Areas of Study

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Rita Kirk

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Rita Kirk

Rita Kirk

Professor and Director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility and SMU London

Dr. Kirk holds the rank of Professor at SMU and is a Meadows Distinguished Teaching Professor.  As an academic, she is recognized for her analysis of political and persuasive campaigns.  She 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.  Kirk was awarded the “M” Award in 2001 and the Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award in 2000 by the SMU student body.  She was awarded the Meadows Outstanding Teaching Professor in 2002, and was named to the Althushuler Academy of Distinguished Professors in 2003.  Specializing in communication strategy, she has more than 20 years of experience as a strategist for city council, mayoral, state, U.S. Representative, and gubernatorial races. In addition to her political consulting, she has served as a communication consultant to several national and multinational corporations on public policy matters. Kirk was the keynote speaker for the Congress of the Americas in 2006.


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 in 2007-2008 to work for CNN during the Presidential election followed by a return to teaching in summer 2008. • Currently, the Director of the 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-present. • Chair of the Division of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs (2002-2007) • Professor (appointed 1991, tenured and promoted to Associate Professor in 1995, promoted to Full Professor in 2000). • Associate Director (1996-1998) for the Center for Communication Arts. • Chair (1995-1996)of the Public Relations Division. • Assistant Professor (1986-1991) in the Department of Communication, University of Alabama-Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama.


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, CA: Sage.

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

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


Schill, D. & Kirk, R. (in press). The Digital Agora: CNN’s Experiment with Dial Tests and Measuring the Impact of the 2008 Presidential Debates. American Behavioral Scientist. In press

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, CT: 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, CA: 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, AR: 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



Part of the CNN team that won the 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

Named the Meadows Outstanding Teaching Professor. 2001

Named a H.O.P.E. Professor (2000). Award from the Student Residential Life Committee for Teaching Excellence.

Presented the “Rotunda Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award” by the SMU student body. Spring 2000.  

Received the 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.

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

Hate Speech is 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.

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


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. 1985-1986.

Areas of Study



Art History

Arts Management and Arts Entrepreneurship

Communication Studies

Undergraduate Studies


Faculty and Staff

Student Resources


Mock Trial and Debate

Dallas Resources


Advisory Board


Creative Computation


Film and Media Arts