THE FUTURE OF PR EDUCATION: A recent report has laid out guidelines for curricula in undergraduate, graduate, continuing and distance PR education. Experts say the study is a good start but may not go far enough. Steve Lilienthal and Ana Vargas investigat

Nearly a half-century ago, PR educators Scott Cutlip and Allen Center wrote that university-level training in PR was ’young, ill-defined and experimental.’

Nearly a half-century ago, PR educators Scott Cutlip and Allen Center wrote that university-level training in PR was ’young, ill-defined and experimental.’

Nearly a half-century ago, PR educators Scott Cutlip and Allen

Center wrote that university-level training in PR was ’young,

ill-defined and experimental.’

PR education’s come a long way, as the profession has, but many feel it

must strive to be better. A recently released report, ’A Port of Entry,’

by the Commission on Public Relations Education insists that PR training

must ’grow in sophistication throughout the 21st century,’ adding,

’Public relations as an academic discipline should be equal in status to

professionally-oriented academic programs in journalism, marketing,

advertising, law and medicine.’

And there is good reason. The report identifies a looming crisis -

finding young practitioners with the strategic and tactical skills

needed to meet the rising demand for public relations in the 21st


A portal to the industry

Bolstering PR education will not only help produce better-trained

practitioners but solidify PR’s own professional status. Glen Broom of

San Diego State University finds significance in the report’s title,

which comes from Clark Kerr, the former chancellor of the University of

California at Berkeley, who believed that ’a profession gains its

identity by making the university a port of entry.’

The report is packed with recommendations for PR education, including

topics such as distance education and the need for greater industry


University of Maryland PR professor Jim Grunig, a veteran of several

reports on PR education, notes that this one ’does a good job of

examining the purpose of PR education and why it’s important to the

profession.’ He also credits it with better defining outcomes in terms

of skills employers could expect graduates to hold.

The report is the product of 47 practitioners and educators,

representing eight academic and professional communications societies

and associations.

Commission members admit that there was much internal politicking in

developing the study, but consensus was the end result. Ketchum public

affairs president John Paluszek and Dean Kruckeberg of the University of

Northern Iowa are widely credited with pushing to achieve that


But while there was agreement about the report in the end, several of

the commissioners believe its recommendations do not go far enough. And

much of the tension centers on the conflict between practice and theory

(including research).

For undergraduates, the report ’ideally’ calls for seven courses to

comprise the basic PR curriculum (currently it’s five), while urging

that at least 60% of a student’s time be spent in liberal arts courses.

The report also encourages a dual-major or minor in another field,

though it does not mandate the additional course of study.

’The objective is to provide a liberal education at the university

level’ while still providing a sophisticated grounding in PR, says

Larissa A. Grunig, a professor at the University of Maryland.

Graduate education is also examined, and academics such as Don Wright of

the University of South Alabama and Bill Adams of Florida International

University, expect that the master’s in PR will become increasingly

important. As Wright notes, undergraduate programs cannot adequately

teach all that’s needed to know about strategic PR. Plus, the status of

PR education and the profession is tied to advanced learning; San Jose

State University’s Dennis Wilcox asserts that PR education will gain

stature when there are more alumni from PR programs and more

practitioners return for masters’ degrees.

The report places more emphasis on graduate students obtaining knowledge

of disciplines such as accounting, marketing and finance. Wilcox says he

thinks there will be more moves ’toward cooperation with schools of

business and multidisciplinary programs. But integrating will be

difficult because of the bias against business schools that many

journalism colleagues hold.’ And, as Ball State University’s Melvin

Sharpe notes, often the business schools are not welcoming to PR. Sharpe

worries that if absorbed into business schools, PR will lose its strong

ethical orientation.

A doctor of PR

The report also emphasizes that having more doctorate holders in PR can

’add to the body of public relations knowledge’ and increase the ability

to gear undergraduate and graduate programs around the discipline. San

Diego State’s Broom contends that ’the real limit to implement the kinds

of programs discussed in the report is the number of qualified

educators.’ Candidates for faculty positions either have good academic

credentials or have practical experience, rarely both. Getting the right

mix of teachers is difficult, he says.

The creators of the report surveyed both practitioners and


Larissa Grunig notes that the commission found ’there is not a big gap

between what the industry wants and what PR educators would like to

provide.’ That goes against the common wisdom that says practitioners

are cynical about the theoretical posturing of much PR teaching.

Practitioners may call for PR training to be more practical, but at the

same time it must survive in the academic atmosphere. Too often, Broom

says, PR has sought exemptions from traditional academic standards. ’It

backfired on us just like it has for others in professional education

who tried the same tactic,’ he says. The report seeks to remedy that by

urging research that can have long-range consequences rather than

’information that has the shelf life of an avocado,’ in Broom’s words.

But that might take effort in learning to work with practitioners and

finding out what kind of research can be done that is academic in nature

and yet ultimately useful.

