Elizabeth Coffman will become the interim dean of Loyola’s School of Communication on July 1 as Hong Cheng departs for Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU), according to an email sent to the Loyola community.
Cheng has served as a dean at Loyola since 2019 and is slated to become the dean of SIU’s College of Arts and Media.
“I’m so proud and so fortunate and grateful that I had the opportunity to interact with and work with everyone,” Cheng said. “Particularly, I’m grateful to our students, faculty and staff for their dedication, resilience and care for one another.”
As dean, Cheng helped establish a year-long Racial Justice Examen and collaborated with the School of Environmental Sustainability to create the 4+1 Environmental Communication degree program, according to the email.
Apart from physically moving from Chicago to Carbondale, Cheng’s focus for his final two weeks at Loyola is making the transition as seamless as possible for Coffman.
Coffman has been a professor at Loyola since 2004 and is currently the director of the film and digital media program and was described by Cheng as an “excellent choice.”
Provost and Chief Academic Officer Margaret Faut Callahan asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to be the interim dean and Coffman immediately stepped forward.
“It fits right in with where my heart and my head is right now in terms of helping the School of Communication with more opportunities for students,” Coffman said.
The dean acts as an on-campus representative for the university, in charge of recruitment, budget management and the hiring of new faculty, according to Cheng. The position also supports students and staff while enacting university policies.
In order to focus on her duties as interim dean, Coffman said she will not be teaching her scheduled courses this upcoming semester, but will assist students who have already begun their capstone projects.
“I am honored,” Coffman said. “Of course it’s always hard to lose a dean. We are sad to lose Dean Cheng, but he’s got a great job, so I am happy for him.”
SIU’s College of Arts and Media was founded on July 1, 2021 and was described by Associate Dean H.D. Motyl as the university’s “only faculty-driven reorganization.”
Cheng said SIU’s decision to combine communication and liberal arts classes into one school was “smart and bold” and he was professionally intrigued by the chance to work with all of those programs.
“When you have a college that is more academically diverse, per se, that gives you more opportunity for collaboration,” Cheng said. “You also communicate through architecture, art, music and performance.”
Cheng received his M.A. in international journalism at Shanghai International Studies University, his Ph.D. in mass communications from Pennsylvania State University and taught at multiple universities across Asia and America, according to Loyola’s website.
After the candidates were narrowed to a top five, Cheng was offered the job from SIU.
“He brings both the arts and scholarship, the creative side and the scholarly side, that other candidates did not,” Motyl said. “And he brings international, as well as national, experience.”
Beyond the transition, Coffman said her focus is on the upcoming conferences in July, which include a Jesuit communication conference being held at Loyola and an investigative reporting workshop.
In addition, she hopes to expand Loyola’s film program throughout Chicago and potentially develop collaboration with Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
She said she has yet to decide if she will apply for what will be an international search for the next dean. Neither she nor Cheng will be on the search committee, they both said.
“I hope this new leader will have a good vision for the school and a good understanding and appreciation of all the programs and be willing to work with everyone,” Cheng said. “I know great things will continue to be happening for the school in years to come.”
The university said they will continue to update the community on the committee formation and next steps, according to the email.