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Department of Communication Studies


Some form of public speaking instruction has been offered at Kansas State University since it was founded in 1863. In 1898, the college (then called Kansas State Agricultural College) created the "Department of Oratory." The first Professor of Oratory was Frederick Metcalf, who came to KSAC from Emerson College in Boston at the invitation of President Will.

Around 1903, the Department of Oratory changed names to the "Department of Public Speaking;" the name changed again to the "Department of Speech" in the 1920's. After radio and theatre were added, our department became the "Rhetoric/Communication Division" within the Department of Speech and Theatre. The name changed to "Speech Communication" in the late 1980's, and then to "Communication Studies" in 2008. In July 2012 with the creation of the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance we became a stand alone department. We are the Department of Communication Studies.

The education of students in the field of communication has an important tradition at K-State. In its earliest history, the university (KSAC) placed emphasis on teaching students to be polished citizens. Up until the 20th century, students could not graduate until they had delivered an original oration (based on their senior thesis project, which they all had to write) before the entire faculty and student body at chapel. It was a rite of passage to prove that students were educated men or women. Until the early 19th century, students were required to take four semesters of public speaking (Oratory 1, 2, 3 and Extemporaneous speaking). Thus, students took a required communication course every year during their 4 years at KSCA.

Integral to the history of our department is the history of debate and forensics on campus. Kansas State Agricultural College's first intercollegiate debate competition was in 1905 against Fairmont College (now Wichita State). Our department's team had both male and female members.

Early student life at the college was dominated by the 8 literary societies, the forerunners of the fraternity/sorority system. Societies met weekly to hear speeches and debates among their members. Each of the literary societies elected its best speaker to be its official orator, and then once a year, KSAC held an "Intersociety Oratory Contest." This was the social and cultural event of the year on campus – the societies turned out in formal wear to cheer on their orator. Winning this event was a huge deal – the winner became the class/college orator.