The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
SMU professor to return to campus after being trapped in Gaza for 12 years
Sara Hummadi, Video Editor • May 18, 2024

Kirk to go on sabbatical

At first glance, the Corporate Communications and Public Affairs department is not one that catches the eye.

Judging from its inauspicious appearance, one wouldn’t guess that this little corner of SMU is the gateway for many students into a much larger world.

This small, undecorated space is where many accomplished students begin their careers. And at the heart of the department is Dr. Rita Kirk.

Her cluttered office is lined with books, many of which she wrote. Amidst the chaos of interviews, dedications, and teaching her popular class, “Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment,” the phones never stop ringing and someone is always coming or going.

Her 14-page resume is filled with her own work, book reviews and campaign consulting contacts.

And her resume is about to get another addition.

Kirk has been named Executive Director for the American Communication Association. Although this will take her away her position as the department chair for CCPA for a year, she plans to return to a full-time tenured professor position when her sabbatical is complete.

The announcement means major changes are in store not only for the faculty, but also for the students.

The CCPA department, for better or worse, is about to change.

Although she won’t be chair when she returns, Kirk will continue to be a driving force within the department she helped to create.

“As a professor she will have a new freedom – it will be a liberation for her,” says Nancy Kress, administrative assistant to CCPA.

Born and raised in Fayetteville, Ark., Kirk did not have the typical upbringing of other southern girls.

Her father, a veteran of World War II, put her to bed with unusual stories.

As Dr. Kirk will tell you, “I don’t know anything about fairy tales, but I can tell you a lot about Winston Churchill.”

Extremely active in local politics and pursing higher education, Kirk was not living the typical life a southern woman in the ’70s.

“Most of the women of that time were either schoolteachers or homemakers,” she said. “You were encouraged to have a secondary field in case your marriage failed and education was my back up and it turned out that I was good at it and I really enjoyed it.”

With a debate scholarship in hand, she financed her education by working in a factory during the summer.

After completing her bachelor’s degree in Speech with a minor in Political Science at the University of Arkansas, she went straight into a masters program in Communication.

Working as a teaching assistant, Kirk finished her master’s degree and obtained a Doctorate of Philosophy in Communication by 1986.

Kirk came to SMU in 1991 and was promoted to chair in 2002.

As a consultant for campaigns ranging from mayoral to gubernatorial races, she’s been able to apply theories discussed in the classroom setting to the real world.

Regardless of her real-world experiences, Kirk’s partiality to teaching won’t change.

“She has been an incredible driving force for the past five years, and that shouldn’t change too much,” said Kress.

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