The game of the name
(Warning: This page is about spelling.)
Radford University doesn’t make it easy for students to identify the RU School of Communication – not “communications.”
It’s academic hair-splitting, but most universities do not add an “s” to “communication” when describing their departments or schools of “mass communication,” “communication studies,” or whatever. Radford, it seems, is in the majority — unlike Howard, Elon, Syracuse, South Carolina and a few others.
Here, the School of Communication also hosts a Communication Week, and I started to see the superfluous “s” appearing in newswriting students’ stories about the week’s speeches and panel discussions.
For example, the topic of a panel many attended could have been described as “communication careers” or “journalism and online media careers,” but the that final “s” appeared in some versions of the story.
Why not add the “s”? It’s not the law, but communication without the “s” means the human act of communicating, in all its forms and media, along with the contents of those human-generated messages — conversations, news stories, press releases, ads, YouTube videos, blog posts.
Those are the things our School of Communication teaches and studies. The broadcasting-oriented “Production Technology” concentration teaches performance, production and editing, although its name sounds like the program might be more about wires and signals.
In fact, with the “s,” that’s what “communications” often means — the technical wires-and-signals means or methods of moving information around. (Unfortunately, “communications” also can be the plural of the noun “communication,” when meant as “a message,” which complicates matters.)
When I said “Radford doesn’t make it easy,” I was referring to an extra wrinkle: Our school’s course numbering system, which puts a four-letter departmental abbreviation in front of a three-digit course number, and ends that abbreviation with S. COMS looks like it ought to be short for “communications.”
Backstory: Since our School of Communication was formed from previous departments of Communication and Media Studies, the registrar’s office decided to abbreviate our offerings as CO (for COmmunication) plus MS (for Media Studies), including my basic news writing course, for example, as COMS 104. At least we’ve gotten rid of the registrar’s old abbreviation for Media Studies, “MSTD,” which ended in three letters with promiscuous associations.
The simpler “COMM” prefix was already taken in the registrar’s database by the course listings for our old communication department. During the past two transitional years some students have had both sets of abbreviations on their transcripts. Perhaps when everyone who ever took a “COMM” course here has been graduated, the registrar will be able to give the School of Communication that two-M abbreviation.
At least it’s already on our recently updated Web site, http://www.radford.edu/comm
In any case, here at Radford, “communication” is the name of the school and the most general word for all of the communication, message-creating and media fields. A “communication” major can be in either public relations or “communication studies,” which is what we call the most speech, interpersonal and organizational communication concentration.
“Media studies” is still the official major for those concentrating on journalism, advertising, broadcasting or the Web, but we may turn some of those “major concentrations” into “majors” someday. Along with the most popular communication major, “public relations,” we have a closely related “corporate and political communication” heading, under which we offer a master’s degree. But no “s” on the end.