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McCandless man honored by Duquesne University

| Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Ronald Arnett, 61, of McCandless, recently received the Duquesne University’s President’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship for 2013

Decades of scholarship have brought Ronald Arnett to another high point in his academic career.

Arnett, 61, of McCandless, recently received the Duquesne University's President's Award for Excellence in Scholarship for 2013.

“It is a significant honor to be a part of the university's longtime tradition of scholarship,” said Arnett, chairman of the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at the McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts.

He has been with Duquesne since 1993.

Arnett has written nine books and 70 scholarly articles. His topics included communication ethics, communication pedagogy, philosophy, theology, psychology and sociology.

Arnett's interest in rhetoric was piqued at Manchester College, a liberal arts school in Indiana. He remembered Paul Keller as “one of the finest teachers I've ever known,” he said.

Keller encouraged Arnett's interest to learn all he could about communication. That spark first came from his parents and later from others who kept him on his career path.

Arnett majored in theology, psychology and English at Manchester and then pursued a master's degree and doctorate in interpersonal communication at Ohio University.

“Communication needs to be studied,” he said. “It's an ongoing chain of engagement with the history and social characteristics of a given moment.”

Arnett directs a department of 11 faculty members, about 200 undergraduates, 70 doctoral and 50 master's degree students. Communication and rhetorical studies professor Janie Harden Fritz was a member of the search committee who welcomed Arnett to the campus.

“He had a sensitivity to the humanities and the tradition of Duquesne that was rooted in rhetoric and philosophy,” Fritz said.

As he teaches, Arnett prefers to concentrate on what is being said, not how it's said.

He can trace the changes in communication from the Industrial Revolution when “processes and procedures had a dominant impact on the industrial world.”

“We're not teaching the skills of being a blacksmith anymore,” he said. “We're not in a knowledge culture now, but a learning culture.”

And if learning is to happen, real connection begins when one recognizes the need “to understand your neighbors before you understand the content (of their communication).”

Arnett sees social media as a kind of technological wave offering “multiple strands to connect to the human condition.”

He's not bothered by texting but, rather, by its lack of content.

He cautions that when users are “burned in the banality of blurring public and private discourse, we get back to the same issues: How smart are you? What do you bring to the conversation — not just your interest in a new toy.”

It's difficult for Arnett to choose whether his favorite activity is classroom teaching or writing.

“I get smarter in the classroom, too,” he said. “A teacher needs to be the first learner in the classroom, not just the teller.”

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6353 or

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