Moving the Academic Needle at MSU: 28 New Faculty Join Communication Arts & Sciences

At a previous university, I called the university’s press officer with the exciting news that we had just hired a new chaired professor. She responded immediately, saying: “Bill. ‘University hires a new faculty member’ is not news.” Granted, that is indeed what we do.

But hiring twenty-eight to thirty new faculty – yes, 28-30, depending on whether some early hires are counted – is really news in my opinion. Certainly in my career. All are joining departments of the College of Communication Arts & Sciences at Michigan State University this Fall. This caps an incredible year of recruitment that is certain to move the College and its departments up the ranks of their respective fields.

And this is not simply a story about numbers. They are an amazingly diverse set of strong academics joining the College. I will list them below. But take just a few stellar examples of faculty joining my Department of Media and Information – major, senior faculty, who on their own terms will lift our department in stature and impact: Keith Hampton, Natascha Just, and David Ewoldsen.

Keith N. Hampton joined the Department of Media and Information from Rutgers University, where he was the Endowed Professor in Communication and Public Policy and Co-Chair of the Social Media & Society Cluster in the School of Communication and Information, and an affiliate member of the graduate faculty in the Department of Sociology. Keith received his Ph.D. and M.A. in sociology from the University of Toronto, and a B.A. in sociology from the University of Calgary. Before joining the faculty that Rutgers, he was an assistant professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and Assistant Professor of Technology, Urban and Community Sociology & Class of ’43 Chair in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From his doctoral thesis onward, he has done seminal work on the role of new communication technologies in shaping community.

Natascha Just, an economist, whose research centers on innovation-inducnatascha-just-new-verted media change, such as on changing governance structures, competition policy, market power control, algorithms and platforms in the communication sector. She will join us from the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where Mag. Dr. Natascha Just has been a Senior Research and Teaching Associate in the Division on Media Change & Innovation, Institute of Mass Communication and Media Research (IPMZ) at the University of Zurich. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication Science (2001) from the University of Vienna. She was the recipient of a three year Hertha Firnberg Grant from the Austrian National Science Fund and worked as Hertha Firnberg Scholar at the Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Austria (2005-2008). She has also held visiting appointments at a number of US institutions, including Stanford Law School (2007), the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California (2004-2005), among other appointments.

David R. Ewoldsen joins the Department of Media and Information at MSU from The Ohio State University, where he was also a Professor in the School of Communication and Department of Psychology (courtesy appoint). He was serving as the Associate Director of the School of Communication and Director of Undergraduate Studies (since 2012). David received a joint Ph.D. in psycScreen Shot 2016-08-20 at 11.24.39hology and speech communication at Indiana University in 1990. After completing his Ph.D., he was a postdoctoral fellow in the cognitive sciences program at Vanderbilt University (1990-1991). He brings several research programs with him, including a long-standing program of research on ‘attitude accessibility’, for which he is clearly among the leading researchers. His work is focused primarily on the study of attitude and behavior change in the areas of health and race.

Also from OSU’s School of Communication, but joining the College’s Department of Advertising + Public Relations, is Associate Professor Nancy Rhodes. Nancy has a background in social psychology and is focused on health behavioral researchRhodes_Nancy-Photo1-938ef04ddea1266eeefd27af016d97e1-160x160, one of the College’s strategic areas for development. For example, she was the principal investigator on a recent large-scale ($700K plus) study of communication initiatives designed to reduce risky driving behavior.

Internationally, in addition to Professor Just, in the Department of Media and Information, as noted above, take Dr Tai-Quan (Winson) Peng, who has joined the Communication Department as an Associate Professor. I have frequently cited his work with Jonathan Zhu and others in the Web MininWinson_Peng_entryg Lab at the City University of Hong Kong, as being among the most insightful uses of data analytics to document the burgeoning growth of social science research on the Internet.

But please take a look at the full list (with apologies for anyone I’ve neglected to note):

Advertising and Public Relations

Bree Holtz coming from MSU; Nancy Rhodes coming from Ohio State University; Kjerstin Thorson coming from University of Southern California; Morgan Ellithorpe coming from University of Pennsylvania; Joseph Steinhardt coming from Cornell University; plus three Professors of Practice, focused on teaching roles, Ross Chowles, Louis Schiavone, and Gregory Taucher.

Department of Communication

Ralf Schmaelzle coming from University of Pennsylvania; Allison Eden coming from MSU; and Winson Peng coming from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Department of Journalism

Brendan Watson coming from University of Minnesota; Esther Thorson coming from University of Missouri; Rachel Mourao coming from University of Texas at Austin; and three Professors of Practice, Amy Haimerl, Michael Castellucci, and Richard Epps.

Department of Media & Information

Keith Hampton coming from Rutgers University; Natascha Just coming from University of Zurich, Switzerland; Elizabeth LaPensée coming from University of Minnesota; David Ewoldsen coming from Ohio State University; and four Professors of Practice, Jeremy Bond, John Valadez, Carleen Hsu, Ricardo Guimares.

