This summer, the University of Rhode Island looked internally to find an interim director to lead the Harrington School of Communication and Media, after the founding director stepped down on June 30.
Effective August 4, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Winifred Brownell appointed Associate Professor of Communication Studies Adam Roth as interim director of the Harrington School. Roth replaces Dr. Renee Hobbs who will stay at URI as an associate professor of communication studies after her three-year stint as director.
“[Roth is] an outstanding teacher, renown scholar and engaged citizen,” Brownell said. “We were very, very fortunate to be able to have another member of our community who could seamlessly step in, and we’re fortunate to still have Dr. Hobbs here.”
When tasked with finding an interim director to lead the developing school, Brownell turned to the community for advice on who to appoint. According to Brownell, over 85 percent of Harrington faculty nominated Roth, a respected community member who has been involved with the growth of the Harrington School since its conception.
“I think Adam [Roth] is a terrific leader and very good for the next director,” Hobbs said. “He has a lot of great skills in program management that…I think will be important in the next phase of the program’s development.”
In addition to being an associate professor of communication studies, Roth has also served as the communication studies basic course director during his time at URI. He is an “internationally renowned scholar,” Brownell said, whose research focuses on rhetoric and the development of Western medicine. He received tenure at URI in 2013.
When offered the position of interim director, Roth had one foot out the door to begin a semester-longÂ sabbatical in Greece, however, the job was one he could not turn down. Roth deferred his sabbatical research appointment at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens where he would have been a senior associate member.
“As much as I had been planning for the sabbatical, in the end it was a pretty easy decision,” Roth said. “I [had] no hesitation whatsoever. It was something that I could absolutely not turn down but even more so, it was just a very exciting opportunity for me to give back to the faculty and the school and to help the school move forward.”
The Harrington School was an idea conceived by Brownell in the early 2000s to make the university smaller by creating a school that would “capitalize on the natural synergy” of the programs it encompassed: communication studies, film/media, journalism, public relations, library and information studies and writing and rhetoric. It became a reality in 2008 when URI alumnus Richard Harrington pledged a $5 million gift to the university to form the school in his name.
The idea of a Harrington School of Communication was part of what drew Roth to URI eight years ago from the communications department at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I was just so excited by this school of communication because I came from a school where the communication department was important and prestigious but it didn’t have that esteem within the university,” Roth said. “I came out here and I was really delighted with the people I met in the department of communication studies. There was a feeling at Rhode Island that I hadn’t felt in other places I had been; a sense of collegiality and camaraderie.”
Because the job fields Harrington school majors feed into are constantly changing, part of Roth’s job as interim director is not only building on the foundation laid by Hobbs, but also to keep the curriculum of the Harrington School relevant.
This semester, students will see changes to the Harrington School’s website that reflect data polled from recent Harrington alumni on internships and job offers, a soon-to-be-released Winter J-Term class that will offer students networking opportunities across the state and several new hires across the Harrington School’s departments. In addition, programs created by Hobbs like the Unclassroom experience, the Harrington Hub and the Harrington Rangers will continue as renovations of Ranger Hall bring it closer to becoming a new home for the Harrington School. With a focus on globalization and interdisciplinary study, Roth hopes to continue Hobbs’ dream of creating a cutting edge school for media study at URI.
“I think [Hobbs] painted a vision of what the school could be which is one of the best schools in the country for studying communication and media and she created these expectations that faculty are ready to live up to,” Roth said.
Brownell plans to conduct a national search for a permanent director in January pending permission from the provost.
While Hobbs will continue teaching at URI, currently her primary focus is her work in the field of digital and media literacy. She is working on several projects including a state-wide library education in partnership with the Providence Children’s Film Festival that will bring together public and school librarians with children’s media makers in an effort to promote media literacy. Hobbs cites her time as founding director as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
“I’m really proud of…creating an institution that will thrive and really capitalize and cultivate student leadership,” Hobbs said. “I’m really proud of the development of the mission, vision, and strategic plan. We created an identity that I think people really believe in.”