Kenn Gaither named dean of Elon University’s School of Communications

Gaither, an accomplished teacher and scholar, has been a member of the school’s faculty for nearly two decades and has served as interim dean since 2022.

Elon University has selected Kenn Gaither as the new dean of its School of Communications following a national search. Gaither, who has been serving as the school’s interim dean since June 2022, will become dean on June 1, 2023.  

Kenn Gaither, Dean of the School of Communications

The A.J. Fletcher Endowed Professor of Strategic Communications, Gaither brings to the role nearly two decades of experience within the School of Communications, including 10 years as associate dean, as well as significant professional experience in public relations. Gaither is a highly engaged teacher and mentor who has also produced a sustained and high-quality stream of research while making substantial contributions to the advancement of the School of Communications.

President Connie Ledoux Book said Gaither has demonstrated inspired leadership as a faculty and administrator at Elon and possesses the vision and insight necessary to continue enhancing the student experience, faculty support and the national reputation of the School of Communications.

“Dr. Gaither possesses the innovative spirit and passion for student achievement that will be integral to the future of the School of Communications as it adapts and grows in the years to come,” Book said. “As a teacher, scholar and mentor, he has already made a significant impact on the people, programs and achievements of the school. Under his leadership, the school will continue to break new ground as we prepare our students for success in the ever-changing field of communications.”

Gaither joined the faculty in the School of Communications in 2004 after completing his doctorate in international public relations and new technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a Park Doctoral Fellow and recognized as outstanding doctoral student in his class. Throughout his time at Elon, he has been a teacher focused on student engagement, a scholar dedicated to advancing research in his fields and an administrator focused on elevating the profile of the school.

“Serving as Dean of this great school is a tremendous honor,” Gaither said. “I firmly believe we have one of the finest schools of communications in the country. Coupled with our strong leadership and an exceptional faculty and staff, we are well positioned to continue our growth and innovate, putting our focus on students first.”

While an assistant professor at Elon, Gaither served as director of the Journalism and Communications Fellows Program for three years. He was named associate professor in fall 2010 and full professor in 2016, and served as associate dean from fall 2010 until appointed to the endowed professorship in 2020. Gaither has received scholarly distinction from the Phi Kappa Phi honor society and leadership recognition from the Omicron Delta Kappa honor society. In 2007, he won the Elon University School of Journalism and Communication Scholarship Award as an outstanding faculty researcher.

As an associate dean, Gaither chaired multiple school and university committees and served as the school’s liaison to student organizations and groups. He helped launch Elon Sports Vision, the umbrella organization for students to produce ESPN-quality sports programming, and wrote Elon’s winning entry as the Outstanding Education Program in Public Relations in the nation at the 2019 PRWeek U.S. Awards.

“With a proven track record of supporting his faculty peers and pushing his field of research forward, Dr. Gaither will continue to elevate the level of scholarship and pedagogy within the School of Communications,” Provost Rebecca Kohn said.
Gaither is involved in the wider academic community and serves on the international editorial advisory board for the quarterly peer-reviewed journal Journalism & Mass Communication Educator. Additionally, he has written or co-authored three books, most recently “Globalization and Public Relations in Postcolonial Nations: Challenges and Opportunities,” a 2012 book he co-authored that explored how postcolonial nations use public relations to benefit citizens and communicate across cultures.

In 2021, Gaither was named to the Board of Advisors for The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, a leading resource in PR industry. In spring 2022, he was also selected as one of six finalists for the PRNews Outstanding Educator of the Year award, which honors communicators who use their platforms to better their own community and the global community at large. He has served on four site teams for the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) and this year was appointed to ACEJMC’s accrediting committee.

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Gaither has demonstrated a passion for global education as a student, teacher and administrator and has lived or taught in China, Brazil, Turkey and Ghana. As an undergraduate, he participated in a Semester at Sea voyage, a study abroad program administered by the Institute for Shipboard Education that would take him to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. He would later serve as a staff or faculty on eight additional voyages and took a leave of absence from Elon to lead the Institute for Shipboard Education as its president and CEO during a transitional period.

Along with his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gaither earned his bachelor’s degree in English writing and Portuguese with a Certificate of Latin American Studies and an M.F.A. in literary journalism from the University of Pittsburgh. He and his wife, Barbara, are proud parents of three children: Ellie, 10; and Sydney and Lila, 8.