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Communication Department History

Communication at Eastern Kentucky University began as an extracurricular activity. Student publications were introduced as far back as 1906, which was also the beginning of Eastern as a state supported institution. At that time the school was called Eastern Kentucky State Normal School and there were two publications that could qualify as early journalistic efforts. The Eastern Kentucky Review was the first published on October 1906 and continued publication until it became the "catalog" for the institution in 1921. Vol. 4, No. 4 of the Eastern Kentucky Review was entitled the "yearbook." It contained substantially more photographs than other issues and probably qualifies as the first Eastern yearbook.

The first student publication was The Student. It was published monthly from June 1908 to June 1915. The second student publication at Eastern was The Talisman that was published beginning October 1915 and ceased publication sometime before 1922 when The Eastern Progress was initiated. The Eastern Progress has been continually published since 1922 until now.

The present day Department of Communication supports four majors and a variety of minors. It also houses the Eastern Progress newspaper and the Milestone Yearbook.

The Department of Communication was housed in the College of Arts and Sciences through much of its early history at Eastern, when it was the Department of Mass Communication. Journalism was offered in the Department of English and broadcasting was offered by the Department of Speech and Drama when it was established in 1966-67.

In 1974-76 a separate Department of Mass Communication was established in the College of Arts and Sciences. The department immediately established three prefixes for departmental courses; COM for courses serving both majors, JOU and RTV.

The department changed its name from the Department of Mass Communication to the Department of Mass Communications when it added the public relations major in 1979 and the prefix, PUB.

Another major administrative change for the Department of Mass Communications occurred in 1979-81. The College of Arts and Sciences was dissolved and the departments from that college were moved principally to three new colleges, the College of Arts and Humanities, the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences and the College of Social and Behavioral Science. The Department of Mass Communications was the only department from the College of Arts and Sciences to request assignment to the College of Applied Arts and Technology. The rationale behind the request was that the department related to the hands-on approach to teaching of AA&T and opted for the opportunity to join a college accustomed to rapidly changing technology.

When journalism classes were first offered in 1967-68 students considered themselves fortunate if they had access to manual typewriters. In fact, many of those early assignments were handwritten. A number of manual typewriters was one of the first capital purchases made by the department. The journalism program was fortunate when Dr. Al Patrick, then an office practice professor in the College of Business, was persuaded to let student journalists use the latest in technology in his classroom - electric typewriters.

Subsequently, James Harris, the first chair of the department, persuaded the Knight-Ridder Foundation (part of the parent company of the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper) to provide a matching grant that permitted the Department of Mass Communications to purchase its first computers - the Wang system. At that time all computer purchases needed to be approved by the governor's office; clearly the department was on the cutting edge of technology. To "expedite" the purchase, the department ordered "electronic work stations" rather than "computers." The purchase order flew through the local purchase office without a hitch and the Department of Mass Communications became the first department on campus to have computers. The Wang used 8" floppy disks and the server, about a four-foot square machine, sported a whopping 10 megabytes.

Not only has the old film equipment gone to EKU surplus property sales; but so, too, have the manual typewriters, the electronic typewriters, and the Wang computers. The department now has a predominantly Macintosh platform. It now Houses two writing labs complete with 30 computers in each, a video editing lab with 10 editing suites, The Eastern Progress lab and fully digital audio labs, photo journalism in completely digital now and the dark rooms are long gone.

The move to the College of Applied Arts and Technology made it possible for the Department of Communication to introduce students to the latest in technology but another change was coming. On July 1, 1999, the eight colleges at Eastern Kentucky University were reduced to five colleges. Most of the departments in the former College of Applied Arts and Technology and all of the departments in the former College of Business were combined to form the College of Business and Technology. The newly created college continues to provide strong technology support to the Department of Communication.

Continuing its somewhat nomadic past, the department expanded to offices in the Alumni Coliseum, as the Donovan Annex became the laboratory facility while the Alumni Coliseum housed half the faculty, the lecture classes and department chair's office.

During this time the print and broadcast writing classes were merged as students in all majors learned to write for both print and broadcast in the same classroom setting. The writing courses were team taught by the faculty's print and broadcast journalists. During this time a new emphasis was placed on preparing students to enter the job market. A required Senior Seminar class was added to the curriculum to help students develop portfolios and prepare to compete in the world of work. Campus wide, COM 200, the introductory course in the department, was added to the University's General Education curriculum, and it became a popular elective for students from all majors.

As technology advanced, the department continued to advance with it. The Eastern Progress continued to use the latest technology in both its print and electronic editions. The digital revolution also came to the broadcast arena as new Media 100 digital editing systems were added to the analog ones already in place. So, students were taught both platforms as one began to replace the other. As of 2001, students now learn about Final Cut Pro and analog video is no longer taught.

During this time, the groundwork was laid for the re-certification of the public relations program that had been named one of the top 23 programs in the country. Several years ago, it had become the first program in Kentucky to be certified by the Public Relations Society of America, one of the first three in the United States.

More changes were about to unfold. As a part of the reorganization of the university, phase two reorganization began to look at the merger of various departments across campus. The speech faculty, who were housed in the Department of Speech and Theater Arts, were looking for a new home. Their program had diverged from the speech and rhetoric approach toward a more theoretical model with an emphasis on human communication. The five speech faculty made overtures to the existing Department of Mass Communications regarding a possible merger of the disciplines.

Speech Communication officially merged with Mass Communication on July 1, 2000 and became the new Department of Communication. The department is now housed, since 2006, on the third floor of the Bert Combs building.

In terms of curriculum changes, the department moved toward more of a "convergence" model as the lines between various forms of communication (print, broadcast and on-line) begin to blur. A core set of courses, COM 201 and 301, provide a framework in which to teach this convergence of styles. A convergence between the human communication components and the mass communication components is also expected as we move forward.  In addition, new courses have been added that reflect emerging areas of technology and communication practice such as Social Media.  

Our Public Relations program also continues to grow. In 1992, EKU became only the second university-level instructional program to be certified by the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America). We were recently re-certified during the Fall 2012 semester and are among only 34 schools to have achieved this recognition worldwide. 

As of the Fall 2013 semester, the department has 129 Public Relations majors, 114 Broadcasting & Electronic Media majors, 108 Communication Studies majors and 40 Journalism majors.  

Composite history by Dr. Glen Kleine, Dr. Ron Wolfe, Dr. Renee Everett and Dr. Jim Gleason. 

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