History of Our Department

The Department of Communication began as the Department of Speech in the fall of 1962 and had its first graduate in 1964. Dr. E. Samuel Dudley (Ph.D., University of Michigan) was hired to lead the effort, provided with a curriculum suggested by a consultant from the Speech Department at Mississippi State College for Women (now Mississippi University for Women), and backed by two faculty members inherited from the Department of English. Also inherited from the Department of English were the student theatre group, Blackfriars, and the charge to sponsor theatre and debate activities. An additional goal was to teach the basic course in oral communication required by many departments for graduation, for which the demand was increasing across the university. The department began and is still located in the College of Arts & Sciences.

1977 Theatre Awards with Dominic Cunetto
Dr. Domnic Cunetto (second from right) congratulates 1977 theatre award winners.

During 1963, Dr. Dominic J. Cunetto (Ph.D., University of Florida) was hired to enable the department to move into debate and drama. In 1964, oral interpretation courses were added, and in 1967 Dr. Robert G. Anderson (Ph.D., University of Missouri) was hired to coordinate courses in the area. Journalism courses also were added in 1967. Patricia Algood taught these courses for one year and was replaced by Henry Meyer, retired publisher of the Starkville Daily News. These were linked with courses being offered in radio, television, and film, and broadened the offerings in mass media.

The department grew steadily during these early years, although many of the first majors were in the Speech Education curriculum of the College of Education. Under departmental leadership, the first “distance learning” via television was offered in 1966. WMSB, the campus radio station, was opened, which was a project of the department. Faculty members were active with the campus newspaper.

In 1970, Marcus Hickson (Ph.D., Southern Illinois University) joined the department to broaden the offerings in public address. During the 1970-1971 school year the Department of Speech taught 23 sections of Oral Communication each semester and 26 other courses to over 1,600 students. Among those students were 45 Speech majors and 27 Speech Education majors. The department consisted of seven full-time and six part-time faculty.

In 1973, the department name was changed and the first degree in Communication was offered. The different name reflected a trend in the discipline nationally as well as the department’s broadened interests.

Departmental offerings changed during the 1970s, reflecting demand and faculty strengths. Dr. Dudley continued as the first department head, and Dr. Anderson directed a new concentration in Broadcasting. The first Practicum in TV News course also was offered, and students produced a 30-minute news program that aired weekly from the Starkville First United Methodist Church’s media center on the city’s community channel. In addition, the Public Relations concentration was added as the fifth concentration in the department, and Sidney R. Hill (Ph.D., University of Florida) was hired to further develop the intercollegiate debate program. Larry Powell (Ph.D., University of Florida) also arrived to develop courses in political communication.

The department, like many other liberal arts departments, was hampered by a lack of space and equipment. Offices were located in George Hall, and classes were placed in various classrooms across campus. A presidential drive to remedy this challenge was begun in 1978.

The 1980s marked a time of much departmental activity. Physically, the department moved into the new Creative Arts Complex (later named McComas Hall after the supportive president) where there was room for offices, classes, and a modern (but unfinished) theatre. Lack of funding support led to the demise of the debate program.

In 1982, Dr. Hickson succeeded Dr. Dudley as the second department head.

Much time, energy, and optimism were directed toward obtaining a master’s program in Communication during the 1980s. Favorable reports from internal and external evaluators and strong support by the dean and president led to the expectation that the program would be approved in 1985. Hopes were dashed, however, when the state college board ruled that the program would be duplicative, and thus it would not be approved.

During this time, the department became the beneficiary of a memorial fund honoring an illustrious MSU alumnus, Turner Catledge, former editor of the New York Times. Funds have made scholarships, travel and conference support, and computer labs available. The department’s course offerings were significantly increased by the 1986 core curriculum revision, requiring all graduates to successfully complete a public speaking course.

In 1987, Dr. Hill became the third department head.

