I was recently asked, “Why do you think HU has failed to fill the advertising professor position? I am mystified by it.” Signed by one of my former colleagues.
The Demise of an Advertising Major
I have wondered, worried and lamented over the demise of the advertising program and and not hiring a lead advertising professor since I left in the Summer of 2020. I could have given a couple of short answers but writing this out with my complete (or somewhat complete) thoughts will be very cathartic for me. Please keep in mind that my answers are just that, MY answers. Most of this is based on my opinions and first-hand knowledge and not necessarily inside management's valid decisions, or directives.
With that said, to my knowledge, while the advertising major may not be off the books, it is all but dead, with ZERO students left majoring in advertising (that I know of). The following answers and comments may refer directly back to your question about replacing the advertising professor, or they may be directed to the demise of the advertising program itself. I think they work hand in hand to the same end result.
When I retired in May of 2020 there had been a year or more of major cash-shortages, and a several year pattern of shrinking enrollment at the university level, but the Comm Dept had actually increased our student numbers. Even before the catastrophic event we called a pandemic, there were bound to be corrections in staff and salaries at the HU campus. I gave the Communication Department a full 12-month notice of my impending departure, but to my knowledge, nothing was done to replace me until the summer of 2020, after I was gone. Why? My best guess was finances! At least that’s what I like to think, instead of the thought that they didn’t need me anymore.
I do vividly remember that each college was directed by management to reduce their faculty line by two. As the advertising professor I was an easy mark. I had already announced my retirement – that was ONE! I don’t have any knowledge of who was the second professor to fall on their sword or to be cut, but a sigh of relief was heard throughout the land when everybody realized they were NOT the one to be let go.
While there were some inquiry’s about who could take my position it was all speculation until a hiring freeze was scheduled to be lifted. I do recall suggesting a few potential replacements, but those suggestions were met with, “They don’t have a Ph.D.” To which I said, “Well, good luck with that!” Ph.D.’s in advertising is a very rare find, and a Ph.D. candidate that was a member of a Church of Christ was even harder to find, much less PAY a fair salary in the current environment.
In the middle of March 2020 everything shut down for the pandemic. This did not endear any kind of search to have a smooth transition of a new professor of advertising. I know that everybody was just in panic mode, and filling this position was put on the back burner. In fact, I was asked if I would stay on for the Fall of 20 and teach as an adjunct remotely from my home here in Ringgold, Georgia? I thought about it for a nano-second and kindly said no… it was time for me to move on. I had a retirement position that I had agreed to, and was anxious to get started as the President of Agape Asia Foundation. www.agapeasia.org.
Then, less than six months later, in the midst of the Pandemic, there was a Presidential resignation/retirement/firing (you choose) and everything was put on hold - for everything!
Also interesting to this event is that two years before I left Harding, In the summer of ’18, I received a phone call from a dean across campus telling me he had received permission from my department chair to inquire about me moving to COBA as a marketing teacher! I was stunned. Did this mean that the Comm Dept. didn’t want me? I honestly didn’t know. But I did know that we had recently taken a teacher from the English department one from the business department was already on their way to our department, so maybe this was just standard protocol to get all classes collectively covered by Harding University.
The primary reason I turned it down was that I already knew when I was planning on retiring, but I had not disclosed that to anybody yet.And, if I executed my retirement as planned, I would be giving a one-year notice just one year later. I didn’t want to do that to any of the current marketing professors or management. It just didn’t feel right to do so. I just kindly thanked the Dean and said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” The more I thought about it, it sounded like two major league teams making a trade; “I’ll give you Steve Shaner for a player to be named later!” haha
I also realized that when I did leave in two years that I had every reason to believe that the next advertising teacher was the business department transfer.And, that was a perfect replacement in my mind! I also knew that they were an IMC person at heart!So YES, I was actually THRILLED about that and never really expected to be replaced otherwise.
A couple of years before I left the Comm Dept, there had been lots of rumblings of the new IMC major. A move that I whole-heartedly supported. In fact, I had made the suggestion almost 10-years previous to it coming to fruition. You may remember that I have my Master’s degree in IMC from Roosevelt University in Chicago and was adjunctly teaching in in their IMC Master’s degree program when I got an unsolicited call from Harding and Mike James to come teach advertising at HU. Upon my arrival and getting my feet wet and finding my way to the bathrooms and cafeteria’s I started suggesting that IMC was the new Advertising. I was met with a big, “What’s that?” from a few older, longer tenured teachers and professors than me. I suggested that the Adv. and PR majors be rolled into one and be called IMC. When I pressed-on, I was simply told, “No, not now, not ever!”
A couple of years later I discovered that as the director of the advertising program that I could make changes to the advertising required classes. Every year I proceeded to make subtle changes to the Advertising curriculum to look more like an IMC curriculum.
The IMC curriculum that was in place when I left looked great with one glaring omission--- in addition to students being required to take Principles of Marketing, a student had to choose to take Public Relation Principles OR Introduction to Advertising, but not both. It was at that time that I knew that the advertising major was on life-support. Having the choice, when there was nobody in place to rally the troops for advertising, meant that there would be no Champion to pick up the gauntlet and charge on!
I also became keenly aware that there was no Administration support (department or otherwise) to save the advertising major. I think everybody spoke about getting rid of advertising major in hushed tones when the new IMC came to fruition.
Case in Point: I took the advertising majors, (and some PR/other dept. majors) on what I called an Ad Agency Crawl for 11 of my 12 years of teaching at Harding.This educational outing consisted of a day trip to Chicago, (always on a Wednesday), touring 2-3 venues of advertising and media operations on each Thursday and Friday (from my previous network), with a play-date in Chicago on a Saturday, before getting on the bus for the return trip back to Campus on Sunday morning. EVERY year I had invitations to the other members and leaders of the department, and not even once was there a modicum of support. Every year I was the only professor in the department that attended this AMAZING experience. It was sad to see so little support and it broke my heart!
There was also a lack of inter-departmental cooperation with the advertising major. I asked the Graphic Design department to partner with the advertising program for a variety of educational ventures. I was told no because artists don’t like to write copy!
I asked the marketing professors to send their marketing majors to take my advertising class so they could learn the message strategy and creative delivery that so many of them needed to be aware of. “No, they get what they need from our promotions class.”Over the years there were a few exceptions with marketing majors taking an advertising class or two, but they were the ones that had more vision than the business department leadership.
I don’t even know if the advertising major is still an offered major at Harding. When I left and no one was in place to oversee advising my advertising majors, that role fell to the department chair and not a mass communication professor or professional.
In the end, a dwindling number of students, and the reasons listed above, caused the demise of the advertising professor… and the major itself.
There’s an old adage in business, “If you think that you’re gonna be missed after your gone, think again. To prove this, just stick your hand in a bucket of water and then remove it quickly to see the hole you left!”
Sometimes I am sad that I was not replaced, but then I stick my tongue in my cheek, smile, and say to myself, “Of course they didn’t replace you Steve, you’re irreplaceable!”
I do miss my students terribly. I miss my friends and colleagues. But I am so enjoying my new job and retirement that I have absolutely no regrets. I have no input or involvement in my replacement and I’m very happy with that.
May the Advertising program, REST IN PEACE!