Stamp of approval on (distinctly Canadian) master’s of communication management degree program

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Yesterday Dr. Terence Flynn, APR, a CPRS board member shared an exciting announcement with his friends: effective April 27, 2007, the Master’s of Communication Management Degree Program, offered by the DeGroote School of Business, McMaster University (Hamilton, Ontario) has received the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies’ approval to begin registering students.

Slightly more than two years ago, as a member of CPRS, I was invited to participate in a front-end focus group, when Terry was first conceptualizing and designing the “Canadian” version of this long-standing and well-respected degree offered by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Our group emphasized that the degree could fill a need, particularly if it incorporated case studies from Canadian organizations, as well as recognized our own public relations and communication theorists and practitioners, either as resources or as professors and/or guest lecturers.

I know that I bonded with Terry when he revealed that his “bible” for developing this master’s program was the book by McGill University (Montreal) professor, internationally renowned academic and frequent speaker, Dr. Henry Mintzberg, Managers not MBAs: a hard look at the soft practice of managing and management development. It is one of my all-time favourite business books and a resource to which I’ve referred frequently. “Mintzberg describes a very different approach to management education, which encourages practicing mangers to learn from their own experience.”

Another interesting aspect to this degree program is that the dean of the DeGroote School of Business, Paul Bates, is also unusual in that he has a (business) industry background, rather than a strictly academic one. I see that as a strength—particularly when it comes to offering practical training for the real world.

Finally, I have an attachment to Hamilton, home of McMaster University (about a 1.5 hour drive from Toronto; one hour late at night, with little traffic and no police in sight), because it is the Canadian city to which my maternal grandparents immigrated and where many of my relatives continue to call home.

Needless to say, I’ve been engaged and interested in the development of this degree program. Terry has kept in touch with updates on its progress, but this is the best news yet! I offer my colleague and friend best wishes for a successful first year in this program and degree-granting endeavour, as well as for many beyond.

From the official announcement:

New public relations degree receives OCGS approval
McMaster and Syracuse University launch Canada’s first joint public relations graduate program

The new Master of Communications Management degree program at the DeGroote School of Business has received approval from the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies. The new degree program, a joint venture between the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, is designed specifically for working public relations professionals. The program is the first of its kind in Canada. Classes will begin in October 2007. Most of the course will be done through distance education, with students continuing to work at their jobs, while completing readings and assignments and meeting pre-determined deadlines. Ongoing access to professors will be via a dedicated web-based student portal. Students attend three, one-week, on-campus learning sessions per year (October, February and June) and register for two courses each term. “This innovative and unique program will provide graduates with a distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace and rightly position communications management and public relations as a strategic management function,” says DeGroote Dean, Paul Bates. “We are especially excited about the Master of Communication Management program, as it is the first new program developed at DeGroote in 25 years and is an important first step in the expanded executive education program we will be offering at McMaster’s new campus in Burlington.”

The program is administered by Dr. Terry Flynn, APR, assistant professor of communications management at DeGroote, a 20-year veteran of the Canadian public relations industry and a graduate of Syracuse University’s communications management program. “Our new Master of Communications Management degree program combines the best of graduate-level public relations education with the best of master of business administration courses to offer Canadian public relations managers a new degree of difference and a workplace competitive advantage,” says Flynn. Graduates of the program will be awarded a joint Master of Communications Management degree from McMaster University and Syracuse University and will be eligible to participate in alumni programs and activities at each university.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Judy,

    I don’t have a master’s degree, having decided after college that I was tired of being poor, and that I needed to earn money.

    At various times in the 25 years since graduation, I’ve thought about the value of the advanced degree. Your post reminded me today of a benefit that some might overlook. Specifically, it was the phrase, “encourages practicing managers to learn from their own experience.”

    It reminded me that we sometimes become so focused on the rush of life, that we lose touch with the lessons that we’ve already learned. When I went through the accreditation process offered by the International Association of Business Communicators, I eventually saw how my apparently unrelated, piecemeal experiences and learnings actually were pieces of the same patterned quilt that form my professional abilities.

    I strongly encourage your readers to consider this opportunity to gain educational advancement through an advanced degree. They may even find out something about themselves that otherwise might remain unseen.

  2. Thanks, Tom. I think there are a lot of individuals who lust at the thought of doing a master’s degree–particularly one as targeted as this program–but of course cost is a huge factor unless your employer is willing to foot the bill.

    Interesting your observation about accreditation: “apparently unrelated, piecemeal experiences and learnings actually were pieces of the same patterned quilt that form my professional abilities.”

    Would you say that the ABC accreditation process helped to *teach* you a body of knowledge or (rather) did it *test* your competencies within the defined field of business communications?

    It’s actually an area of great interest for the association education council of the Learning Resources Network (where I do my main volunteer work). At our inaugural Association Education Symposium held this past November in Washington, one of the tracks included a session called “Continuing Education Programming that Changes Practice.” We were lucky to have Shana Treger, project manager, accreditation services, from the American National Standards Institute present the topic. This was the session description:

    “For those involved in the field of certification and licensure, how do you effectively measure someone’s competency without requiring training? Discover how organizations are using training and certification—but keeping them separate—while learning how to measure competency. Additionally, how does a management system continue quality improvement? This session provides an overview of work done by several different organizations and highlights some case studies.”