Faculty of the department continued to be active in community and university affairs. Faculty members were frequent guest lecturers across the campus and were in much demand for speeches and workshops. Departmental partnerships were very evident with the majors in Broadcast Meteorology in Geology and Geography (now the Department of Geosciences), Agricultural Communications through the College of Agriculture, and Speech Education and Sports Communication with the College of Education. The relationship with the University Television Center also was very integrated, and in 1988 a partnership was formed with the department and UTC sharing faculty and facilities. Dr. Jeffrey E. Elwell (Ph.D., Southern Illinois University) succeeded Dr. Cunetto as director of the Theatre concentration, and offerings were greatly expanded.

The 1990s were marked with growth in majors, primarily in the concentrations of Public Relations and Broadcasting. There has been a substantial change in personnel since that time. Curriculum and activities have reflected the changes in personnel and in the field. The technological challenges present in the world are reflected in the department.

In 1996, Dr. Marian Huttenstine (Ph.D., University of North Carolina) became the fourth department head.

The department has long held a seat on the Student Publications Committee, which advises the student newspaper and yearbook. Faculty have consistently provided informal advice upon request. In 1998, the department assumed a formal advisory position to The Reflector by reassigning half of a faculty position for this purpose. This formalized a long-standing cooperative relationship with the Division of Student Affairs. Although the department no longer has a direct relationship with the radio station, the department head chairs the Campus Broadcast Board.

In 2004, Dr. John E. Forde, APR, Fellow PRSA, (Ph.D., University of Southern Mississippi) became the fifth department head.

The Department of Communication continues to be an undergraduate department housed in the College of Arts & Sciences at the land-grant institution of Mississippi State University. It is a complex academic unit, offering a bachelor of arts degree in Communication. Students may choose concentrations in one or more of five areas: Communication Studies, Broadcasting, Journalism, Public Relations, and/or Theatre. There are currently approximately 600 majors in the department and hundreds of additional students served through partnership majors with other departments or as minors. Faculty also teach graduate students from other departments in split-level courses, and the department now offers numerous courses online.

Majors are required to take a core of 12 hours in basic departmental courses and approximately 33 hours of additional required courses within concentration(s). In addition, students must meet the requirements of the college and university.

In a typical semester, the department offers about 65 sections of courses targeted toward majors, in addition to the two general education classes listed below. This includes face-to-face courses, online sections offered to Distance and Meridian students, and split-level undergraduate-graduate classes combined and offered in various formats.

The department serves the university in numerous ways, including offering approximately 30 sections of Fundamentals of Public Speaking and Introduction to Communication each semester, providing theatre productions, and advising The Reflector, which is now widely distributed in print and online versions. The department also continues to enjoy a strong relationship with the Department of Geosciences through Broadcast Meteorology, Department of Kinesiology through Sport Studies, University Television Center, WMSV radio station, Center for Distance Education, Alumni Association, Foundation, Career Services, Registrar’s Office, Office of Admissions and Scholarships, and other units. Faculty additionally serve as leaders in academic, practitioner, and community organizations.

Approximately 30 graduate students from numerous additional programs are now served per semester through split-level sections of face-to-face and online sections. These graduate programs include Business Administration; Business Administration-Meridian; Community College Education; Earth and Atmospheric Sciences; Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion; Kinesiology; Psychology; Public Policy and Administration; and Unclassified. Some program administrators have begun encouraging their master’s students to pursue minors in Communication, and selected graduate students in other programs have undergraduate degrees in Communication from MSU.

In August of 2019, Dr. Terry Likes took over as Head of the Department when Dr. John Forde stepped down after fifteen years of dedicated service.

In 2021 the Public Relations program as awarded the Certification for Education in Public Relations. This made MSU the third SEC school to achieve such a distinction.
Also in 2021, the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning approved the Department of Communication adding a graduate program. The first classes roll out in 2022.
In 2021, we rolled out online programs in Public Relations and Communication & Media Studies.
The Department currently has 32 faculty/staff including 3 professors, 8 associate professors, 5 assistant professors, 12 instructors, 2 clinical assistant professors and 3 staff members.

(Last updated October 2021)

Reflections of Theatre MSU Video

Interviews with Dr. Dominic J. Cunetto (Theatre MSU Founder) and
Dr. E. Samuel Dudley (First Communication Department Head)
Announcement of Cunetto Scholarship
November 20, 2008