Also, in the Quello Center, which is a center within the Department of Media and Information, our Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dr Bianca Reisdorf, has been recruited to stay at MSU as the Assistant Director of the Quello Center and an Assistant Professor in the Department. More on Professor Reisdorf and all of our faculty in due course.

So, this caps a very remarkable year for recruitment in MSU’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences. Thanks to Dean Prabu David and the leadership within the departments, the College was able to create an initiative to make a step jump in its faculty ranks. In academia, this must be one of those developments that promises to move the needle for the College and our field and in my opinion, be newsworthy!

What Meetings Should Academics Avoid?

Colleagues will tell you not to waste your time blogging, or spending too much time doing this or that, but few ever tell you not to waste your time in meetings. In fact, they ask you to come to meetings all the time, and seldom if ever advise you not to attend a meeting, however problematic the topic or the expected likelihood of a meaningful discussion. Seeing my own colleagues on the meeting treadmill, largely of their own making, I thought I should give some unsolicited advice to the blogosphere of academics who need to have some framework for deciding what meetings to avoid.

So here are my preliminary thoughts on how to think about (avoiding) meetings that are unnecessary or otherwise a waste of time for academics on the publish, have impact, and perish road to promotion. But there are also some general rules:

  1. You can always say ‘no’ to being on a committee or taking on an administrative assignment. No competent administrator who understands scholarship would fault you.
  1. Leave as much governance and administration as possible to senior faculty, who have been promoted.
  1. Teaching trumps research, when teaching loads are reasonable. Research trumps administration and administrative meetings.
  1. Good citizenship is important, but citizenship does not overcome weak teaching or research.

That said, here is a framework to help you think about what meetings you might avoid:


Type of Meeting
Administrative Training Networking Research
Unavoidable, unless Conflicting with Higher Priority, e.g., field research, teaching Faculty Meetings; Review with Head of Unit; Required (increasing in number) Social Events for Colleagues; Introducing Yourself or Your Work to Colleagues Presentations or Evaluations of your Work; Meet to Solve a Problem or Assign Work
Avoidable, but Go Retreats, Away Days, Meetings You Call, Meetings that could talk about you or your work Topic or Skill or Procedure you Want to Learn Coffee or tea with a colleague; Meal or drinks with 2-5 colleagues Seminars, Lectures, Roundtables, Coordination of Research Projects
Should or Must Avoid Long Faculty Meetings; Routine Meetings w/o Important Items; Large Meetings Efforts of Administrators to Save Their Time; Cover Their Backside Meeting to Impress Colleagues; Talk about Other Colleagues Top Down Efforts to Promote Collaboration

I’m sure that many will disagree with my advice, or have better ideas or frameworks, so I’d like to hear them. Meeting overload is a real problem.

Ways of Being in the Digital Age: A New ESRC Project

Delighted to be on the Advisory Board of a new ESRC Project, entitled ‘Ways of Being in a Digital Age: A Systematic Review’.

The project is led by the Institute of Cultural Capital at the University of Liverpool in collaboration with 17 other partner Universities and organizations. It is a scoping review designed to inform potential future ESRC initiatives in this area.

This scoping review will focus on how digital technology mediates our lives, and of the way technological and social change co-evolve and impact on each other. The project will undertake: a Delphi review of expert opinion; a systematic literature review; and an overall synthesis to identify gaps in current research. The project will also run a programme of events to build and extend networks among the academic community, other stakeholders and potential funding partners. The project pulls together an impressive interdisciplinary research team with experience in running digital projects with partners across the social sciences, arts and humanities, engineering, physical sciences and health, representing 16 universities from the UK, EU, USA and Singapore. The core team of co-investigators from eight UK universities will provide expertise across a range of social science, arts, engineering and science backgrounds. The team also includes a broader international steering group, of which I am a member.  th-1

Its initial plans are to focus on seven domains:

  1. Citizenship and politics
  2. Communities and identities
  3. Communication and relationships
  4. Health and wellbeing
  5. Economy and sustainability
  6. Data and representation
  7. Governance and securityth

For each domain the project will undertake:

  • A Delphi panel review of international experts’ opinions on the state of the art in digital facing social research.
  • A ‘concept mapping’ of identified literature using digital humanities tools
  • A systematic review of a sample of the literature
  • Engagement events with non-academic stakeholders from the public and private sectors
  • An assessment of the theory and methods applied in each domain

The project will also conduct a feedback questionnaire on the findings, run workshops throughout, and hold sessions at a number of international conferences. The project will conclude with a symposium to feedback the findings and to discuss the future of digital research in the social sciences.

More details on the project are available online at:  But as time passes, just search for Ways of Being in the Digital Age, as we do.



