Jack O’Dwyer’s web site has brewed, in these last few days, a very interesting discussion sparked by a caustic and titillating op-ed authored by Bill Huey under the title ‘Sorry State for PR Education’ Huey jan 18.doc …
The piece begins with a brief and caustic critical analysis of the ‘Professional Bond’, the recent Report of the Commission of Public Relations Education, and goes on to argue that US universities are becoming too focussed on achieving a perceived research-rather-than-education based identity to help them attract more funds and students ….
Professors with phd’s are therefore being disproportionally favoured versus professionals with hands-on experience. With the end result that graduate students arrive to the market with only a faint and often unrealistic idea of what public relations practice is all about.
This Huey piece has already attracted some ten comments (Responses.doc), all from US based educators and professionals, with the exception of our good friend Brian Kilgore who gives a radically different picture of the situation in Canada. I have little reason to doubt that by-and-large Huey is correct in his analysis, but I might like to add some elements by playing devil’s advocate, in the hope of contributing to a less US-centric perspective.I must confess that my admittedly stereotypic view of American public relations education is one of being mostly practice-oriented (!) and less focussed on giving students that general cultural, historic, ethnographic, organizational as well as current events related backgrounds which I believe are so essential to comfortably enter into our ever changing and daunting profession.
Also, this research-based vs education-based university debate is very lively in every country and, not surprisingly, while Italian universities (to cite but a case) are making a strong effort to transit from their elitist past of being mostly research-based, to a more professionalised education-based platform, I learn from reading the Professional Bond report and Bill Huey’s piece that the opposite trend now seems to be prevailing in US campuses!It is the usual pendulum movement between two extreme poles of a dilemma which moves back and forth according to specific circumstances, periods and events.
There seems to be, from my limited perspective, a growing feeling amongst the academic community, but also amongst more attentive professionals in various parts of the world, that it might be better for students arriving on the labour market not to have a hands-on picture of the profession they are going into. And -again this is my personal view- probably because the perceived identity of the profession in society is so dismal just because of its day-to-day practice as well as because of the failure of its associative representations to influence that practice.
The hope of this group is that, if students come into the practice with a solid and well conceptualized idea not of the profession as it actually is, but as it is slowly becoming and should be, this can only help the improvement of the practice itself. In other words a ‘push’ approach. To this, one might also add that -in parallel with the dismal state of the perceived identity of our profession in society at large, and with the more attentive professionals complaining they are not sufficiently reputed in organizational management circles- academic circles in turn, and possibly because of that very perception of the profession in society, appear to discriminate public relations educators, considered insufficiently research-based and too oriented towards the practice…. Hence, maybe, another reason for the new trend detected by Huey and the Report.
Professional associations and public relations news publishers, whose marketing mission is to gain new members and readers, should make every effort to ensure that students are kept well aware of what is happening in the market (for example, www.ferpi.it , the Italian association’s website receives more than two thousand single visits per diem by issuing a weekly home page with some thirty, forty new national and international news items, and a recent research indicated that some 50% of these visits are from students). On the other hand, educators should promote intense relationships with associations and publishers, as well as private, public and social organisations in order to expose these to their students and facilitate an intense interaction.
I have been teaching in public relations undergraduate, post graduate and masters courses in these last ten years in various Italian universities and more recently in a master’s course at NYU in the United States, which by the way is very much hands-on as most (if not all) professors come from a very solid and intense professional base.
To be totally candid, if I had a say in moving the pendulum today, I would gladly orient it towards a more research-based approach also for a public relations reason: i.e. as a source of improvement for our perceived identity in society.
This, as long as we agree that: a) research does not necessarily imply being performed by phd’s who have no relation to the marketplace; b) that the research agenda, at least in its major part, is determined by the needs of the profession as they are interpreted by the professionals, and not by the academics.
I am afraid that a more hands-on approach would only reinforce my stereotype of American public relations education which, in turn, could deteriorate the already complex relationship between our educators and the rest of academia, while frustrating the very exciting developments in every corner of the world towards a new global public relations model.
Yes, it is true, as Bill Huey argues, that public relations, like architecture, is defined by its practice….but unfortunately this is the stigma we carry!
An approach to the increasing public relations education demand in every country, based on the principles indicated in the Report of the Commission of Public Relations Education, with much more emphasis on organizational and business culture and systems, would certainly add significant value added to the profession.