Several commission members accept the report but hold bolder (though

differing) views about how PR should be taught.

’The report achieved advancement and went as far as it could go

politically,’ says Ball State’s Sharpe. ’But at some point, if PR

education is to accomplish what needs to be done in the preparation of

top-level PR managers and counselors, it will need to be in independent

schools or programs.’

Sharpe sees journalism and communications schools exerting dominance

over PR education, paying no heed to what he views to be the

profession’s primary mission - being the independent ’corporate

conscious.’ He thinks PR should establish its own program outside the

shadow of both disciplines - which must have been a difficult thing to

say given that many commission members are affiliated with journalism or

communications departments or schools.

Sharpe urges, as does the commission, having PR courses - even ones on

campaigns and research - with ’public relations’ in the title because

’it encourages university administrators and faculties to develop

criteria for employment that relate to the courses.’ Too often now, he

says, professors with little understanding or interest in PR are drafted

to teach courses.

A marketing approach to PR

Clarke Caywood, chair of Northwestern University’s integrated marketing

program, sees PR’s value in terms of its breadth and certainly sees a

place for ethics. But he argues that PR should take a more

marketing-oriented approach, urging its integration with other

communications fields to promote organizations and products.

Caywood insists such integration makes sense from the standpoint of

academic resources as well as the marketplace. Many of the methodologies

used by PR are shared by advertising and marketing. Therefore,

increasing the number of undergraduate courses taught under the label of

PR, as the report recommends, may not pass muster with budget-conscious

deans who would rather have broad courses that can include students from

several disciplines.

’The reality of greater opportunity for shared resources, more balanced

students, industry support and faculty growth will become evident

through integration,’ Caywood says.

’The commission will have served a basic purpose in telling us what the

details of a PR education should be. However, the implementation of the

report will take a more practical and market-based approach,’ he


Two other commission members, Bill Adams and Don Wright, favor providing

students with a broader orientation. Adams says he is positive about the

report, but does believe that ’not all students graduating with a PR

degree will get PR jobs. We need to make students well-rounded in

marketing, journalism and other areas.’

South Alabama’s Wright admits, ’It would be unrealistic to expect all

the guidelines to be achieved.’ But, he sees the recommendations as a

siren call to raise the standards and quality of PR education. That is

why Wright says more work needs to be done on educating practitioners

about the importance of PR education.

A value to PR education?

Broom notes that many in PR still have the mind-set that since they

didn’t study it in college others don’t need to either. But he insists

there is value to the report’s recommendation that more support for PR

education be forthcoming from the practitioners. PR professionals

without academic grounding, he says, will ’spend their lives

experiencing a lifetime of epiphanies that a student in a good

undergraduate program learns in the curriculum.’

The report urges greater involvement by the PR industry in terms of

financing joint academic-agency research projects, chairs at

universities, contributions to colleges and more student internships.

Most have been lacking.

’There are people in the business and in the leadership of PR who do not

take the time to think what will be happening in the industry during the

next 10 to 20 years,’ remarks commission member Barbara Hines, chair of

Howard University’s journalism department. ’You can count on one hand

the number of agencies interested in education.’

Yet, these education experts argue, practitioners who ignore PR

education do so at their industry’s peril, particularly if they want PR

to gain that seat at the decision-making table. Larissa Grunig says she

thinks that PR is starting to respond to the needs of educators as they

realize how difficult it is to find and retain good employees.

The commission intends to remain active, urging implementation of its

suggestions. But the question looms: will the commission’s

recommendations be taken up, or will the report become academia’s

version of a coffee-table book: great for display but receiving only a

few passing glances?



University: School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Florida

International University

Position: Associate professor William Adams doesn’t view himself as a

researcher, though he has produced his share of papers on the

interaction between practitioners and educators.

Adams focuses on the practical side of PR education, using his

experience working in corporations for over 25 years. At the urging of

Scott Cutlip, his professor at the University of Wisconsin, Adams took a

PR internship at Standard Oil and hasn’t looked back since. He served as

PR director for Phillips Petroleum Co. in 1978 and moved to ICI Americas

in 1988.

Adams has served on numerous boards, including the Public Affairs

Council, and is chair-elect of the PRSA’s Educators Academy.


University: School of Communication, San Diego State University

Position: Professor/communication

coordinator, advertising and public relations majors

Through co-authoring the sixth, seventh and eighth editions of a classic

PR textbook, Effective Public Relations, with respected veteran

educators Scott Cutlip and Allen Center, Glen Broom is a well-known

name. He was also an early exponent of research. He worked in PR and

advertising before earning his Ph.D. in mass communication at the

University of Wisconsin.

Then, he oversaw UW’s public relations course offerings. Since the late

1970s, he has been on the faculty of San Diego State University,

recognized as one of the best PR programs in the country. He has

authored over 35 articles and papers. The PRSA named Broom ’Outstanding

Educator’ in 1991.


