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Letter from the Chair

My name is Scott W. Campbell, and I am excited for this opportunity to serve as Chair of the Department of Communication and Media. Before introducing myself, I’d like to acknowledge our previous chair, Dr. Nojin Kwak, for his years of service and many accomplishments. I wish Nojin well as he trades in his maize and blue cleats for a pair of bull-riding boots to explore new pastures in Buffalo, New York.

 My journey as a Communication scholar began as an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg was in grade (not grad) school; we didn’t even have email or cell phones, yet somehow seemed to get by. Shortly after I finished college and landed my first job in Communications something profound happened – the World Wide Web. I noticed many aspects of everyday life changed with the uptake of the Web. More people started having personal computers, using email, messaging with friends (instantly!), and connecting with the world through html-supported Web pages.

 Eventually my partner and I relocated from Nebraska to Kansas City seeking new opportunities. As she started her career as a lawyer, I decided to make a change myself and joined Sprint, whose world headquarters were there at the time. As a Project Implementation Manager, I had opportunities to work behind the scenes on a new kind of digital wireless network that was supposed to revolutionize social life on a level comparable to the internet and movable type. Shortly after we launched the first national digital wireless network in the US in 1997, the new smaller, cheaper, and more functional mobile phones started to become popular. In fact, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, mobile phones became the fastest and most widely diffused communication technology on the planet – ever.

 It was these experiences in the technology industry that motivated my decision to go back to graduate school in the late 1990s so that I could study, rather than develop, the types of digital media that have become so embedded at all levels of social order, from the structure of society to one’s own sense of self. After completing my Ph.D. I took a job as Assistant Professor of Communication at Hawaii Pacific University, and my partner and I relocated once more for a new adventure.

 During my three years teaching and doing research in Hawaii cell phones really started taking off, and texting became a new channel with its own emergent language and normative structure, giving a new and distinctive flavor to youth culture. Others started to notice these changes as well. In fact, it was around this time that UM alumni Arnold and Constance Pohs decided to donate part of their wealth to endow a new faculty position here specifically for the study of how mobile communication changes social life as we know it. No one knew it at the time, but that job was created for me.

 In 2005 my partner and I moved once again, this time to a small house not far from a really “big house” in Ann Arbor where we have lived ever since, while growing our family by one son, a dog, and the occasional rodent or fish. This is not just mine, but our story, and I want to express gratitude to my partner and colleague Professor Faith Sparr for her support and the many contributions she has made along the way.

 I also want to say a couple of things about where we are all at in this unique moment. The last time I recall the world coming to a standstill like this was after Fall 2001. Just as I was encouraged to see people come together with compassion and love in the aftermath of 911, so too was I horrified by divisions, blame, and hate that festered and boiled as people tried to make sense of the tragedy. We can do better this time – in the world, in our communities, in the classroom, and within ourselves. During this highly sensitive period, I ask that we all make a mindful effort to be one-third more flexible and patient with one another than usual. We will all be facing challenges at home and at work as we return, and it's been a long time since we have all been together in person. This fall will especially be a time of high emotions, as we heal and try to find a new sense of balance in work and in Life. Let’s get to work, and back to Life.


Scott W. Campbell
Chair, Department of Communication and Media
Constance F. & Arnold C. Pohs Professor of Telecommunications