Speech dean considers giving school new name

Rani Gupta

Administrators are considering changing the name of the School of Speech to reflect the expanded curriculum and focus of the school.

Speech Dean Barbara O’Keefe is leading an effort to incorporate the word “communications” in the school’s title.

O’Keefe said on Thursday that the current name does not reflect the complexities of the school, which encompasses departments of theater, communication studies and disorders, and radio/television/film.

“(The current name) conveys a very old-fashioned image and implies that we have a very limited range of subjects, more limited than we actually do,” O’Keefe said.

She said the current name “hurts faculty when they compete for grants, it hurts students when they compete for jobs, and it hurts the university when we compete for freshman admissions.”

O’Keefe said Northwestern’s School of Speech lags behind other colleges, which have changed their names to reflect a focus on computer-based and visual-communication aspects of the curriculum.

“Everyone else has already done it,” she said. “It’s been a national trend over the last 25 years. We’re one of the very last not to do something everyone else has considered necessary because of the changing nature of the field.”

The five names being considered are: School of Communication; School of Communication and Dramatic Arts; School of Communication and Performing Arts; School of Communication, Media and Dramatic Arts; and School of Communication, Media and Performing Arts.

University President Henry Bienen said the current name does not reflect the school’s scope and modernity.

“It’s a somewhat archaic name,” Bienen said. “I think some folks think it’s not really descriptive of a lot of the cutting-edge work, teaching and research that goes on in the school.”

But Bienen also recognized the attachment to the current name.

“Whenever you change something like that, you probably make some folks unhappy,” he said. “You’re getting rid of something that’s been around a long time, that was there when they were there, and they identify with it.”

O’Keefe has been consulting students and alumni about the name change and will meet with faculty over the summer. She hopes to be able to make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees on the faculty’s behalf in the fall.

The school adopted the name “School of Speech” in 1920. It previously was called the School of Oratory and offered only a two-year certificate in oratory.

Communication studies Prof. Irv Rein said that in the 30 years he has taught at NU, there have been two major movements to change the school’s name.

One attempt took place in the early 1980s, but Rein said there was “not a lot of support” for the idea.

In 1991, Rein headed a committee that studied the school’s future. The committee recommended that the school change its name, but the proposition was tabled.

“No one was satisfied with the (name) School of Speech anymore,” Rein said. “But no one could agree on a new name.”

Rein said the faculty agreed on the use of “communications,” but said faculty wanted too many department names included in the title.

“Everyone wanted to add ‘and’ to represent their specialty and it became a political issue,” he said. “But I don’t think that’s true anymore.”

Speech students recognized the merit of both arguments.

“It’s a good name,” said Austin Harvey, a Speech freshman. “But if you’re looking to name a school, you might as well be forthright. If you look at the majors, they’re all communications-based.”

But Speech junior Gary Ashwal said he prefers the school’s current title to the proposed names.

“I dig it. It has a nice ring to it,” he said. “The other names are long and complicated and I don’t see the point in changing it.”