Mission Statement

The central focus of communication study at Michigan State University is the description and scientific analysis of how human beings create, transmit, receive and respond to messages. Unlike disciplines, which only look at one part of this process, we seek to integrate our understanding of how these various elements relate to form the entire process of human communication.

The Department of Communication has for 35 years set the standard (consistently ranking in the top three departments nationally) by which departments of communication elsewhere judge their curriculum, their faculty, their students, and their scholarly productivity. It was created in the innovative context of the first major College of Communication and it has maintained its innovative stance in recent years. Our plan for the next decade is to retain the lead role in higher education in communication.

We live in an era of immense social and technological challenge. We face the information revolution, which, like the industrial revolution of the past century, is fundamentally reshaping major aspects of our global society. We witness increased ethnic conflict, major corporate restructuring, and increased health problems, particularly among youth at risk. Communication is central to confronting these challenges. How can we communicate to manage conflict, improve information flow, or persuade at-risk youth to engage in healthier behaviors?

As a department, we take a leadership role in understanding how we can communicate to meet these challenges. Through multidimensional excellence, we integrate teaching, research, and outreach activities in such a way that they focus on specific societal needs. Through our interaction with practitioners, students, and citizens we apply communication principles to societal problems.

Guiding Principles

As an academic unit of an AAU, land grant university, the Department of Communication believes that three core principles guide our mission. First, knowledge generation is vital to solving practical problems. Academics and practitioners rely on a common body of knowledge, which can be applied to pressing social concerns. Second, our research models should derive from empirically testable propositions that can be organized into theory tested through a practitioner-researcher partnership in natural settings where both parties learn from one another. Knowledge must adhere to the canons of scientific rigor, but gain added external validity by seeking confirmation in naturalistic contexts. Third, we value taking responsibility for initiating efforts to implement our research to serve society. Not only must our research products derive from practitioner input, but we must facilitate the actual implementation of knowledge, and listen to others' reactions to our efforts. We will use these principles as a foundation to integrate the three-fold traditional mission of academic units of teaching, research, and outreach.


Our teaching efforts will focus on communication theory and research with the goal of providing students with knowledge and skills sufficient to empower them to confront the important communication problems inherent in key social issues. Undergraduate work in communication helps students explain communication behavior and critically evaluate messages and media. In particular, the undergraduate program is intended to increase the student's (a) knowledge of causes and effects of communication behavior, (b) insights concerning ethical and aesthetic problems confronting communication practice, (c) ability to communicate effectively, and (d) skills in analyzing and diagnosing communication problems in pragmatic settings.

Our teaching is based on a behavioral, social scientific perspective. The beginning courses in our undergraduate sequence are designed to provide students with exposure to oral communication in all its infinite variety (e.g., interviewing, interpersonal relations, group decision making, negotiation). In our upper-level courses, our emphasis is on developing critical skills, especially those evolving from extensive writing experiences. At the end of their coursework, students will be skilled evaluators of communication who can work to improve communication in mediated, interpersonal, and organizational settings. The Department offers a variety of opportunities outside of the classroom setting that encourages students to collaborate with faculty and practitioners in intensive experiences such as research teams, internships, practicums, and governance of the Department. We provide students with the theoretical and technical expertise required of citizens in our society, as well as preparing them for various careers and post graduate education.

The Department's graduate teaching mission aims at the complementary objectives of knowledge generation and utilization, by applying research to pragmatic problems. We provide students with the theoretical, methodological, and substantive skills needed to conduct significant research about human communication processes and outcomes. The former objective is most germane to the MA. program, while the latter captures the thrust of the Ph.D program. Thus, the graduate program seeks to integrate applied approaches at the masters level and research approaches at the doctoral level.


Our research efforts focus on developing a rigorous, reliable body of knowledge about human communication. Faculty and students have been leaders in developing theoretical frameworks, which have guided the work of numerous scholars in the discipline. These efforts, and our identity, derive primarily from the scholarly efforts of our faculty in close collaboration with students on research teams. We have always been a leader in innovative research methods, both in the field of Communication and at Michigan State University.

External reference groups value us for our scholarship and the strength of the our Ph.D. recipients. The former has given us renown in the major journals, in our professional associations and at campuses across the country; the latter have diffused to other campuses and have been successful in a variety of ways. The faculty's research has been sufficiently heralded to bring recognition to the Department as an academic unit of high achievement. Several faculty- disproportionately more than most major institutions-move with renown in international circles, in their work with federal agencies as both researchers and consultants, and in the corporate world:

In accord with its commitment to the land grant philosophy, the Department seeks to disseminate knowledge about human communication to various institutions and clienteles within the larger society, and to conduct research of social import. Taken together, this scholarly and pedagogical outreach aims at improving the quality of our society's communicative environment and at contributing to the University's goal of increased internationalization of the curriculum, cultural sensitivity and diversity.

As an example of these innovative outreach activities the department has developed a core of experts in the area of health communication, who cut across the interpersonal, organizational, and mediated communication areas within our Department. At the interpersonal level, scholars in our Department are examining doctor-patient relationships. Other faculty members are working on research at the organizational level aimed at streamlining the delivery of health care services through large institutions. In the mediated area, a faculty group is developing a variety of communication campaigns to promote less risky health behaviors. The medical community cries out for a better understanding of communication issues and enhanced communication skills. We seek to bring our knowledge to the medical community by addressing the significance of the health challenges facing our society.

Underlying Values

While we focus on teaching, research, and outreach, they are not separate activities. Rather, they reflect the department's commitment to a set of core values related to curiosity, craft, centrality, and commonweal.

Curiosity. We are obsessed with ideas, with demonstrating their worth. We have investigated many issues and used many tools, some of which we have discarded; only the most worthy have we retained. In so doing, we adhere to our commitment to attain the most perfect realization of ourselves and our ideas, realizing that only those ideas that are honed by the sharpest tools will withstand the blunting criticisms of others.

Craft. We have always had a commitment to craft in this department. By craft we mean a set of techniques that permit disciplined inquiry. Our most explicit training in craft has been in quantitative methods, but it is perhaps not accidental that some of the most respected qualitative researchers in communication have also passed through our department. Particular techniques and methods have come and gone in the department, but always there has been a devotion to the use of techniques in the pursuit of knowledge that can withstand the most intense scrutiny.

Centrality. We have always believed we are at the core of our discipline and of our other activities, as well. We are essential to our stakeholders, others depend on us and what we do.

Commonweal. We have expended much effort, often unselfish, to preserve the good of the department, the university, and our discipline. Through these actions, we have demonstrated that we believe in things that are worthy of our unselfish support. We have performed, and will continue to perform, extraordinary service to our communities, our professional societies and to the shaping of Michigan State University as a unique institution in higher education.

In sum, the Department and its members are committed to continuing to integrate our teaching, research, and outreach activities in a manner that reflects our commitment to curiosity, craft, centrality, and the commonweal.

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