The Department

Photo by Bryce Richter /UW-Madison.

Communication Arts is one of the largest departments in the College of Letters and Science, with upwards of 600 undergraduate majors and a graduate program of 80 MA and PhD students. Nearly 4000 students enroll in its classes each semester. The department offers two tracks of study at the undergraduate level: Rhetoric and Communication Science, and Radio-TV-Film. At the graduate level, degrees are offered in Media and Cultural Studies, Rhetoric, Politics, & Culture, Film, and Communication Science. We teach media production courses as well as critical studies. Students and faculty in Communication Arts analyze the production and consumption of communication in all its forms: its influence and effects, its history and industry structures, the uses to which it is put, its characteristic forms and texts, and the technologies through which it is made, distributed, and used. Communication is one of the fastest-growing fields in the humanities and social sciences today.

The department has taken the lead in the critical study and production of digital media. In the Fall of 2012 we began offering students from across the campus the opportunity to earn a Digital Studies Certificate as part of their BA programs. This is part of an interdisciplinary initiative in the digital humanities supported by Madison Initiative for Undergraduates funds, with five main departmental partners: Communication Arts, Library and Information Studies, Journalism and Mass Communications, English, and Art. We also offer one of the basic Communication-A courses for the whole campus, CA100, Introduction to Public Speaking, which enrolls more than 1000 students each year. The Department also carries on extensive outreach through our fifty-year custodianship of one of the leading archives of film, theater, and television-related materials in the nation, the Wisconsin Center for Film Research; in our Center for Communication Research with its lectures, research projects, and seminar programs; and in our weekly Cinematheque film screenings that bring in audiences from across the campus and the community.

Our Mission

The UW-Madison Department of Communication Arts produces communication scholars and practitioners who make a difference. Wisconsin students engage in a wide range of study and practice in all forms of human communication.  Our curriculum combines critical analysis with practical application to give depth and perspective to life in a mediated age. Communication Arts graduates make an impact in their chosen fields and on the world around them.

Our Vision

We prepare our students for the future by staying at the forefront of our field, with the objective of making a positive difference in the world through effective communication.  

We accomplish our mission and vision by:

  • Challenging our students to become skilled and critical consumers and producers of communication in all its forms through a balanced, well-designed, and forward-thinking curriculum that is constantly innovating;
  • Producing first-rate scholarship and creative work that explores the complexities of human communication and expression, in constant exchange with the larger community;
  • Engaging the Communication Arts community in lifelong learning and sharing, beginning as students and continuing as alumni, through outreach and stewardship;
  • Advancing the Wisconsin Idea by using our skills and training to improve communication, media, and culture in the world around us.

Our Priorities

We are strongly committed to identifying and obtaining the resources that are essential to realizing our mission and vision. We know that the core ingredients for success fall into three categories: Scholarly Excellence, Facilities and Technology, and Community Building. In what follows, we review past accomplishments and look toward the horizon in each area.

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Scholarly Excellence

  • In recent years we have been thrilled to add many new stars to the bright constellation that is the Communication Arts faculty and staff, through a combination of support from alumni and the university. We have also made significant strides in research productivity and teaching innovation as a result of increased research and teaching support for faculty. As a recent decennial departmental review exercise has shown, we continue to stand out as one of the most sought-after communication graduate programs in the world. Looking ahead, we hope to raise the global profile of the department in all areas, through continued advances in scholarly productivity.
  • Getting there will involve:
    • More awards and scholarships to help recognize and support top-quality student work.
    • Providing our faculty and staff with crucial support for innovative research.
    • Critical efforts to retain existing faculty and replace those who will soon retire.

State of the Art Facilities and Technology

  • Again through a combination of support from alumni and the university, we have recently made advancements in establishing the state-of-the-art digital infrastructure and facilities required for conducting cutting-edge research and providing the best communication arts instruction possible. Most notable among these achievements are the Hamel Family Digital Laboratory and recent upgrades to our film production equipment, other computer laboratories, as well as the screening facilities in Vilas 4070. Pushing the envelope in the communication field requires an ongoing effort to educate our students in state-of-the-art facilities and technology.
  • Specifically, staying on the cutting edge will involve sustained support in:
    • Technology maintenance: these needs are felt not only in the equipment that serves our instructional mission, but also in the day-to-day needs of our faculty in pursuit of their many research agendas.
    • Facilities: For everyone in the Communication Arts community, facilities are a matter of creating an environment for success, as well as building on our shared identity as a distinctive group of students and scholars in pursuit of knowledge about human communication.

Sustained Community Building Efforts

  • We find it important to create a lively and insightful community dedicated to alumni support of the department’s continued excellence. Students have also benefitted from recent advances in advising, internships, and career/professional programming, as well as an upgraded set of social media communication initiatives. Together these advances have helped to create a true sense of community surrounding Communication Arts at UW-Madison. A number of assessment efforts in recent years point to significant opportunities for us to further expand community building around the department.
  • In the coming years, we hope to build on our significant momentum in this area in three ways.
    • As noted above, strategic renovation and improvements could help us literally create the space for a sense of community to thrive and grow surrounding the department. The improvement of common spaces shared by faculty and students is a particular goal in this area.
    • We seek to build an infrastructure to support a vast and powerful network that connects current and former students with our faculty and Communication Arts partners around the world. While we can easily envision our route to this goal, we also know it will take dedicated investments to get there.
    • Finally, we also wish to explore the possibilities for and the conditions under which it may be worthwhile to create staff resources exclusively dedicated to development initiatives for Communication Arts.