Speech school updates image with new name

Elaine Helm

After more than two years of discussion, Northwestern’s Board of Trustees in June approved the School of Speech’s name change to the School of Communication.

School officials had just three months to print new letterheads, redesign the school’s Web site and notify nearly 15,000 alumni.

“It’s a slow process, as you can imagine,” said Mary Kate Barley-Jenkins, a spokesperson for the School of Communication. “We’re still combing Web sites to find out where (the School of Communication) still exists as School of Speech.”

Barbara O’Keefe, the school’s dean since July 2000, said feedback about the name change has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s been 90 percent positive,” she said. “Everyone has felt for some time that the name didn’t really communicate what the school was all about.”

O’Keefe said most negative comments came from alumni who were attached to the school’s former name, which it went by for more than 80 years.

Joining the minority who disliked the change, Communication senior Jeff Kleinman said the school lost its distinction by taking a name similar to schools across the country.

“School of Speech kind of misrepresents all the majors within the school,” Kleinman admitted. “But I think School of Speech was a name that was recognizable outside Northwestern.”

Before becoming the School of Speech in 1921, the school was known as the School of Oratory and offered only a two-year program. But, O’Keefe said, “by 1920 the program had really grown and become too diverse to fit under that name.”

The decision to switch from School of Speech to School of Communication was made for a similar reason. Since becoming the School of Speech, the school added the Radio/Television/Film, and communication sciences and disorders programs. In recent years, officials recognized that “speech” didn’t accurately represent the school’s focus and started considering a change.

“(Communication) more directly identifies what we offer,” Barley-Jenkins said.

Communication senior Sarah Fleisch agreed, saying people are more likely to identify her major, communication studies, with the new name.

“I think it’s lost some of the tradition, but that doesn’t bother me much,” she said. “When you said School of Speech, (people outside of NU) didn’t know what that meant.”

Fleisch said she also appreciated the level of dialogue preceding the change within the school and the university.

“I would say there was good communication with the students throughout the process,” she said.

The school also considered becoming the School of Communication and Dramatic Arts or the School of Communication, Media and Performing Arts. In the end, the decision to go with School of Communication came down to simplicity, Barley-Jenkins said.

According to the school’s research, NU’s School of Speech was the last of its name in the country.

With the change, Barley-Jenkins said the school will emphasize its offerings in both the arts and sciences of communication.