2007 Presidential Address
77th Annual Convention of the
Southern States Communication Association
Louisville, KY
April 4, 2007

Charles H. Tardy

I hesitate to tell a Katrina story because as personally meaningful as our experiences of this storm were, our troubles were minor compared to the tragedies experienced by many others in our association, in my department, and perhaps even in this audience. So as I recount this one, don't forget that others were not so fortunate.
For more than 2 weeks after August 29th, we were without electricity in our home.  The pine trees that fell on our house did no structural damage so we simply learned to: adapt to the absence of running water, then only cold water;  listen to the radio rather than watch the tv; stay cool despite no air conditioning; sleep on the floor of our screen porch; go to bed early and rise with the sun.  These were surprisingly easy to do.  My days during those 2 weeks were fairly self-absorbed:  trying to bring some semblance of order to our lives and property; getting trees out of the driveway, off the house, out of the yard; washing clothes by hand; covering the roof in plastic; and, cooking on charcoal (not an efficient way of boiling water I quickly learned).
At night when I could no longer work on the house and yard, I thought about those things I would be or should be doing:  preparing for class, reading books, and planning the 76th Annual Convention of the Southern States Communication Association, the theme of which was excellence.  In the dark, with no electricity, I pondered how these events would shape our next meeting. Fortunately I was able to make contact with the other officers by text messaging intermediaries to discuss options for the association's response, and to subsequently return to work with electricity and air conditioning.  Again, we should all realize that there were many, many people, including members of our association, who were not so fortunate; who didn't have homes or jobs to return to.
Here I was working on convention plans by candlelight. I don't want to overstate this. I wasn't working around the clock on it, yet, but now 19 months later the idea of planning for excellence when electricity, communication, and transportation were problematic seems in retrospect strikingly odd.  Some might think I had gotten lost on Maslow's hierarchy of needs; switching basic physical needs for self-actualization.  But I don't think the answer lies here.  It is not that my behaviors were unusual.  I suspect what I did was what all SSCA officers would have done in this circumstance.
"Why worry about the SSCA convention?"  The answer is simple: so that there is an SSCA convention.  "Why must there be an SSCA convention?"  This question is more problematic and interesting, and the one that I address today.
The answer will uncover the "taken for granteds" and enthymemes that account, not just for my actions, but for the actions of so many people; so many of you who devote significant time, effort, and resources to our association. By stating them I hope to remind some, to rekindle in others, even perhaps initiate in a few, a passionate commitment to the Southern States Communication Association and its annual meeting.  Don't worry, I will not end with an altar call or pledge cards, though I considered both.
Why should you be here?  Because there are so many different reasons I will segment the answer by groups, from our most junior to the most senior participants.


Students why are you here?  Free breakfast?  Your advisor made you attend? Got the wrong room number?  No, just kidding.  I know you came to the convention to hear about research in your area; to share your ideas and finding.  These are good reasons but there are more.  Students this is your opportunity to see and observe: to see your faculty demonstrate the values they have been teaching you; to meet and talk to the leaders in your areas of study.  Take advantage of this, get someone to introduce you or introduce yourself. Tell Bob Denton, Kathy Turner, Victoria Gallagher, Art Bochner, about an idea of yours and see what they think about it.  Ask the journal editors and former editors …John Meyer, Marty Medhurst, David Williams, Tom Socha, Lynne Webb, and many more.  They're here; they're accessible; they'll make time.  This is what SSCA will provide for you; and what you will have difficulty doing at large national meetings.   That's why you should be here. 
By being here and by consummating the opportunities available to you, students you will make yourself a more desirable job candidate in years to come.  You will be a more appealing professional, and you will probably have had some contact with potential employers.  Look around this room and you will see people who have recruited, selected, and hired this year; and those who didn't this year, will probably next year.  I suspect a very large portion of the individuals in this room will play some role in a job search in the next two years.   By presenting papers you are making initial forays into the job market.  You don't know who's watching, or who will remember.  But this is an opportunity that is available to you because you are here and not available to the other grad students who couldn't get that paper finished or who didn't want to commit the time, money, and effort it takes to be here.  So keep up the good work, come back next year, and make use of every second available to you here.

New Faculty

Why keep coming after grad school?  Well part is more of the same:  a chance to share your ideas with others and hear others talk about theirs.  This is particularly vital for young faculty because this is a formative time in your career.  Grad school can't prepare you for everything.  No doubt as a new faculty member you encountered many things you didn't expect, didn't know how to do, or didn't understand; and, didn't event want to know, expect or understand. Attending conventions can help you learn how to handle these.  Been assigned to supervise teaching assistants?  Go to Deanna Dannels' workshop.  Been assigned to the assessment committee?  We've got David Carter of the Southern Association of College and Schools speaking this afternoon. 
Another thing young faculty can get at this convention that they can't get at home is a reality check by talking to other professors, newly minted faculty and seasoned ones as well.  These "weak ties" can help you in ways that colleagues from your home campus cannot.  They don't have stakes in outcomes, no preconceived notions, no vote on the personnel committee, no obligations.  They can provide insights, reactions, and advice that are truly independent; they can tell you stuff colleagues can't or won't.  Use them.
Young faculty, attending conventions keeps you in touch with professional values, ones that may not be obvious or even appreciated on your campus (hope not, but maybe).  By attending conventions, talking to people, and slowly developing an understanding of our field, you can acquire the skills, knowledge, and values that will be useful to you beyond the confines of your home campus; that will make you valuable to others; that will make you a desirable job candidate should you decide to move.  Attending conventions can make you a better teacher, scholar, and faculty member, something that benefits your students and institution.

