Speech faculty vote overwhelmingly for name change

Becky Bowman

School of Speech administrators have cleared the second-to-last hurdle toward changing the school’s name to the School of Communication.

Speech faculty voted 50-2 at a Monday meeting to recommend to Northwestern’s Board of Trustees that they change the school’s name at the next board meeting in June.

Speech Dean Barbara O’Keefe said she sent notice of the faculty vote to University President Henry Bienen and Provost Lawrence Dumas.

Changing the name to Communication could give the school a stronger edge in all its fields, O’Keefe said.

“All of our research indicates that it will make us more competitive,” she said. “The name ‘School of Speech’ gives people an inaccurate description of what kinds of programs the school offers.”

Outside of its arts-centered theatre, performance studies and dance programs, the school offers programs in science-based fields such as learning disabilities, speech and language pathologies, and audiology and hearing sciences.

The faculty’s decision to support the change comes after 18 months of discussions between administrators, faculty, students and alumni, O’Keefe said.

“I would say (the vote) was almost a party atmosphere,” O’Keefe said. “People were very excited and pleased.”

Speech senior John Broach, a member of O’Keefe’s advisory council, said he supports the name change.

“We have a long tradition of being one of the best schools of Communication in the country,” he said. “The name ‘School of Speech’ just doesn’t really represent all of our departments.”

Broach, a communications sciences and disorders major, said the school’s current name can be a stumbling block when confronting employers.

“For somebody like myself who is going out into a much more scientific field – people don’t know what ‘School of Speech’ means,” Broach said. “They kind of raise their eyebrows.”

Not everyone agrees with the change. Danny Erdberg, Speech sophomore, said the name ‘School of Communication’ has little to do with his major.

“I and most theatre majors I know think it’s a ridiculous idea,” Erdberg said. “‘The School of Speech’ name has so much credibility. It’s great – it’s a little old-fashioned, but we have (one of) the oldest performance studies departments in the country and one of the oldest theatre departments. We should be proud of our name.”

School of Communication was one of several names considered by school officials, including School of Communication and Dramatic Arts; and School of Communication, Media and Performing Arts.

The school’s name was last changed in 1920, from School of Oratory, when the school housed only a two-year program and before such departments as theatre, radio-TV-film and communication sciences and disorders were added.