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School of Communication celebrates retiring Executive Director Larry Long

Dr. Larry Long sits in the SMACC.

Larry Long surveys the Social Media Analytics Command Center (SMACC), the School of Communication's state-of-the-art social media facility. (Photo by Adam Weiss)

Innovative. Inspiring. Creative.

Larry Long is a one of a kind leader at Illinois State University. As executive director of the School of Communication (SoC), Long is a welcoming, full-hearted man with overwhelming creativity. He urges students and faculty to reach for the stars and be proactive in achieving their goals.

Dr. Long holding a fish

Larry Long is well-known for his fishing prowess, one of many activities he will enjoy during his retirement.

Long is, in his own words, their “biggest cheerleader.” But he does more than cheer.

Several faculty colleagues believe that Long has been one of the strongest leaders Illinois State has seen. From creating new degree programs, turning a department into the School of Communication, and developing a state-of-the-art social media lab, Long has never stopped striving for more innovation.

Long came to Illinois State University in 1979 as an assistant professor. The Oklahoma native disliked the bitter Illinois winter weather in the 1980s, so he accepted a faculty position at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

However, fate had a different destiny for Long. In 2001, he received a call from former Illinois State colleagues William Cupach and Sandra Metts, asking him to apply for the position as department chair of Communication at Illinois State University. They recommended him to Paul Schollaert, then-dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Long was hired and returned to Bloomington-Normal where his aptitude to inspire has transformed the SoC into a model educational program.

William Semlak, the Illinois State department chair who first hired Long in 1979, praises his successor’s leadership in the 21st century.

“Larry is a can-do, make-it-happen leader,” said Semlak, now an emeritus faculty member who continues to teach in the SoC. “He is just the kind of person the department of communication needed when he came. The smartest move (Schollaert) ever made was hiring Larry Long as chair.”

As December 2014 draws near, SoC faculty and students are preparing for Long’s retirement. There is a sense of appreciation and overwhelming gratefulness that emanates as you walk through Fell Hall, the headquarters of the SoC. Faculty and staff are thankful for his contributions.

Cupach has witnessed 13 years of progress under Long’s leadership. As a colleague and good friend of Long, he saw the department of communication was in need of new leadership.

“He took what was a very good department and morphed it into a school,” said Cupach. “He enables faculty so they can do their best. Even on campus, we are seen as one of the top schools in the university. We are positioned to lead in the 21st century rather than catch up.”

That appreciation extends across campus. “I would say he’s constantly stepping up for the sake of the school,” said Gregory Simpson, current dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s a pretty rare combination for someone to be as passionate of an advocate that does so in a way that sees benefit to the larger scale of the college and university.”

Over the past 13 years, Long has helped launch the SoC into one of the top programs of its kind. He promoted the creation of the journalism and communication studies majors, brought the Vidette newspaper and NPR radio station, WGLT, into the SoC media lineup, and developed programs to promote alumni involvement and scholarship gifts to the School of Communication. Long also encouraged faculty scholarship and professional development, as well as student participation in programs like Study Abroad and the new civic engagement minor.

One of Long’s proudest initiatives, though, came in his first stint at Illinois State: the establishment of the public relations (PR) major, which is now one of only 40 programs in the nation accredited by Public Relations Society of America. Illinois State has more than 250 PR majors.

“In 1979 I was dismayed that we did not have a PR program,” said Long. “(Faculty colleagues) Mike Shelly, Vincent Hazelton, and I created the first degree in public relations in the state of Illinois, and it stands today as one of the best degrees of its kind in the nation.”

Long’s latest innovation, the state-of-the-art Social Media Analytics Command Center (SMACC), is like a wonderland for communication and technology enthusiasts. The SMACC Lab is an example of Long’s willingness to fight for resources to support the SoC’s more than 900 majors and more than 50 faculty and staff.

Long and SoC faculty colleagues are proud of the SMACC Lab and ecstatic to share it with other units on campus, as well as using it to help educate community leaders in the use of social media analytics.

“He has always been a very strong advocate for the school,” said Simpson. “The recent development of the social media center is a good example that benefits the School of Communication, but usually that kind of passionate advocacy goes hand in hand with a little territoriality. I don’t see that in Larry.”

In addition to his on-campus influences, Long has been taking groups of students to study in Paris each summer for the past 11 years to a business school called Novancia. There, he teaches a course and students are able to obtain both study abroad experiences and class credits.

SoC Academic Advisor Kristen Presley, co-leader of the Paris program, appreciates what Long has done personally to make the trips worthwhile for students.

“He really loves Paris and the people there, and the relationships he has development with the people in Novancia are incredible. They are all very close friends now, which is really inspiring,” said Presley.

Steve Hunt, associate director of the SoC, will be interim director upon Long’s retirement. Hunt said Long has placed the school to be competitive in the Midwest: “He has put us on a trajectory to be sensitive to change and in a position of national prominence.”

The innovations that Long has brought to the SoC will continue to grow, according to Hunt, who also values what Long has done to help him advance in his career.

“Larry has been the most important professional mentor that I’ve had in my life,” said Hunt. “He’s made it possible for me to do what I do and has given me a tremendous number of opportunities to advance my career.”

Ultimately, Long’s legacy might well be lessons that come straight from his first role models, his parents: the values of trust and honesty. Long has demonstrated trust in his faculty and, most importantly, established his faculty’s trust in him.

Long’s father taught him that he could do business with someone through a simple handshake. Long lives his life by these values of honesty and trust. He trusts his staff, is always honest with his faculty members, and expects the same from them.

Pete Smudde, associate professor and coordinator of the public relations program, values those qualities in Long.

“Dr. Long has laid, I think, a very strong foundation for future success because of the level of trust and honesty in the SoC,” said Smudde. “One of the things that has been most important to Dr. Long is making sure that we as a unit have an environment where we can be open and honest with each other and get along very well.”

John Baldwin, SoC professor of communication, agreed with Smudde and appreciates the people-oriented culture Long has inspired, and what it means to Illinois State.

“He is willing to work with a wide variety of people,” said Baldwin. “He gives us a visibility in the university at the national level.”

Hunt says Long is always engaged in the work of others and has an open door policy to make everyone feel comfortable with talking to him. He checks in with each faculty member as often as he can.

“He acts more like a faculty colleague than a boss,” said Cupach.

Sandra Metts, professor emeritus in communication studies, talks about Long with great enthusiasm, as she believes that he has made the SoC a positive, energetic and cohesive place. Long has made the SoC an epicenter for ideas to flourish and goals to be attained.

“He is a man you can trust when he makes a decision. He’s not a dictator he is a leader. He doesn’t dictate. … He leads. He is cooperative, warm, and engaging,” said Metts.