University: Northwestern University

Position: Associate professor/chair, Integrated Marketing Communications


One of the foremost experts on integrated communications, Clarke Caywood

blends an academic background with practical experience in politics - he

served as an assistant to a former governor and a former attorney

general in Wisconsin. Caywood holds a joint doctorate in business and

advertising from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a graduate

degree in public affairs/public relations from the University of Texas

at Austin. He taught at several Wisconsin schools before landing at

Northwestern, where he now chairs the integrated marketing

communications department at its Medill School of Journalism. He is the

editor of The Handbook of Strategic Public Relations & Integrated



University: College of Arts and Humanities, University of Maryland

Position: Professor, Department of Communication

A disciple of pioneer PR educator Scott Cutlip, James Grunig (with his

wife, Larissa Grunig) spearheaded the PR graduate program at the

University of Maryland’s College of Journalism; in 1996 US News & World

Report rated it the top such program in the country. But campus politics

necessitated a move to Maryland’s arts & humanities school (the

journalism dean wanted to eliminate the undergraduate PR program).

Grunig has co-authored two books, Managing Public Relations and Public

Relations Techniques. All told, he has 175 published works to his

credit, ranging from co-authoring books to writing book chapters and

papers. The PRSA named Grunig its ’Outstanding Educator’ in 1989.


University: College of Arts and Humanities, University of Maryland

Position: Associate professor, Department of Communication

Known for stressing the importance of research, Larissa Grunig is a

founding co-editor of the Journal of Public Relations Research. Grunig

has over 100 published works to her credit, examining topics such as PR,

focus group methodology and communication theory and research. She has

lectured widely overseas to university and professional audiences, and

was the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s 1996 visiting eminent


She is an active member of both the National Capital and Maryland

chapters of the PRSA. A member of the University of Maryland’s faculty

for over 20 years, Grunig was named PRSA’s ’Outstanding Educator’ in



University: School of Communications, Howard University

Position: Chair, Dept. of Journalism Barbara Hines is a great mentor and

an energetic teacher and booster of the profession. Hines has worked as

a press secretary for former US senator Ralph W. Yarborough (D-TX) and

taught journalism in Maryland high schools. She later joined the faculty

of the University of Maryland’s College of Journalism before going to

Howard in 1984. The PRSA named her ’Outstanding Educator’ in 1999. ’My

great-est success has been to watch my former students develop as

individuals, scholars and practitioners,’ she says. One former student,

now on Howard’s faculty, is Rochelle Tillery-Larkin, who served on the

committee that drew up the PRSA’s 2000-2004 strategic plan.


University: Syracuse University

Position: Chair, Public Relations Department

Maria Russell began her career as the first female intern in the New

York state legislature. More than 30 years later, Russell has begun

pushing continuing PR education to the next level with Syracuse

University’s online distance learning PR program. Before joining the

faculty of Syracuse, she served as VP of communications for the Greater

Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, director of community relations for the

United Way of central New York and supervisor of the Main Press Center

for the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics. The PRSA named her

’Outstanding Educator’ in 1997. Russell became a member of the Arthur W.

Page Society last year.


University: Ball State University

Position: Professor/coordinator, Public Relations Sequence/Department of


Melvin Sharpe is one of the leading proponents of having PR concentrate

on ethics and corporate culture, which, he contends, will help to

enhance its professional standing. He held public affairs positions in

the US military and at the University of Florida. Then, he directed

academic programs in PR at the University of Texas at Austin and now at

Ball State University. Sharpe received the ’Outstanding Educator’ award

from the PRSA in 1998 and has served as president of its Indianapolis


Over 30 of his articles have been published in academic and professional

journals, and he co-authored the book Practical Public Relations.


University: San Jose State University

Position: Professor/coordinator, PR degree program

Dennis Wilcox is recognized as a major synthesizer of information,

taking research from the field and translating it for students in his

textbook, Public Relations Strategies and Tactics. An introductory text

used by at least 250 colleges and universities, the book is now in its

fourth edition. Wilcox chose PR over journalism for the variety and has

been passing on his excitement to students since 1974. He has served as

chair of the public relations division of the Association for Education

in Journalism and Mass Communication and is president of the Silicon

Valley PRSA chapter.


University: University of South Alabama

Position: Professor, communication

One of the foremost professionals involved in continuing education,

Donald Wright is a strong believer in behavior-guided communication,

concentrating on campaign outcomes rather than message outputs. His key

areas of research include PR curriculum development, PR ethics and

employee communications.

Now in his 17th year at the University of South Alabama, Wright spent

six years on the faculty at the University of Georgia, where Scott

Cutlip was dean, and three years working with Alan Scott at the

University of Texas at Austin. One of the first educators in the Arthur

W. Page Society, Wright was named ’Outstanding Educator’by the PRSA in


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