Communication studies professor receives career achievement award

Friday, September 19, 2014

LAWRENCE – The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Kansas presented Donn Parson, professor emeritus in the Department of Communication Studies, the 2014 Career Achievement Teaching Award at a reception Wednesday. This $1,000 annual award recognizes a retired faculty member who has demonstrated excellence in teaching and has made significant contributions to the profession.

“I can think of no one who better exemplifies the spirit of what it means to be a ‘teacher,’” said Bill Balthrop, professor in the Department of Communication Studies at University of North Carolina and a former student of Parson.

Balthrop first met Parson at a Wichita State University debate tournament. Balthrop was a freshman helping to host the tournament, and Parson was a visiting assistant coach who led his team to tournament victory. Impressed by Parson, Balthrop was inspired to learn from him and attend the University of Kansas as a graduate student.   

 “I remember vividly him asking a question during his seminar… and directing the question to me. I did not have a very good answer… in fact, as I recall, I had no answer whatsoever. He smiled and nodded knowingly and moved on,” Balthrop said. “It was, however, in his practice of having students comment on other students’ papers, that I discovered his patience, his perseverance and his slyness. I was assigned to comment on the three papers that had addressed the specific question I had been unable to answer.”

Parson has been a mentor and revered professor at the University of Kansas for 50 years. During his time at the university he served three terms as department chair, directed about 50 dissertations, was the director of graduate studies in his department for 24 years and the director of forensics, also for 24 years. He has been honored with three of the university’s most prestigious awards: the Kemper Teaching Fellowship, the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Club Career Teaching Award.

He has also been recognized by peers in speech and debate, receiving the Distinguished Service Award, Coach of the Decade, Coach of the Year four times over and being named to the Central States Communication Association Hall of Fame.

“Our field is truly better for the influence this legendary Jayhawk has had on countless students and colleagues,” said Chelsea Graham, one of Parson’s students.

Known to many as “The Head Jayhawk” or “Head Hawk,” Parson was also a force to be reckoned with at the speech podium. Under his direction, the KU debate program qualified more teams to the National Debate Tournament than any other program in the nation. Of those teams, five reached the Final Four, and three were crowned National Champions. 

“As a coach he had a genuine insight for strategy,” said Robert Rowland, a professor of communication studies who nominated Parson for the award. “He also had a real knack for audience analysis, a crucial skill not only for debaters but for academics, especially administrators. As a teacher of argumentation and rhetorical theory, he was a visionary.”

Parson was recognized by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and his peers at the new faculty reception held Wednesday in the Commons at Spooner Hall.

The Department of Communication Studies is part of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, which encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers. Through innovative research and teaching, the College emphasizes interdisciplinary education, global awareness and experiential learning. The College is KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit.