The recommendations of the Commission’s October 1999 report remain valid. But the critical shortage of qualified public relations educators has become even more acute since that report was published.
Qualifications for teaching public relations at a college or university generally include a Ph.D. degree. Those holding Ph.D. degrees who also have had substantial and significant practitioner experience are highly preferred. The Commission encourages those faculty who have Ph.D.s, but who have limited or no practitioner experience, and those without this terminal degree who are former practitioners, to pursue a range of academic and professional experiences that will familiarize them with both the knowledge and the skills needed in the current practice of public relations.
In addition to the academic credential of a doctorate, a broad knowledge of communication sciences, behavioral sciences and business, as well as considerable cultural and historical knowledge, also are highly desirable in public relations faculty.
Summary of Recommendations in the Commission’s October 1999 Report
The October 1999 Commission said the ideal full-time public relations educator would have both a terminal degree (usually a Ph.D.) and significant practitioner experience. When this ideal was not possible, the report suggested a balance among public relations faculty, i.e., those who had terminal degrees and those who had substantial and significant practitioner experience. The report urged that adjunct faculty have both practitioner experience and at least a baccalaureate degree–with accreditation by a professional public relations association being highly desirable. The report further recommended that all public relations educators be actively engaged in scholarship or in professional and creative activity, in part through their active participation in practitioner and/or academic associations. Full-time faculty should provide the majority of public relations instruction in an academic unit.
The October 1999 Commission report recognized that the doctoral curriculum in public relations historically had been a specialized option within a broader program, usually in “mass communication” or “communication.” Such a theory-and-research degree would prepare public relations faculty to add to the body of knowledge in the field. Faculty holding a Ph.D. also would be aware of the relationship of the public relations body of knowledge to other communication-related knowledge, e.g., interpersonal, rhetorical, organizational and small group, and would thus be able to integrate a range of knowledge into their teaching and research. Faculty having such scholarly breadth also could develop competing paradigms of public relations that would be based on different metatheoretical and philosophical foundations, which could be shared in an interdisciplinary, multicultural and global context. Public relations faculty also were urged to keep current in their knowledge through “professor in residence” programs, facultyprofessional exchanges, participation in professional development programs and sabbaticals in which they work in a practitioner environment.
The October 1999 report reiterated a recommendation from the 1987 Commission report: “Public relations courses should not be taught by people who have little or no experience and interest in the field and have no academic preparation in public relations.”
Progress and Change in Public Relations Education Since the 1999 Report
The critical shortage of qualified public relations educators has become even more acute since the October 1999 report because of the increasing numbers of public relations students who are filling the nation’s classrooms. Indeed, since the last Commission report, the demand for public relations professors with Ph.D.s has significantly increased. Furthermore, colleges and universities are being pressured even more by their regional accrediting bodies to fill faculty positions with candidates having Ph.D.s. As a result, public relations educators are being valued more for their academic credentials than for their practitioner experience, which previously might have compensated for the lack of a terminal degree.
The numbers of doctoral students planning academic careers in public relations is slowly increasing. Several existing doctoral programs have paid increasing attention to public relations education and some new public relations doctoral programs have been developed. Still, these recent efforts do not sufficiently address the continuing shortage of qualified public relations educators.
The good news is that scholarly convention paper presentations by junior professors and doctoral students are providing anecdotal evidence of a new generation of public relations educators who exemplify the ideal qualifications identified in the October 1999 Commission report. While public relations centers and endowed chairs at universities remain few in number, they nevertheless have helped “institutionalize” public relations doctoral education programs as well as attract students to doctoral study in public relations.
The shortage of qualified faculty and the paucity of doctoral programs in public relations are exacerbated by the growing body of public relations knowledge that must be taught in doctoral- level courses. Without enough faculty knowledgeable and academically prepared to teach this growing literature in the field, there is the danger that the growing number of baccalaureate and master’s program students will be less than adequately taught.
New Research Findings and Analysis
Public relations educators must be fully qualified to teach what students at the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels need to know. Research by the 2006 Commission identified several trends for which public relations educators must adequately prepare their students. These include: the need for transparency and accountability; the increasing value of public relations to top management; the demand for public relations research methodology, measurement and metrics; globalization; an increasingly complex and difficult ethical environment; challenges to institutional trust and credibility; rapidly changing media; technological change; the increasing importance of internal audiences; and the need for organizations to integrate their communication.
Research by the 2006 Commission revealed that undergraduate students particularly need the following subject matter: writing and speaking skills, the fundamentals of public relations, strategic thinking skills, research skills, planning and problem-solving skills, ethics, fundamentals of how businesses operate, and a foundation in the liberal arts and sciences. Qualitative research indicated that students also need to learn about technological advances, the strategic function of public relations, multidisciplinary approaches to public relations, measurement in public relations, the integration of marketing and communication, globalization, the need for transformational leaders and an understanding of factors leading to the disintegration of civil society. Even though some of this content is taught outside public relations courses, public relations faculty are responsible for making sure that students master it.
Commission research suggested that graduate education content should move toward understanding business and management and public relations as a strategic management function. Subject matter for graduate study that was identified as important by the Commission’s quantitative survey research included an understanding of the social consequences of public relations as well as its global harmonizing role, the economic contributions of public relations, familiarity with a range of research methodologies and an understanding of cultural diversity. Quantitative research noted that graduate students should be taught subject matter above and beyond that of undergraduate students, with content including: public relations theory and concepts, public relations law, public relations ethics, global public relations, public relations applications, public relations management and diversity, public relations research, public relations management, public relations programming and production, public relations publics, communication processes, management sciences, and behavioral sciences. Again, public relations educators must integrate into their teaching much of this subject matter and bear primary responsibility for student mastery of the content. Qualitative research found support for graduate education that was interdisciplinary, e.g., communication, management and behavioral sciences.
All of the recommendations of the October 1999 Commission report remain valid, but the need for adhering to them is more emphatic. The world and relationships among its inhabitants have gotten more complicated since the last report; and the public relations body of knowledge has increased geometrically. Qualifications of public relations educators normally include a Ph.D. degree, which prepares faculty for careers, not only as educators, but as scholars who conduct research using multiple methodologies to help to build theory that adds to the public relations body of knowledge. Of course, those holding a Ph.D. degree who also have had substantial and significant practitioner experience are even more highly desired.
Public relations faculty also must be broadly educated in communication sciences, behavioral sciences and business, as well as have considerable cultural and historical knowledge. Such breadth will help ensure that public relations educators include in their teaching and consider in their scholarly agendas public relations as a strategic management function, with full appreciation of the internationalization of the practice and the importance of understanding diversity, ethics and social responsibility.
Public relations education should not be viewed as an “easy next job to which to retire,” because many colleges and universities that traditionally have not had research emphases are now requiring it from their faculty. Time will tell whether the practice of hiring “professors of practice” and others with practitioner credentials can continue much longer. A successful academic career increasingly will require a record of scholarly publication and national and international recognition in the scholarly community. Without faculty who fit this model, public relations education programs won’t be valued because their faculty will be considered “second- tier.”
Thus, while the Commission believes there is a place in the academy for former practitioners with substantial and significant experience, those practitioners may be expected to earn their terminal degrees, i.e., their Ph.D.s, as a credential for becoming full-time faculty.
The Commission encourages those faculty who have Ph.D.s but who have limited or no practitioner experience, and those without this terminal degree who are former practitioners, to pursue a range of academic and professional experiences that will familiarize them with both the knowledge and the skills needed in the current practice of public relations.