Dinosaurs or Dunces?
Who Should Teach Public Relations?

By E. Zoe McCathrin (Kent State University) and Ronald D. Smith (Buffalo State college)

Presented to the International Communications Association, Albuquerque NM, 1995

This paper combines two separate studies which explore the question: Is the criteria for public relations educators changing from a focus on research and theory combined with practical experience in the practice to one of research focus?

Continued concerns raised by members of the public relations profession appear to have been heightened since the Ohio State University, among other institutions of higher learning, have implemented new criteria for their current and future faculty in the discipline.

In both studies incorporated herein, a content analysis of advertisements for public relations university opportunities were measured based on a near-duplicate standard of measurement.

One study used the "Chronicle of Higher Education" for a period of eight months during the years 1980-1990. The second analyzed the job opportunities listed in the "Chronicle," and the "Public Relations Journal" as well as the "AEJMC Newsletter," for the years 1984 and 1994.

In neither study did there appear to be a significant change in the criteria for public relations teaching opportunities, with some exceptions in wording and emphasis.

The full report is available from the authors. Following is the "Conclusions" section of the paper.


Conclusions

New factors in education make it hard to generalize what is happening to higher education for public relations. The playing field appears to have changed/be changing rapidly.

However, in the two studies of advertisements and their commonalities and differences, combined with the literature review and interviews, there researchers offer the following:

Conclusion 1: Appointment opportunities for public relations faculty will continue, but are not as likely to grow as had been previously anticipated, though enrollments in the major will grow, and more attention will be given to public relations education. Three factors will also influence the educator's future:

Conclusion 2: It doesn't appear from the advertisements that there is a significant overall trend away from the combination of academic credentials and professional experience as dual criteria sought in the "ideal" public relations college educator.

Conclusion 3: The advertisements seem to be incorporating more ambiguous words, suggesting that alternative "credentials" are being encouraged and are likely to be considered in the hiring of public relations faculty members.

Conclusion 4: Teaching experience, while vague in terms of "how much?" or "where?" continues to be sought by nearly half of those advertising for public relations education candidates. This credential appears to have become just slightly more important in the past decade.

Conclusion 5: Research (and the implied ability to publish in scholarly journals) will continue to be an important component in the search for future public relations educators.

Observations

1. There appears to be no overriding, immediate need for concern about a change in the hiring trends of public relations educators. The researchers do believe that further inquiry into this issue needs to be explored, especially given the academic criteria for tenure.

2. For the public relations professor, the literature and interview findings suggest demands for a strengthening of efforts to produce graduates who have been exposed to career skills and theoretical insights from professors who themselves have experienced day-to-day professional life in public relations. But, the professors themselves will have to continue to focus on published research, hopefully not as a detriment to their work to update their own professional and managerial skills.

3. Professors of public relations will be called upon by the profession to heed their input and find ways to keep practitioners involved in the educational process. The idea of more interface between "work place and campus" needs to be seriously explored in a variety of ways. One such way to encourage dialogue and greater understanding among those "on campus and in the work place" would be the formation of professional advisory councils. These interactive support groups can be of great benefit to the educators, the professionals and most especially, the students, yet is used by only a handful of the nearly 200 public relations education programs. Involvement by professionals in public relations education would not only tend to ease the concern of many practitioners, but would better educate them to the real offerings of successful public relations education programs.

4. Among the several future studies these findings suggest is the tracking of graduate success (i.e., employment into the field) of those students from programs which combine research and theory with experience and management, and those which do not.

5. Dramatic economic changes throughout the world of higher education make monitoring of future changes in hiring faculty members even more important. Because of the major reductions in funding, faculty lines are not being filled, or are being eliminated on campuses across the country. How that may impact future PR professors is difficult to predict.

6. The debate of the Dinosaurs vs/ the Dunces will continue. And it is likely to grow louder, especially between the public relations professionals and the public relations educators, who are sure to disagree on who is which..


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