My name is Peter Loge. I’m an associate professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University, and as of July 1, the director of SMPA.
My first message as the new director is to say thank you for being part of SMPA. I am excited about this opportunity, and am very grateful to my colleagues for their confidence in me in selecting me for this position. I am especially grateful to my predecessor, professor Silvio Waisbord, for his leadership over the past three exceptionally challenging years. Professor Jesse J. Holland is joining the SMPA leadership team as associate director, and professor Pat Phalen will continue in her role as assistant director.
While I am the new director, I am not new to SMPA. I was an adjunct instructor from about 2000 through the spring of 2016. In the fall of 2017, I joined the faculty full time as the first “political practitioner in residence.” Two years ago, I joined professor Waisbord’s team as the associate director, and before that I filled in as assistant director for a semester when professor Phalen was on sabbatical. In 2019, I launched the Project on Ethics in Political Communication in SMPA to promote the study, teaching and practice of political communication ethics. I also created a course in political communication ethics, making GW the only school in the country with an undergraduate political communication ethics class in a university course bulletin. In 2020, I edited Political Communication Ethics: Theory and Practice, the only textbook to bring together chapters from working political professionals and academics. In addition, I am affiliated faculty with the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication in SMPA, and an associate fellow in Timothy Dwight College at Yale. I am also a senior fellow at the Agirre Lehendakaria Center in Bilbao, a leading think tank in the Basque Country in Spain, and a member of the advisory board at the Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications at Shepherd University. I earned my BS from Emerson College, and master’s degrees from Syracuse University and Arizona State University.
Prior to joining SMPA full time, I worked in politics and strategic communication. Over the past 30+ years, I have served in senior staff positions for three members of the US House, Senator Edward Kennedy, and in the Obama administration. As the director of The Justice Project, I led a team that helped redefine the death penalty debate in America, and as the vice president for external relations at the US Institute of Peace I brought together six teams across USIP to raise the Institute’s profile in Congress and around the world. As a consultant, first at a national firm and then on my own, I worked with everyone from American Farmland Trust and America’s Funniest Home Videos, to WickedCoolStuff.com and the World Wildlife Fund. Over that time, I put the first member of Congress on the internet, was a chief of staff in the US House during President Clinton’s impeachment, served as health care policy advisor during the Affordable Care Act debate, and coordinated the first online chat with a US Senator. In 2016, the FDA Commissioner created a position for me to support the FDA’s efforts on the opioid epidemic, the Precision Medicine Initiative, the Cancer Moonshot, and outreach to academic medical centers. After joining SMPA full time, I continued to advise clients on communications and management, and published Soccer Thinking for Management Success: Lessons for Organizations from the World’ Game, which debuted as a #1 new release on Amazon. Earlier this year I wrote a chapter for a book about a governance model in the Basque autonomous province Gipuzkoa, and over the past six years have published pieces in Media Ethics Magazine, The Hill, Campaigns & Elections, and elsewhere.
At every step, I have brought my real-world experience to the classroom, and theory to my practice. I regularly present client challenges to students, and one client asked me to remove the “suggested reading” section from a campaign plan I wrote (as those of you know me might guess, it was long on Aristotle and Frank Baumgartner). Before joining SMPA, my writing appeared in a book about the death penalty, the Drake Law Review, an international forum on peacekeeping, and elsewhere.
For more than 20 years, I have been #SMPAProud.
As director of SMPA, I will work to ensure that our graduates, regardless of the fields they go into, can think critically and communicate clearly. They should have the technical skills they need to start work the first day, and the intellectual skills to solve problems as they arise. At least as importantly, they should know that there is more at stake than the next election or deadline. They should be passionate advocates and compelling storytellers who know that our democratic experiment demands they be as committed to civil society as they are to their careers. Politics and journalism need not always be nice or polite. Power does not always like to hear truth, and partisan debates often need to be sharp to succeed. But winning isn’t just about raising money or getting clicks. Winning is also about making our society more just and our environment more sustainable. Our graduates should advance their careers, their clients, their causes, and also our shared polity. They should know that one can be a good person, a good citizen, and a successful professional all at the same time.
SMPA is home to centers and institutes that focus on democracy, climate, public diplomacy, national security and peace building. Our faculty study and teach about race, media, persuasion, authoritarianism, and more. They are working journalists, playwrights, filmmakers, and digital storytellers. Our 24 full time, and dozens of part time, faculty teach concepts and skills. They coach, counsel and cajole. Our graduates lead newsrooms and campaigns, and are in front of and behind the camera. Many of our alumni stay connected, help students, speak in classes, and financially support SMPA.
Two critical areas of research and practice in SMPA are strengthening democracy and addressing the climate crisis. A number of our faculty focus on the impacts of data and social media on democracy, ongoing and escalating threats to journalists and free press, and rising authoritarianism. SMPA has also become a center for science and climate communication. SMPA is telling the stories that can lead to action on the climate crisis, and is teaching the next generation of storytellers. Solving these problems requires journalists, storytellers, advocates, teachers, and researchers. That’s us.
Our interests are broad, and our impacts far-reaching. That is as it should be. Democracy and climate are two areas in which we are especially strong, and in which our work will continue to grow.
We will take on these and other issues about which our students and faculty are passionate by bringing theory to bear on practice and by using practice to inform theory. Our students learn how to create digital content and write a lede. They also learn to gather and understand the data about which they are writing, and the communication theories that inform what will change attitudes or votes. They should learn how to deliver the right message, in the right medium, to the right audience, from the right messenger, at the right time. Students may not find answers about the ethics of AI in Plato’s Gorgias, but knowing history and philosophy can help them better understand and navigate new technologies. Our students know that “fake news,” the partisan press, and conspiracy theories have been with us from the beginning, which makes them better equipped to take on the next round of nonsense flooding our politics.
Students can only succeed if their professors succeed, and if the team that makes it all work succeeds. That means doing all we can to support our faculty and staff. Systems and equipment need to work. Technology needs to be available and reliable. Scholars need access to data, to research, and to each other. SMPA and GW face the same financial challenges colleges across the country face. Meeting the needs of our scholars and staff will take creativity and patience. I will do all I can to provide our community all it needs.
The key to making all of this work is you, our SMPA community. This is my most important focus. Our greatest strength is each other. Our strength is the scholars who offer insights and advice to colleagues and students. It is our students who support and encourage each other. It is our alumni, fellows and friends who offer advice, internships and jobs. It is our staff who answer questions and solve problems.
Community isn’t the result of wishful thinking or chance. Community is a decision and a commitment. Community is an act. We are already planning events, brown bags, and other formal and informal ways to bring our community together. A fishing net is one of my favorite metaphors for successful organizations. Nets work because of where the knots aren’t. Nets are individual strands bonded at key places that make it not just greater than the sum of its parts, but the point of the sum of its parts. Scholars, creators and students disconnected from each other are just strands of string. But tied together, with staff, alumni, fellows, and friends those strings become a network that can accomplish the astonishing.
This has gone on too long - I assign a lot of 500 word essays, but inevitably fall back on “do as I say, not as I do.” There is still much to say, and even more to accomplish. Take this as the start of a conversation I look forward to continuing.
Onward into the fall,