The Voice: Summer 2002

The Voice

Vander Kooi’s field moves from speech to communication and beyond

By Sally Jongsma

Dr. Daryl Vander KooiDr. Daryl Vander Kooi has seen his discipline undergo major changes during his tenure at Dordt College. And he expects to see equally big changes in the years to come.

When Vander Kooi arrived at Dordt in 1971, fresh out of graduate school, speech—along with theater—was part of the English department. There was not a communication course per se, much less a department. And speech was really oral rhetoric, Vander Kooi says. “Writing and speaking were not considered all that different.”

It took until 1976 for Dordt to begin a communication department, but the new department was the result of a change of thinking that had been afoot for some time and to which Vander Kooi became committed as a graduate student at Montana State University in the late 60s.

“Before, speech was only studied from the speaker’s perspective,” says Vander Kooi. But with the development of propaganda by Hitler in World War II, the use of brainwashing in the Korean War, and the growth of psychology in the middle of the century, people began to see the need to take the listener more seriously. Speech and communication came to be seen more as social interaction rather than oral rhetoric.

According to Vander Kooi, the move to find a department home for speech and communication began in some universities in the late 60s. Dordt introduced its communication department in 1976, later than some, earlier than others, says Vander Kooi.

“It was really [Dr. Douglas] Ribbens who initiated the change at Dordt,” says Vander Kooi. As academic dean, Ribbens called the speech teachers into his office and told them to design their own major, says Vander Kooi. He and his colleagues tried to shape the major in a way that acknowledged the important role of communication as social interaction and grounded it in the reformed perspective being fleshed out throughout the curriculum.

“Dordt was in the thick of change,” says Vander Kooi. Several new majors were being added as a result of the college’s commitment to provide its students with “serviceable insight”—Christian insight that would prepare them to take their place in a broad range of occupations throughout society.

Vander Kooi compares the time to that of an adolescent moving into adulthood. Major growth in numbers, twenty years of growing, and the societal setting of the 70s helped push the college into adulthood, Vander Kooi says.

“It was like a growth spurt before we settled into maturity.” Vander Kooi believes
it was the point at which the college community finally got beyond the fighting over the direction of the college and the insecurities about who they were, and began to develop creative programs that have given Dordt its unique place in Christian higher education.

In the communication department that meant, for one thing, introducing a new general education requirement that not only included speaking, but also listening. Eventually it also pushed them to incorporate mass communication courses into their curriculum.

In the mid 90s, during another curriculum revision, changes were again made to reflect student and societal needs. The department revised the major, introducing a core of courses accompanied by different emphases—speech, radio/television, journalism and branching out into public relations and human resources. Today human resources has moved to the business department, but new challenges continue to arise as the culture moves into an even more visual age.

In fact, Vander Kooi may spend his last summer under Dordt contract laying out the parameters for a visual communication major, marking the second significant change in the department during his tenure here.

“There’s a different logic that rules visual communication,” he says. As more of our
culture’s information gets transmitted visually, Vander Kooi and others believe we need to be aware of how these differences affect how we live and work and learn.

With the proliferation of information on the Internet, it’s hard to decide what is good information and what isn’t, he says. We often rely on impression—what appears to be good is good enough. We need to be aware of that tendency.

Changes in curriculum and in getting information have also been accompanied by changes in students. While Vander Kooi has enjoyed working with students throughout his career, he finds himself thinking back fondly to students in the 70s.

“Students then wanted to talk about Christian perspective—to challenge us and have us challenge them,” he says adding, “We were pushed to articulate how what we were teaching was Christian,” he recalls. “Man, that was fun.”

It’s still fun, but Vander Kooi is also ready to move on to other things. Lord willing, beginning next fall, he and his wife, Maris, plan to volunteer their time with Christian organizations like Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Wycliffe Translators, Rehoboth Christian School, or Cary Christian Center.