    Unfortunately, at this first symposium, the other track on “Partner Selection” drew a bigger crowd, but the feedback received was that attendees wanted to see it on the agenda for 2007. We’ve already conducted a topic poll with constituents and it made it into the top four requests. This time around we’re focusing it a bit more and calling it “Competence versus Credentialing.”

    And I know what you mean about feeling poor, post university. I can remember bringing in and eating skimpy cheese sandwiches for what seemed like weeks (probably a couple of days), waiting for the paycheque from my first job in order to stock up the fridge!

  3. Good follow-up question, Judy; the answer is, “both.”

    I had to have a baseline of knowledge and experience, and accreditation tested that. In addition, I had to brush up, and in some case, learn for the first time, nuances of some communication specialties–including investor relations and crisis communications.

    That is a benefit of tackling accreditation or an advanced degree: You gain additional knowledge while affirming your prior learnings.

    I hope that the Master of Communications Management degree program at the DeGroote School of Business garners great successes for the university and its students.

  4. Judy and Tom,
    I’m obviously delighted and humbled by your postings. Judy has been a wonderful advocate and supporter of this program from the beginning — it’s the type of enthusiasm that I would like to spread to all practitioners throughout the country. Our first cohort will start in October and our aim is to have only 25 students in each class. Having graduated from the Syracuse program in 2001 — and then immediately moving into the Ph.d. program (after 20 years of consulting), this have become my newfound passion and vocation. I appreciate your support and encouragement.

  5. Terry, in mentioning your PhD studies, I was reminded of the first time I saw your name—it was when you mailed out a survey to PR practitioners to provide data for your thesis (although I’m afraid I don’t remember the topic!).

    Which brings me to another point: it’s easy to champion a program or concept when the leader is collaborative about the project at the front end. The fact that you asked for input from potential end-users on what the degree program should like—rather than simply replicating the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications’ program—speaks volumes; very “Wikinomics” of you, except using an in-person human collaborative network, rather than an Internet platform. And then having the development and organizational skills, tenacity and eloquence to get the program approved by the Ontario Council of Graduate Studies (no easy task), speaks volumes to your commitment.

    On another note, I noticed that Dr. Nick Bontis is on the faculty for your program. As it happens, Nick has designed and is facilitating a really amazing-sounding academic symposium for us tomorrow (by invitation-only to accounting professors from across Ontario).

    He’s billed it as the “Knowledge Café and says that its main outcome should be “a codified summary and outline of next steps in developing a strategy for innovative methods for learning in accounting.” Nick also described the Knowledge Café as “an exciting opportunity to experience how a knowledge ecosystem can support the interactions of a learning community. Our learning community, the participants and presenters at this seminar, will collectively explore key topics in the field of accounting education.” The themed stations are supposed to include: competencies of the modern accounting professional; use of technology in the classroom; methods for testing and evaluation; innovative curriculum content; and something called “stop doing this now!”

    Any chance Nick is incorporating similar experiential-learning and competency-based elements into his course(s) for the Master of Communications Management program? At a minimum, I know that he’s an incredibly dynamic speaker (he was a conference keynote speaker for us a couple of years ago), so it’s great that he is on board for your progran.

    Terry, I hope to see and chat with you in a few week at CPRS Toronto’s AGM (with special guest speaker, Ira Basen).

  6. Judy,
    I hope you enjoyed Nick’s presentation. He’s a wonderful colleague and a dynamic presenter/teacher. We both teach an undergraduate course in business strategy and I, as a quick learner, have modelled my section on his teachings and learnings.
    Nick is a great addition to our MCM faculty…the students will be challenged and inspired to learn about strategic management in a very dynamic and experiential format (the task for all our professors).

    I’m trying to make it to the CPRS (Toronto) AGM but I also teach that night at DeGroote at 7pm. So I may be there for the beginning…I’m having discussions with Ira about a module on ethics as well.

    Talk to you soon.

  7. Terry…yes, indeed, Nick’s presentation and the day-long experiential “Knowledge Cafe” session were great (a large percentage of the returned evaluations had a perfect score for both facilitator and the symposium). I had a brief chat with Nick first thing Friday morning (he is very pumped about the new master’s program, too, and believes you are a great person to be in the lead role), plus some profs and I drew him into a discussion about the experience of having an “industry dean.” If your new program incorporates “very dynamic and experiential formats” (presumably during one or more of the three on-campus weeks), I believe that will be yet another “differentiator” between your new program and the only a handful of other master’s-level PR/comms programs currently available in Canada.

    I think having Ira Basen work with you on an “ethics” module for the course is a brilliant idea. (Hopefully you can persuade him to be a guest lecturer, too.) At the (CPRS Toronto) panel session he sat on earlier this year, the majority of audience questions were directed at him, most concerning the nature of the relationship between PR practitioners and journalists (i.e., valid pitches and placements, objective journalism, coaching a CEO to stay on message, etc.). I don’t believe he received a single antagonistic question; he’s very even-handed in assigning equal blame for the dumbing-down of journalism, between the PRs and the media.

    My chapter has been kind in allowing me to register a non-member guest to the AGM, my pal Diana Robinson, who was featured on episode two of Ira’s Spin Cycles series for the CBC: The Spindustrial Revolution (She hasn’t seen him since they taped the segment). If you do make it to the first part of the AGM, I’ll introduce you. (Hope to) see you soon!

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