this morning--turning "our collective attention outward to a society that so desperately needs what we have to offer."

The Engaged Scholar: Communication and the Social Sciences

My emphasis today really involves an area of scholarship some of us have too frequently ignored, what Ernest Boyer called the scholarship of application. Whether the problem lies in the halls of academia or "out there," now, more than ever, we must address the ways in which knowledge can be linked to contemporary issues and problems. …