Distinguished Scholars of the National Communication Association (NCA) and The Ivory Tower

Note:  This is a response to the distinguished scholars of the NCA who oppose changes being made by the executive committee.  It should be noted that I appreciate the efforts by the admin of the NCA to make such changes.

National Communication Association (NCA)

This name and acronym has been something I have rejected as an academic since I can remember.  ICA and the other acronyms as well.

It was very early on in my training that I rejected the traditional conference and journal model of academia.  

I attended a predominantly white graduate program at UT Austin in the Radio, Television and Film Department.  I was an outsider from day one. That said I did have an evolving support system throughout my “tenure” there as a I did my BS, MA and PhD there.  My dissertation committee ended up being made up of mostly rogue misfit professors of the likes of Sandy Stone, John Hartigan, Andrew Garrison, Susan McLeland and Joseph Straubhaar.  

Each one of them taught me in their own way to be diverge, to not follow the straight and narrow path for which the department and canon of communications sold to us as undergrad/graduate students.  Whether they realized it at the time or not, they were arming me for academic ivory tower battle.

Watching my dissertation chair Sandy Stone tell her story of being denied tenure by her department, to only have it over turned by the university was awe inspiring as a future deviant professor.  Granted it was a lived reality for her. One for which as a graduate student I would go up in arms for and literally walk away from that university along with Sandy with our program burning behind us like in an action movie.

Dean Rod Hart at the time made it clear and I quote “no alkaline of the ACTLab will remain.”  The ACTLab being the new media program/phenomenon Sandy started and I helped maintain along with other colleagues.

The ivory tower was strong throughout my R1 program at UT Austin, it reeked with prestige for which a working class Latino from San Antonio just did not identify with at the core.  I didn’t have a huge Western European vocabulary and I still don’t. I also wasn’t a follower, I wasn’t looking to be told what is, but to be facilitated about how to make what will be.

I lead with these statements into my feelings about the recent editorial letter by the NCA editor, for whose name I will leave void, because I want to be clear I am of the utmost outsider to this organization, yet have an understanding and stance for it which I am sadly seeing become a blatant reality for my minority colleagues and white allies of the NCA and other acronyms.  

I see a profession for which I have “hacked” to be participatory in, successful in and inspire in, hit to its fundamental core by what was written and the actions for which it makes implicitly clear for the past, present and future in terms of merit and gate keeping.

I watch as fellow minorities and allies who have literally put their career into these organizations, their livelihood into them be miss served, taken for granted and marginalized by the distinguished scholars of the NCA.  It’s truly a sad awakening for many.

So what are my thoughts?  What do I recommend?

Well first I offer that my voice is just one voice and one opinion.  Take it for what it’s worth.

1.  My professor Sandy Stone taught me to refuse closure.  To chew on discourse and canon. To explore meaning from multi modal perspectives.  Meaning I do my best to see multiple perspectives at once. The distinguished scholars need to see beyond their own accolades and successes to see what others value.

2. Sandy also taught me that sometimes in oppositional practice just existing is winning.  I have used this throughout my academic career to win. I could see this helping many in the NCA and other acronyms know that just by being participatory they are being active.  Even while their distinguished scholars are actively working against such efforts.

3. I believe a fundamental look at what it means to be a distinguished scholar in the field of Communication in the 21st century must be conducted.

4. This “look” needs to be multimodal, inclusive and inherently include 3rd parties.  

5. Alternative spaces need to be included within the scope of merit and prestige in an active manner.

6. Forms of academic expression beyond journal articles need to carry weight in terms of intellect and intellectual discourse.  Until 21st century modes of intellectual production are recognized the current system will stay. The concept of a distinguished scholar needs to be deconstructed and re evaluated.  

Again these are just my thoughts having hacked the system myself.  I went from someone who was told they worked well with their hands and should become an AC repairman (which I could have done) to getting my PhD in the most non traditional way by hacking the system to sadly having one of my best students shot and killed at UIW by their police while tenure track there and denied tenure for speaking up, to coming to Texas A&M where I am currently as an Associate Professional professor.

I in no way did any of the above on my own, it was through great mentors, colleagues, students, family and friends that I am where I am today.  

I believe for NCA and acronyms like it to survive and adapt the distinguished scholars needs to listen those around them and heed alternative input and discourse for the field.  


joey lopez phd