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Honoring Baxter

Distinguished Scholar Award Speech: 2008

Mary Jane Collier, Immediate Past President of WSCA, presented the first WSCA Distinguished Scholar Award to Leslie Baxter, University of Iowa. Here are the remarks that Collier made in her presentation:

I am extremely honored to present the first annual WSCA Scholar Award. This award was created by the Executive Council to recognize "a sustained contribution to the study of human communication from a member of WSCA who has made a difference in the way scholars and students think about the nature, function, and scope of communication. Criteria for selection include a research program that is: 1) sustained, 2) theoretically grounded, 3) analytically sound, 4) advances the discipline, and 5) includes work that has been featured in WSCA journals as well as other outlets.

The research program of the first WSCA Scholar evidences a thirty year history of sustained contributions to communication theorizing and the study of personal and social relationships. This scholar's name connotes a kind of absolute predictability and confidence in the quality of the work, along with guarantees of novel theoretical insights. As one colleague described, "the stature of this individual's work is unparalleled, not just in interpersonal communication or even communication theory but across the communication discipline; the scholar has authored and coauthored six books, 67 articles, and 33 book chapters."

Another noteworthy characteristic of her research (yes the first scholar is a female) is the unparalleled breadth and depth of her theorizing and research praxis. She has produced more than 40 articles on Relational Dialectics Theory and Dialogism; in a survey of 900 studies on family communication, RDT is the number 1 most cited theory.

Her scholarly voice stands out due to her willingness not only to recognize contradictions and work with tensions but to create ruptures and question foundational assumptions. One colleague said, "She contributes to existing dialogues as well as prompts quantitative and qualitative shifts in theory and research." Take for instance the article on Disciplining the Feminine with Brown & Blair in the Quarterly Journal of Speech in 1994. It was honored with the 2006 Charles H. Woolbert Research Award at NCA for its lasting scholarly contribution. Additionally, "the book, Relating: Dialogues and Dialectics published in 1996 with Montgomery, presented what was known and contradictory and gave us a way to reframe our views of relating." In 2006 her call for more critically oriented scholarship in interpersonal communication has sparked important discussions about interparidigmatic dialogue.

Finally this individual is someone whose presence has been centrally connected with WSCA, and yet she stands out from the crowd as autonomous when necessary. For instance she's been president of WSCA, interest group chair, and published nine articles in the Western Journal of Communication and one in Communication Reports. While she is known for her openness to dialogue, collaboration and mentoring of graduate students throughout the U.S. we are glad she closes off invitations to become active in other regional associations.

In sum, I think of her scholarship as having the constancy and brilliance of the North Star; it guides us from wherever we are located, it brings out the shadows, and lights our way forward.

Look for the special session in Phoenix in 2009, in which the work of this extraordinary scholar will be highlighted. Please celebrate with me the first annual WSCA Scholar, the F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa, Leslie Baxter.

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