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Rita Kirk

Umphrey Lee 213
Rita Kirk

Rita Kirk

William F. May Endowed Director, Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility
Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs

Rita Kirk is a senior research professor, award winning teacher and experienced administrator with a passion for aligning resources with innovation, empowering ideas and building coalitions in order to successfully implement strategic initiatives. A frequent commentator and speaker, she excels as a communication strategist who specializes in the analysis of public arguments and the successful (and ethical) implementation of communication campaigns.

Kirk is the author of several award-winning books and articles, including Political Empiricism: Communications Strategies in State and Regional Elections; Hate Speech, a book analyzing implications for hate discourse in public communication, with coeditor David Slayden; and Solo Acts: The Death of Discourse in a Wired World.

As a professor, she has numerous teaching awards including the “M” Award from the SMU student body, the Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Award and the Meadows Outstanding Teaching Professor. In 2014, the SMU Woman’s Club recognized her as SMU’s Outstanding Faculty Member.

Kirk frequently serves as a media commentator and has served as an analyst for CNN during presidential election debates over the past 10 years. She consults with national and multinational corporations on public policy and leadership.

Kirk serves as the Director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility and is a Faculty-in-Residence at Armstrong Commons.


Ph.D. in Communication, University of Missouri, 1986. Cognate: Journalism Awards: Arts & Sciences Graduate Fellow, Teaching Assistant, 4.0/4.0. Dissertation: “An Abductive View of American Civil Religion: An Analysis of the Political Rhetoric of the 1984 Presidential Campaign.”

M.A. in Communication, University of Arkansas, 1978. Thesis: “Barbara Jordan: The Rise of the Black Woman Politician.” Awards: Teaching Assistant, 4.0/4.0.

B.S.E. in Speech/Minor in Political Science, University of Arkansas, 1975

Professional Experience

  • A Meadows Distinguished Teaching Professor and an SMU Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor
  • Sabbatical 2007-08 to work for CNN during the presidential election followed by a return to teaching in summer 2008.
  • Director of the SMU London International Program and the Washington, D.C. Hilltop on the Hill Political Experience Program.
  • Served on the Bush Presidential Library committee at SMU from 2001 to present.
  • Chair of the Division of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs (2002-07)
  • Professor (appointed 1991, tenured and promoted to Associate Professor in 1995, promoted to Full Professor in 2000).
  • Associate Director (1996-98) for the Center for Communication Arts.
  • Chair (1995-96) of the Public Relations Division.
  • Assistant Professor (1986-91) in the Department of Communication, University of Alabama-Huntsville.


Free Speech & First Amendment; Political Communication; History & Philosophy of Free Speech; Research; Persuasion; Presidential Rhetoric



Slayden, David and Rita Kirk Whillock, Eds. (1999). Soundbite Culture: The Death of Discourse in a Wired World. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

Whillock, Rita Kirk and David Slayden, Eds. (1995). Hate Speech. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1991). Political Empiricism: Communication Strategies in State and Regional Elections. New York: Praeger.


Schill, D. & Kirk, R. (April 2014). Courting the Swing Voter: “Real Time” Insights into the 2008 and 2012 U.S. Presidential Debates. American Behavioral Scientist. vol. 58, 4: pp. 536-555.

Kirk, R. & Schill, D. (March 2011). The Digital Agora: CNN’s Experiment with Dial Tests and Measuring the Impact of the 2008 Presidential Debates. American Behavioral Scientist. vol. 55, 3: pp. 325-347.

Lawson-Borders, Gracie and Rita Kirk. (December 2005). Blogs in Campaign Communication. American Behavioral Scientist, 49, 1-12.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (2000). A Consultant's Angle: Comments on Politics and Politicians. American Communication Journal.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1997). Cyber Politics: The Online Strategies of ’96. American Behavioral Scientist, 40, 1208-1225.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1994). The Subversion of Argument: Lessons from the Demagogic Rhetoric of David Duke. Political Communication, 11, 217-231. (Lead Article).

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1994). Dream Believers: The Unifying Visions and Competing Values of Adherents of American Civil Religion. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 24, 375-388.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1993). Winning Their Hearts and Minds: Strategies for Victory in American Political Campaigns. World Communication Journal, 22, 62-67.

Fitzpatrick, Kathy and Rita Kirk Whillock. (1993). Assessing the Impact of Globalization on US Public Relations. Public Relations Quarterly, 19, 315-325.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1992). Ideology and Implications of Media Use. In J.K. Muir (Ed.) C-SPAN in the Communications Classroom: Theory and Applications (pp. 11-20). Annandale, Va.: SCA Publications.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1989). Political Empiricism: The Role of a Political Consultant in One Mayoral Race. Southern Communication Journal, 60, 55-72.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1988). The Practice of Theory: A Controversy in Current Debate. The Forensic, 73, 5-15.

