Rita Kirk

Corporate Communication and Public Affairs

Professor, Corporate Communications & Public Affairs; William F May Endowed Director of the Maguire Ethics Center







Rita Kirk, Ph.D., is a senior research professor, award-winning teacher, experienced administrator, and management consultant. Her passions for aligning resources with innovation, empowering ideas, and building coalitions in order to successfully implement strategic initiatives are hallmarks of her work. Currently, she is the William F. May Endowed Director of the Maguire Ethics Center and Professor of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs.

Kirk’s understanding of the political environment and her commitment to ethics in action provides a powerful perspective for her clients. In addition to keynote seminars, Kirk counsels domestic and international public and private sector organizations on strategic communication campaigns, market analysis and stakeholder engagement. Kirk advises clients on a range of ethical issues ranging from impact investing to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to Ethics & Compliance issues. As a Peabody Award-winning journalist, serving as an analyst for CNN during the last five Presidential elections, she knows how to ask the tough questions and understands the mediated culture where organizations must learn to thrive.

Kirk’s academic books include: Political Empiricism: Communications Strategies in State and Regional Elections, which won the “Best Book in Applied Communication” from the National Communication Association; Hate Speech, a book analyzing implications for hate discourse in public communication, with coeditor David Slayden, which was awarded the Outstanding Book on the subject of Human Rights in North America and the James Madison Prize for work on free speech; the highly reviewed Solo Acts: The Death of Discourse in a Wired World; and co-edited books  Political Communication in Real Time: Theoretical and Applied Research Approaches; and Ethics at the Heart of Higher Education.


Ph.D. in Communication; Cognate Journalism. University of Missouri.  (1984).
M.A. in Communication University of Arkansas. (1978).
B.S.E. in Speech Communication/Minor in Political Science. University of Arkansas.  (1975).
Professional Seminar.  Women on Boards.  Harvard.  (2018).

Recent Work



Crespo, C.R. & Kirk, R. (Eds.). (2020). Ethics at the heart of higher education.  Eugene, OR: 

Schill, D., Kirk, R., & Jasperson, A. E. (Eds.). (2017). Political communication in real time: Scalable multidimensional response measurement using a mobile platform. New York:  Routledge.

Slayden, D. & Whillock, R. K. (Eds.). (1999). Soundbite culture: The death of discourse in a wired world. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Whillock, R. K. & Slayden, D. (Eds.). (1995). Hate speech. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Whillock, R. K. (1991). Political Empiricism: Communication strategies in state and regional elections. New York: Praeger.

Select Articles and Essays (over 35 articles published)

Kirk, R. & Schill, D. (2021).  Sophisticated hate stratagems:  Unpacking the era of distrust.  American Behavioral Scientist,

Schill, D., & Kirk, R. (2017). Angry, passionate, and divided: Undecided voters and the 2016 presidential election. American Behavioral Scientist, 0002764217709040.

Kirk, R. (2017). New media, interactivity, and rapid response in presidential communication: The narcotizing dysfunction revisited. In S.A. Martin (Ed.), From columns to characters. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M Press.

Kirk, R. and S.A. Martin. (2017). The dark power of words: Stratagems of hate in the 2016 election. In R.W. Denton, Jr. (Ed.), The 2016 US presidential campaign. (205-230). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kirk, R. (2016). Strategic insights: The news value of real time response measurements. In D. Schill, R. Kirk, & A. Jasperson (Eds.), Political Communication in Real Time. New York: Routledge.

Kirk, R. & D. Schill. (2014). Informed and undecided: Persuasive appeals to noncommittal voters. In R.E. Denton, Jr. (Ed.), Studies of communication in the 2012 presidential campaign. (135-150). London, England: Lexington.

Kirk, R., & Schill, D. (2014). CNN’s dial testing of the presidential debates: Parameters of discussion in tech driven politics. In J.A. Hendricks & L.L. Kaid (Eds.), Techno politics in presidential campaigning: New voices, new technologies, and new voters, (pp.131-151).  New York, NY: Routledge.


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.”

Academic awards include receiving the Greg Phifer Freedom of Speech Award (Southern Communication Association), James A. Madison Award for Excellence in First Amendment Scholarship for Hate Speech (Southern States Communication Association), 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), Best Book in Applied Communication Award for Political Empiricism: Communication Strategies in State and Regional Elections, Speech Communication Association.

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

Professional Experience

CNN consultant during the 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020 presidential elections, conducting Real Time Response measures and focus group sessions on undecided voters. Used student assistants as interns for convention coverage.

Serve as board member of the President Bush’s Military Service Initiative. Former faculty advisor to the SMU MilVets. Active advocate of military service members’ transition into academia.

Served on the board of various nonprofit organizations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Course list

Free Speech & First Amendment  
Political Communication  
History & Philosophy of Free Speech  
Presidential Rhetoric   
Rita Kirk