Technology has generated a revolutionary transformation in the way people communicate.

Dr. Sally Jackson
Joined the department in 2007

Dr. Jackson has earned the trifecta of University of Illinois degrees: B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. After building a stellar reputation in the field as an expert in argumentation as well as communication technology, she has returned to her roots to join the faculty of the department that was home to her as a student. Keep reading to learn more about her life’s work and the interesting story behind her return to the department.

1. What have been your connections with the department over the course of your career?
When I came to the University of Illinois as a freshman in 1970, my first connection with the department was as a member of the Debate Team. I became a Speech Communication major in about 1972 or 1973, and I finished three degrees in the department: a bachelor’s in 1974, a master’s in 1976, and a Ph.D. in 1980. After working as a faculty member and an administrator at several other universities, I returned to Illinois in May 2007, as the campus Chief Information Officer and Associate Provost. Although I was technically a member of the faculty from then on, I really came back to the department only in August 2011 after resigning from my earlier post.

2. What does your research focus on? How did you become interested in the topic?
I really have two primary interests, one going back many years and the other still forming. My first area is argumentation theory, and my particular interest has been in the design of argumentative discourse: both the “natural” design of arguments and the regulated designs people invent to improve on natural argumentation. My second area is communication technology, an interest that developed through my ten years or so working as a Chief Information Officer at the University of Arizona and then at the University of Illinois. I’m very interested in how new information and communication technology affect our communication practices (including argumentation!). Right now I am studying virtual organizations, one of the most interesting new forms to develop from our highly interconnected social world.

3. What do you see as the strengths of the department?
We have so many strengths. I’ll name just a few. One is our very distinguished history, with many major ideas in the field originating at Illinois. Our department has produced many, many leaders. Another strength is our comprehensiveness: We have experts working in many different areas of communication, not just a small subset of specialties. A third strength is openness to all good ideas. I think our department is recognized throughout the field for being extraordinarily tolerant of diverse ways of studying communication, so long as the work is serious and high in quality. Finally, somehow the department has sustained a very collegial culture through many changes of individual people. I don’t know how that happens, but the department values people who treat others well, and that value has lasted a long time. We also take strength from the overall quality of Illinois, one of the finest universities in the world.

4. What is one thing you would like undergraduates to know about your research, your findings, or your role as a professor?
This is a very difficult question, but I think the answer for me is that argument is among the most powerful tools humanity has for building societies and solving problems. Argument stimulates deeper thought, and it motivates the search for more information. We also learn through argumentation, both as individuals and societies. When I think back to my own years as an undergraduate in the department, argumentation was central to my studies, and I would say that the most important thing I took away from this was an ability to learn what I need to know as I discover that I need to know it. It is a highly generalizable skill. I’ve had to develop so many new forms of expertise over the years-including not only technical expertise as I was transitioning into information technology, but also management and leadership expertise as I took on varied roles in university administration. And my ability to notice gaps in my own knowledge and weaknesses in my own positions has been a crucial component of my success. So when I teach, I try to avoid being an information source and instead provoke people to build their own knowledge through vigorous testing of ideas in argument-especially their own ideas.