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UND Communication Program pulls together after controversy

The Communication Program at UND has seen ups and downs over the years, but now the tenure and promotion process will finally be housed within the program.

University of North Dakota

The Communication Program at UND has seen ups and downs over the years, but now the tenure and promotion process will finally be housed within the program.

Last summer, officials and faculty spoke of narrowing the program's focus to journalism and strategic communication tracks from a system of eight tracts and hiring more faculty.

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Debbie Storrs said the faculty has worked very hard to come together and meet all the goals she asked them to in order to move forward. Bringing in faculty promotion and tenure is just one more step in centralizing the program.

"As far as I'm concerned they're functioning as a department," she said. "They have a chair(person) and their own bylaws, they have a tenure process, they evaluate each other, so they are essentially operating like a department because they're governing themselves. I need to better work to find out if we want to move forward as a department and what does that gain us, if anything."

There has also been faculty turnover, which Storrs said is normal; two left as a result of curriculum restructuring, one was denied tenure and left due to a settlement agreement and longtime program staple Stephen Rendahl recently died.


Faculty and instructors have also been hired, and Storrs said there are currently seven full-time tenure-track faculty in the program and she has plans to add more.

"We're really building the team on top of very strong faculty members who have committed their lives to UND and to the communication program," Storrs said.

New Department Chairman Timothy Pasch began working at UND in 2009 and said in an email he considers this a "renaissance" period for the program, which saw 99 student completions from July 2013 to June 2014, according to a North Dakota University System report.

"Since arriving at UND, it has been a very real goal of mine personally, (and I know that many others share this goal), to attain our departmental status and these recent announcements are a very significant stepping stone towards this potential eventuality," he said. "I see this equilibrium hopefully stabilizing in the near future enabling us to function on an equal footing with the other departmental units in the college."


In 1992, the School of Communication lost partial accreditation. A series of archived Herald articles detail a hostile work environment where one professor eventually filed a restraining order against another and students held a protest and walked out of class.

The school was dissolved in 2008 and was re-established as a program, but professors were scattered to other departments throughout UND, everywhere from English to Psychology, for evaluation and tenure.

Faculty are usually able to apply for tenure after six years of teaching, and the award usually coincides with faculty moving up to the position of associate professor. The application then goes through the employee's department, dean and all the way up to the State Board of Higher Education for ultimate approval.


In a July 2 email from Pasch to Communication Program employees, he wrote his goal was to become a department, and he was "simply thrilled" that the evaluation and tenure process had been consolidated back within the program.

Storrs said she plans to find out what the program's priorities by listening to faculty ideas.

"I would describe them as a group that has gone through a lot and remains optimistic about the future," she said. "Do they always agree? Absolutely not. Is that expected? Absolutely. What I do see are professionals working together despite differences to strengthen a program in service to students."

Pasch said Rendahl had a major impact on the Communication Program during his 41 years at UND and advocated strongly for bringing faculty back together under the roof of the program. Pasch spoke with Rendahl shortly before his death and said he had been very excited about the new developments with tenure and evaluation.

"His loss at this particular juncture when we are seeing extraordinary new progress, is particularly challenging for me, and indeed for so many others in the UND community and beyond," Pasch said.

Working together

After she came in as dean in 2013, Storrs brought in consultants and faculty to begin developing new curriculum ideas, which were slated to go into effect this coming fall but are actually available to students now.

The journalism path will cover print and broadcast reporting while strategic communication will encompass advertising and public relations.


Those enrolled in the old tracks, of which there are eight, can finish them or switch to the new two-track system.

Longtime communication professor Richard Shafer said the change is supposed to be more efficient and manageable, different from the past when the focus was on achieving big, lofty goals.

Storrs then asked faculty to write their own bylaws, tenure and evaluation guidelines. They did and the documents were subsequently approved. The group is now reworking graduate student curriculum.

"I'm pretty proud of what they've done," Storrs said.

Storrs said she has seen a complete turnaround in the culture and mood of the program from what she has read in articles written before she was there.

"The thing that's really interesting honestly if you look at the history of this program it's a really interesting saga and they're really turned a corner," she said. "How and why that happened I'm not sure, but it's really an interesting phenomenon. Everybody has really rolled up their sleeves."

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