ANALYSIS: Profile - Gorney: never-say-die campus crusader. Although she single-handedly built Lehigh University’s PR program to prominence, Carole Gorney still isn’t satisfied. The struggle to validate public relations as a respected acade

Tucked away on 1,600 picturesque acres in Bethlehem, PA, less than two hours from New York City and Philadelphia, rests a small, private liberal arts college. While exuding a serene innocence, Lehigh University is not always so quiet. Just wander into the journalism department, find Carole Gorney and ask for her thoughts on PR education. Then get your pencil ready - class is in session.

Tucked away on 1,600 picturesque acres in Bethlehem, PA, less than two hours from New York City and Philadelphia, rests a small, private liberal arts college. While exuding a serene innocence, Lehigh University is not always so quiet. Just wander into the journalism department, find Carole Gorney and ask for her thoughts on PR education. Then get your pencil ready - class is in session.

Tucked away on 1,600 picturesque acres in Bethlehem, PA, less than

two hours from New York City and Philadelphia, rests a small, private

liberal arts college. While exuding a serene innocence, Lehigh

University is not always so quiet. Just wander into the journalism

department, find Carole Gorney and ask for her thoughts on PR education.

Then get your pencil ready - class is in session.



Gorney, co-recipient of the PRSA’s 1999 Outstanding Educator award, does

not mince words on the topic: ’The scrutiny and misperception of public

relations is a unique problem in academia that no other discipline

faces. No one challenges whether history, business or chemistry should

be studied. Yet we’ve had a faculty member formally condemn PR as ’a

discipline that teaches students to lie.’’



She continues: ’There’s a total misunderstanding that’s promulgated by

how PR is portrayed in the news, with stories of political spin, and in

the entertainment media. I’ve always been disturbed that the PR

character seems to be the joker, takes the brunt of the jokes or is just

plain dishonest. Did you see Spin City when they used a Thanksgiving

dinner to ’humanize the mayor’?’ She looks at her questioner with

complete exasperation, and one begins to understand just how tough it is

to teach PR in this ivory tower environment.



In spite of the perceptual hurdles, Gorney finds her program in growing

demand. In the past 18 months, the number of journalism majors declaring

PR as their concentration has risen from 19 to 52. But as a university

with an emphasis on small classes and close student-faculty interaction,

Lehigh has placed a cap on Gorney’s program. She remains the only

tenured professor in PR with no additional funding for adjunct

support.



Gorney explains that in many colleges the budget for the college or

department is based on the number of FTE (full-time equivalent) students

to allot tuition revenue. PR students are included in the census, but

the specific program never gets its fair share of funds. At Lehigh,

there’s no way in the college of journalism to reallocate resources when

a program becomes popular. One solution is to move the PR program

outside of the journalism department, which the University of Maryland

did in late 1998.



Since arriving at Lehigh in 1982, Gorney has sought to establish PR as a

distinguished major, but she says the university has repeatedly dragged

its feet on the issue. ’Before I had tenure, I was told it wouldn’t be

politically correct to award major status (to the program). It could

create opposition among the faculty, which might reflect poorly on the

department. I tried again after I gained tenure and was told to wait

until I was promoted to full professor. They’ve now run out of excuses,

but I’m still waiting.’



Gorney contends that this frustration impacts the students even

more.



’They’re so confused because they don’t know what to call themselves.

The latest description they identify is ’concentration majors’ of PR

within journalism.’



Amy Walts, president of Lehigh’s PRSSA chapter, says, ’It’s hard for us

to be recognized as a serious major or concentration because we’re

buried under the journalism name in the course catalog. The new

concentration will lead to more introductory classes so more students

can get exposed to it. But there’s only one Professor Gorney and she

already advises every student and teaches all the classes.’ Walts says

that more students (63) have joined the PRSSA chapter than those who

have declared the concentration.



Since helping to organize it, Gorney has guided the chapter to become

one of the nation’s largest and most respected, winning numerous

awards.



But Gorney’s contributions to PR don’t end at the campus gates. She is a

frequent contributor to trade publications and has penned articles on PR

for USA Today Magazine, Forbes Media Critic, the New York State Bar

Journal and other publications.



Gorney won Fulbright scholarships in 1991 and 1997, and each time she

went to universities in China, which she has visited five times.



There she lectured on American business and media, and once submitted a

paper to the China International Public Relations Association entitled,

’Why China Needs Public Relations.’



Gorney earned her BA at the University of Albuquerque and immediately

pursued her graduate degree in radio, television and broadcast writing

from Northwestern University. From there she returned to Albuquerque to

join the local ABC affiliate and was promoted from a reporter to

producer on her way to becoming an anchor.



Her life took an unexpected turn in 1968 when she was ’literally hired

away’ to work for the New Mexico Department of Hospitals & Institutions

as its director of public affairs. Gorney credits this experience as her

indoctrination into PR. She did a stint managing labor relations for one

of the hospitals and spent two years as the administrator of a federal

de-institutionalization program for the developmentally disabled. Gorney

hired a team of therapists to visit small communities statewide to

provide various social services.



In the interim, she freelanced as a writer, photographer and PR pro

until 1976, when she went to Israel for a year to work on a kibbutz. ’It

was an investigative reporting trip to see for myself the political and

social problems, the division among the sects and to examine my

Christian roots.’



Gorney then began her academic career at her alma mater by heading the

department of PR, marketing and alumni affairs. By 1982 she was ready

for a bigger challenge, and wanted to be ’closer to an ocean rather than

the desert.’ She pursued an opening for a teaching position at Lehigh

University and embarked upon her new career as an outspoken PR

advocate.



Gorney has witnessed many changes in PR education over the years. ’We

have evolved from when a journalism degree was sufficient. Students now

have a menu of choices among publicity, issues management, crisis

communications and so forth. But we still have a long way to go. There

needs to be more emphasis on business, marketing, government policy and

specialty practices. In fact, PR is making its way out of journalism

programs into the colleges of business or arts and sciences,’ she

explains.



As long as Carole Gorney is among those educators working to advance the

PR discipline, it’s a safe bet that these changes will be realized.



But they won’t come quietly.





CAROLE GORNEY - Public relations professor Lehigh University



1968: Director of public affairs, New Mexico Dept. of Hospitals &

Institutions



1974: Program administrator, Los Lunas Hospital & Training School,

NM



1979: Head of PR, marketing and alumni affairs, University of

Albuquerque



1982: Joins faculty at Lehigh University



1996: Full professor, Lehigh University.



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