Whillock, Rita Kirk and David E. Whillock. (1987). Debunking an American Myth: A Case Analysis. Journal of Communication Studies, 6, 5-9.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1986). Religion and Politics: The Rhetorical Strategies of Mario M. Cuomo and John F. Kennedy. Journal of Communication Studies, 4, 8-12.

Book Chapters

Schill, Dan and Rita Kirk. (in press). Real Time Response in the 2008 Presidential Election. In Dial Testing Worldwide Assumptions.

Kirk, Rita. (2008). Developing Quality Research Skills. In Tyrone Adams, Ed., Communication Basics. Online publication of the American Communication Association.

Goldzwig, Steven R., Karrin Vasby Anderson, Frederick Antczak, Thomas W. Benson, Rita Kirk. (2006). The Ethical Responsibilities of Presidential Rhetoric. In The Prospect of Presidential Rhetoric, eds. James A. Aune and Martin J. Medhurst. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press).

Whillock, Rita Kirk & David Whillock. (2002). Digital Democracy 2000. In R.E. Denton, Jr. (Ed.), pp. 167-182. The 2000 Presidential Campaign. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (2000). Age of Reason: The Electronic Frontier Confronts the Aims of Political Persuasion. In A. Albarran & D. Goff, (Eds.). Understanding the Web: Social, Political, and Economic Dimensions of the Internet. Iowa State University Press.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (2000). Ethical Considerations of Civil Discourse: The Implications of the Rise of “Hate Speech.” In R.E. Denton (Ed.). Political Communication Ethics. New York: Praeger.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1999). Giant Sucking Sounds: Politics as Illusion. In D. Slayden and R. K.Whillock (Eds.). Soundbite Culture: The Death of Discourse in a Wired World. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1998). Digital Democracy: The ’96 Campaign On-line. In R.E. Denton (Ed.). The 1996 Presidential Campaign: A Communication Perspective. (pp. 179-198). New York: Praeger.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1996). The Compromising Clinton: Images of Failure, a Record of Success. In R.E. Denton and R. Holloway (Eds.), The Clinton Presidency: Images, Issues and Communication Strategies. (pp. 123-138). New York: Praeger.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1995). The Politics of Hate. In R. Whillock and D. Slayden (Eds.), Hate Speech. (pp. 28-54). Newbury Park: Sage.

Whillock, Rita Kirk. (1994). Easy Access to Sloppy Truths: An Analysis of the ’92 Presidential Media Campaign (pp. 292-314). In S. Smith (Ed.), Bill Clinton on Stump, State and Stage: The Rhetorical Road to the White House. Fayetteville, Ark.: University of Arkansas Press.

Research Published in the Mass Media

CNN, 2008 Presidential Election. Conducted public opinion research and

election analysis for CNN election and debate coverage.

CNN, 2008 Presidential Primary Election. Conducted public opinion research and

election analysis for CNN election and debate coverage.

Hearst-Argyle Television, 2008 Presidential Primary Election. Conducted public opinion research and election analysis for ABC election coverage.


Part of the CNN team that won the 2008 Peabody Award for their “unparalleled coverage of an historic election process.” The award committee specifically hailed CNN’s use of “state-of-the-art technology.” SMU researchers Dan Schill and Rita Kirk are proud to share in that accomplishment.

Executive Director, American Communication Association

Named a member of the Altshuler Academy of Distinguished Professors, 2003

Meadows Outstanding Teaching Professor, 2001

H.O.P.E. Professor Award from the Student Residential Life Committee for Teaching Excellence, 2000

Rotunda Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award by the SMU student body, spring 2000

Greg Phifer Freedom of Speech Award, Southern Communication Association, 1998

Dean’s Award for Outstanding Research, Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University, 1997

James A. Madison Award for Excellence in First Amendment Scholarship for Hate Speech, Southern States Communication Association, 1997

Hate Speech awarded Outstanding Book on the subject of human rights in North America. Gustavus Meyers Center (co-sponsored by the NAACP, National Organization of Women, National Urban League, B’nai B’rith, Universalist Unitarian Church, Project Censured and Free Inquiry), fall 1996.

Best Book in Applied Communication Award for Political Empiricism: Communication Strategies in State and Regional Elections, Speech Communication Association National Convention, Chicago, Ill., 1992

Additional Distinctions

Who’s Who in the Media and Communications, 1998

The World Who’s Who of Women, 1996

Who’s Who of International Scholars, 1995

Who’s Who in the South and Southwest, 1994

Who’s Who in American Women, 1995

Outstanding Young Women of America, 1985-86

Areas of Study



Art History

Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship

Corporate Communication and Public Affairs

Undergraduate Studies

Faculty and Staff

Student Resources

Advising Guide


Mock Trial and Debate

Dallas Resources

Advisory Board


Creative Computation


Film and Media Arts