Feelings? A Note to Students

Note to Students: Don’t Tell Me How You Feel

Far too often, when I am reading an undergraduate student paper, José Neto’s lyrics come to mind: ‘Feelings … nothing more than feelings, …”.

I truly don’t want to hurt a student’s feelings, but I have to tell them time and again that I am not really interested in reading about how they feel. Please show me what you know about the topic and how you view the topic in a structured way and on the basis of your reading of the literature, empirical evidence, logic, ethical principles, or any other approach to analysis.

What is leading so many students to center their essays on how they feel about any given topic? Perhaps it is watching television interviews in which journalists or media personalities often ask people how they feel about a candidate, an issue, or an event. But I also sense that many instructors might be encouraging students to express themselves by asking them to write about their feelings. This is an easy ask: How do you feel about any given topic is something that requires no research, no analytical perspective. But surely this is a mistake to invite students to write in a way that frees them from reasoned analysis or critical thinking.

The ability of a student to critically address a question by drawing from literature, evidence, and a variety of analytical perspectives, is one of the fundamental skills and habits that should be instilled by a college education. It would be tragic if we reinforced a tendency for students to simply express their feelings, primarily because it was an effective means to encourage them to write. It might be that teaching writing skills in general, without writing being taught in the context of a substantive course, makes it difficult for the instructors to lead students to appropriate evidence and perspectives. It is undoubtedly important for instructors in all courses to constantly think of their role in teaching students how to write about the subject matter of their courses. feelings-morris_albert_ly

Nothing more than feelings might work in a song, but not in conveying knowledge, questionning conventional wisdom, or writing a substantive term paper. Therefore, I sometimes shock my students by telling them – gently but clearly − that I am not interested in how they feel about the topic of their papers.

Am I wrong?

Killings Can Be Information (or Procedural) Disasters

In the aftermath of a rash of murders captured on mobile smartphones, and mass shootings of civilians and police officers, debate has focused on assigning blame. Videos from mobile smartphones provide some evidence for fueling such debate over who should be held responsible for any killing of a civilian or police officer. And these discussions most often move into a broader debate over major societal issues, such as institutional racism or mental healthcare, and policy issues, such as gun control. All these debates could be valuable and often constructive, and must take place. However, I seldom, if ever, hear discussions of procedural problems that led to what might be called a ‘information’ or ‘procedural’ disaster – that is, misinformation, or lack of information, or practices, that might have enabled the disaster (the killing) to unfold as it did.

Think back to airline hijackings. These could be viewed broadly, such as around issues of international relations and terrorism, but also, the analysis of these events can focus on procedures at airports and on airlines that can minimize the potential for a hijacking to take place. The changes in information gathered, and the procedures at airports and on planes post-hijacking episodes and post-9/11 are well known, and arguably have had a cumulative impact on reducing risks. But I don’t hear analogous discussions of mass shootings and other killings, even when there is video evidence, however limited, and many eyewitnesses in some cases. Perhaps the analysis of procedures is going on behind the scenes, but unbeknownst to me.

This comes to mind because of earlier research I explored around what we called ‘information disasters’.* We originally defined these disasters around the use of information technologies and telecommunications, such as when the USS Vincennes shot down a domestic Iran Air Flight 655 ascending in the Persian Gulf on 3 July 1987, mistaking it for an Iranian F-14 fighter descending towards the ship.

What most impressed me about the study of such disasters was the meticulous investigation of the unfolding events that led to each disaster. These studies often led to lessons that could be learned, such as practices or procedures could be changed.

This kind of study is not new. Our discussions often referred back to a long history of efforts to investigate accidents involving trains. Every train wreck, for example, is examined in great detail to determine what procedures, technical changes, or training could be implemented to avoid a similar type of disaster not only in the same location, but system wide. Train wrecks still occur, often with horrific consequences, but each incident can lead to changes that make the next incident less likely to occur.

It might well be possible to study these very unique circumstances surrounding each killing or mass shooting with a greater focus on addressing lessons learned about obtaining better and more timely information, or instituting new procedures or practices that would prevent a repeat of the sequence of events that led to particular disasters. One thing we learned from our review of a number of well-known information disasters was that they usually entailed many things going wrong. This does not mean that solutions are hopeless. To the contrary, if some problems can be fixed, many of these disasters might not have occurred.

I certainly would encourage more discussion of these issues, as they might be more successful than focusing on bigger and more long-term changes in society. Apologies if this is blindingly obvious, but I am not seeing the discussion that should be taking place.


Dutton, W. H., MacKenzie, D., Shapiro, S., and Peltu, M. (1995), Computer Power and Human Limits: Learning from IT and Telecommunication Disasters. Policy Research Paper No. 33. Uxbridge: PICT, Brunel University.

Peltu, M., MacKensie, D., Shapiro, S., and Dutton, W. H. (1996), ‘Computer Power and Human Limits’, pp. 177-95 in Dutton, W. H. (ed), Information and Communication Technologies – Visions and Realities. Oxford: Oxford University Press.