Dean’s Column: A Century on the Cutting edge

By Tom Fiedler (’71)

Photo by Vernon Doucette

You are reading a special edition of COMtalk. COM celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and so if I could, I’d deliver this issue with fireworks and brass bands.

“Wait just a minute,” some of you may be saying. “Wasn’t COM born in 1947, as the Boston University School of Public Relations?”

True enough. But that School’s roots extend back to 1913–1914, when BU offered the first courses in advertising and journalism. In that era, those two fields—mostly using printed words on paper—constituted the entirety of mass communication. Radio was used primarily for ship-to-shore communication, and film (without sound) was a novelty to be seen in nickelodeons. Television was decades away, the stuff of science fiction. And if anyone said something “went viral,” it was likely a plague.

BU was among just a handful of US colleges and universities that recognized the need to teach students how to reach consumers of information, whether that be news from around the globe or “news” of sales at local stores. And in keeping with BU’s religious heritage, those foundational courses also taught the ethical practices necessary to elevate communication professionals from the influences of the “yellow” press and the P. T. Barnum hucksters.

Our fellow alums not only lived through momentous events, they likely documented and shaped them for others to see and understand.

You can read about COM’s legacy, and explore a timeline of “100 Reasons to Celebrate COM,” in this issue. These articles list some fun and fascinating things about this College and its graduates that I hope will fill you with pride. Of course we could have added many more achievements, and so we invite you to share yours for possible feature on the COMtalk website and social media and in a display at COM. But we chose to feature 100 because there’s something profound about that number; it seems especially meaningful as a measure of time.

Consider this: BU’s communication graduates have witnessed two world wars; the Great Depression; the birth of jazz, rock and hip-hop; the evolution of travel from biplanes to rovers on planet Mars; the end of racial segregation and the passage of women’s suffrage; the evolution from Ma Bell’s party-line phones to smartphones that connect anyone to anywhere. Our fellow alums not only lived through such momentous events, they likely documented and shaped them for others to see and understand. They did what we educate today’s students to do: find and tell stories using the tools that technology provides.

We hope this edition of COMtalk reminds us that we are part of a long legacy in which we can take enormous pride. It also reminds us that BU was an innovator in the early 20th century when it established programs to educate professional communicators, and that it continued to break new ground, expanding to encompass emerging communication technologies as the decades unfolded.

Many of the events COM is planning this year will look back on this legacy. The culmination of the centennial celebration will be during Alumni Weekend (September 19–21) and we hope all of you will come.

And then, beginning in the upcoming COMtalk, we’ll look forward to our next 100 years and imagine what they may bring. One thing is certain: In that next century, just as in the last, COM will be at the forefront.

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