Tenured Faculty

Tenured faculty should be here too.  I have heard our association characterized as one for graduate students and young faculty.  After proving themselves in our venues these members, supposedly, have earned enough credits to get a job or tenure and don't need to come back.  Though all of us who have stayed with the SSCA post-tenure and promotion can identify colleagues who didn't, I'm not convinced that the rate of membership lapse is greater at this career juncture than at others.  Moreover, I doubt the premise of this characterization-- that individuals are attending our meetings and involving themselves in our association only, or even primarily, to earn credit toward their institution's tenure/promotion requirements.  I think this is false on two grounds.  First, this characterization of members' motivation doesn't square with my experience.  People are, I think, and at least should be, I know, here for intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards.  Becoming a better scholar, teacher, and faculty member; having a better profession--these are enough to sustain us, and do I hope.  Second, I doubt that many of us get enough credits for attending and participating to account for our commitment.  Certainly there are many people who come here so that they can be part of something larger than they are able to on their home campus.  Many institutions do not promote or even encourage attendance, but their faculty attend nonetheless; for many faculty at great personal expense.  On the other hand, at different institutions that do value and require professional development, convention presentations are no longer, if they ever were, sufficient for tenure and promotion.  In short, if people stop coming at this stage in their careers, I doubt that they do so because we no longer can serve their needs.
Quite to the contrary, I think there are several features of our association and convention that facilitate the continued growth and development of mid-career faculty.  Participation will enable these faculty members to keep an eye on their field as it moves ever so gradually from where it was when they exited grad school.  Every year there are hundreds of individuals entering our profession; coming to teach at institutions near yours. Here you can get to know the women, and men whose names will soon be seen regularly in our journals; who have new ideas for undertaking the same activities that you have been trying to master: teaching, conducting research, and being a productive faculty.  The opportunity to get to know the graduate students, the young faculty, the people who will one day be the leaders of our field will be not only personally rewarding but practically useful.

Senior Faculty

What about our senior faculty?  I must be careful here because some of my peers don't like to be considered "senior."  Sometimes I feel like a deer caught in headlines when I hear the term applied to me.  Who me?  So I'll tread lightly but let's at least recognize that there are people here who've been coming to our meetings for a long time. 
We should not only be glad that they come back year after year but proud of that fact.  I think one of the most valuable assets of our association has been the continued involvement of senior faculty, including those who have officially "retired."  Clearly they haven't really retired if they are still attending our convention.  We keep coming for many of the same reasons listed above.  We still like learning. We still like teaching.  We like to be helpful.  And we're still learning, teaching, and helping.  The SSCA provides us an opportunity to share, and grow.  And this is a little like I wrote in the newsletter recently.  For goodness sake, who would rather stay at home carrying out their mundane daily routines when they could be meeting, talking with, listening to the future editors of our journals;  the inspiration of our next generation of graduate students; the people whose ideas, writings, and practices will shape the future of our discipline?    They're here.  And what makes this so interesting is we don't know which ones they are.  Might be someone sitting across the table from you.  Might be some one you met at the reception last night.  Might be someone attending the UHC.  I think one of most fulfilling aspects of life is the opportunity to watch, and sometime shape, the lives and careers of others, our students and younger colleagues.  Yes, those of us who have been around and keep coming back know a good thing when we see it.


I know that I've been preaching to the choir.  If you're still awake, you probably already know and agree with me on these things.  But I'll never have the chance again to tell you that you made the right choice coming to this convention.  If I am right and you agree with me about this, let me ask you to do something:  something small; something that you can do easily.  Tell your version of what SSCA can do for people to somebody who is not here: a dear colleague that no longer comes; a new colleague that didn't submit a paper; a graduate student who is still forming a professional identity.  I'm convinced that there are hundreds if not thousands of people in our region who ought to be here.  In the last 15 years there has been in our region a profusion of doctoral programs, new faculty, and students in our program, but not a corresponding increase in SSCA membership.  We have lots of colleagues who aren't here. Tell them why they should be.  We've got something that would be beneficial to them, to their lives and careers; to their students; to their institutions.  If you succeed in getting one person to come to next year's convention, you will have not only contributed again to SSCA, but positively influenced the life and future of a colleague.
These, my dear friends, are the reasons that we all should work hard for this association, even when the lights don't.