September 23, 2019

Rothenbuhler settles into position as SOC dean

BRITTANY RUESS/ The Journal Eric Rothenbuhler, Dean of the School of Communications, has met with SOC staff and faculty in his first month at Webster University. Rothenbuhler was one of four candidates for the position of the SOC dean.

Susan Napolean said upon Eric Rothenbuhler’s first campus visit to Webster University, she had a good gut feeling about him. Webster made the formal announcement of  Rothenbuhler’s  new position as dean of the School of Communications (SOC) on June 25. Soon after, Napolean, SOC coordinator, sent him an email.

“I said, ‘Welcome. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to meeting with you. I don’t want to override your joy and excitement but I’m ready to do business when you are.’ Then he wrote back and said, ‘I’m ready.’ And that was day one,” Napolean said.

Rothenbuhler is the former associate dean at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Communication in Athens, Ohio. He was one of four candidates for the position of SOC dean after Debra Carpenter decided to step down from the position to pursue teaching.

In his first month as dean, Rothenbuhler has met with members of faculty and staff one-on-one.

“It’s giving me a chance to let me know what I need to know in my first month here whether that points of pride or issue of concern. And I’m also asking everyone to give me some advice,” Rothenbuhler said. “What are some of the big issues facing the school? What are some of the interesting opportunities facing the school? What do they think I should focus on first?”

Napolean said Rothenbuhler knows he will ask questions throughout the year to become better acclimated to Webster and the SOC.

“And that tells me a lot about him,” Napolean said. “He wants to do a lot of assessment so he can figure out what we’ve been doing up to this point and where we all want to go collectively.”

A consistent concern from faculty and staff, Rothenbuhler said, is the renovation of Sverdrup Hall. He added, personal meetings with faculty and staff (and meetings with students in the future) will allow the SOC to build a vision for its future.

“You only get a chance to remodel a building every 40 or 60 years. It’s a rare opportunity. We have to get it right,” Rothenbuhler said. “So, we need to spend some time on that and build a vision for the future of communication, a future of the school. Then we design a remodel of the building to serve that vision.”

Rothenbuhler’s first campus visit was on Apr. 17. An issue he first identified was the lack of collaboration between majors in the SOC. In a question and answer session with students on that same day, Rothenbuhler said: “When did radio stations start hiring graphic designers? When the web came. All the media today is integrated. Once it’s all digital, the difference between them starts to shrink.”

He restated this idea and said a goal of his is to bring SOC faculty and students together to collaborate on multimedia.

“Once things are on the Internet, the differences between radio, TV, newspapers, film — it all shrinks. That doesn’t mean there are cultural conventions, organizational differences and business model differences,” Rothenbuhler said. “There are differences between these industries, but the technological differences have shrunk and that needs to be reflected in our education. Students need to be prepared for multimedia, cross media and a future that’s wide open to whatever the future media are.”

Rothenbuhler has also made efforts toward a collaboration between the SOC and Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.

Rothenbuhler worked with Zhejiang while at Scripps College to further enhance exchange programs. Scott Titsworth, interim dean of Scripps College, said Rothenbuhler’s primary role was to analyze and develop the relationship between Scripps College and Zhejiang University. The exchange program between Scripps College and Zhejiang, Titsworth said, is centered on the faculty.

Titsworth said before Rothenbuhler left Scripps College, Rothenbuhler worked to extend the exchange program to graduates and undergraduates.

Now, Rothenbuhler wants to bring the same opportunity to Webster students and faculty.

“This can internationalize the domestic experience,” Rothenbuhler said.

Rothenbuhler said he also plans to have monthly meetings with students, like Carpenter did. There are no set dates for these meetings yet.

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