LAWRENCE — Two longtime faculty members of the University of Kansas Department of Communication Studies have been honored for pioneering scholarship and achievements in the field of rhetoric and argumentation.
Donn Parson is a professor emeritus of communication; Robert Rowland is a professor and the department’s director of graduate studies. Both were honored this summer with the Senior Scholar Award at the Alta Conference, a joint effort of the National Communication Association, the American Forensic Association and the University of Utah.
The Alta Conference, held biannually since 1978, is the oldest continuous academic conference in argumentation study. It has named just nine senior scholars since the award was created in 2007. In addition to Parson and Rowland, two other recipients have had KU ties: G. Thomas Goodnight, professor of communication at the University of Southern California, received his doctorate from KU in 1977. James Klumpp, a professor emeritus at the University of Maryland, received his bachelor's degree in 1968.
“This was wonderful,” Rowland said. “I don’t think anyone should expect to get an award like this, so it was a wonderful, surprising and great moment.”
Parson was director of forensics at KU from 1964 to 1988, and he served on the faculty until 2014. He was known as the “Head Hawk” as he guided three KU Debate teams to championships at the National Debate Tournament. He received numerous teaching awards over his career, including the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in 1983 and a William T. Kemper Award for Teaching Excellence in 1997. He also served as director of the National Debate Tournament.
As a student, Rowland was a member of Parson’s 1976 national championship debate team. He has been a member of the KU faculty since 1987 and has received a number of teaching awards, including the William T. Kemper Award for Teaching Excellence and the Bernard Fink Award for outstanding teaching. He has also received recognition from the National Communication Association, with separate awards for his teaching and scholarship.
Both men have authored and edited a number of texts on argumentation; Rowland has been cited as one of the 50 most-published scholars in the field.
“KU has as long and great a tradition of studying rational argument as any school in the United States,” Rowland said. “It started with our commitment to debate — people who are interested in debate are interested in argument.”
Rowland said the United States appears to be in a period when reasoned argument, of the sort taught and studied at KU, is in short supply. He is, however, optimistic.
“Historically in the United States, in fits and spurts, better arguments have had a way of winning out,” Rowland said. “We’re at a point in time when we’re awfully shrill. But in the longer term, making stronger arguments has been — and still is — a powerful thing to do.”
The Department of Communication Studies is part of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The College is the heart of KU, educating the most students, producing the most research and collaborating with nearly every entity at KU. The College is home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers, as well as the School of the Arts, School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures and School of Public Affairs & Administration.