It is with deep sadness that we write of the passing of Dr. Michael Pfau on March 12, 2009 after a brief illness. Michael was a longtime faculty member at Augustana College (1975-1993), was housed in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1993 until 2001, and then moved to the University of Oklahoma, where he served as chair of that institution's Department of Communication.
While at Augustana College, Dr. Pfau was the Director of Forensics and coached a strong debate program, which qualified numerous times for the National Debate Tournament. During this period Michael was active in the American Forensic Association. The students with whom he came into contact during various tournaments always appreciated the care that he took in writing his ballots and in making time to offer additional instruction between rounds in an effort to improve their skills as debaters.
Michael's publication record was second to none, achieving a strong reputation in both the persuasion and political communication domains. His work on persuasion focused on inoculation theory and resistance to persuasion. His research program focused on explicating the mechanisms underlying inoculation effects. However, this research advanced our understanding of more general social influence processes as well. Dr. Pfau’s second line of research involved the role of the mass media in political processes. This research primarily concerned presidential media coverage, with a focus on presidential debates effects in particular. However, more recent research had begun to explore how changing media practices impacted presidential campaigns. Perhaps his most important work in this area concerned how media coverage of politics in America contributed to a growing skepticism among the general populace toward fundamental political processes and political institutions.
Michael wrote or edited seven books, including Mediating the Vote: The Changing Media Landscape in U. S. Presidential Campaigns (with J. Houston and S. Semmler), The Persuasion Handbook: Developments in Theory and Practice (with J. Dillard), and With Malice Toward All? The Media and Public Confidence in Democratic Institutions (with P. Moy). Michael published well over 100 articles and book chapters over the course of his career and a full list of his coauthors extends to the several hundred.
He received numerous awards for his scholarship over the years, including the National Communication Association's Golden Monograph Award, the Communication and Social Cognition Division of NCA's Distinguished Book Award, and the Rose B. Johnson Award for the best article published in Southern Communication Journal.
Michael recently served as the editor of the Journal of Communication. He also served as the editor of Argumentation & Advocacy from 1992-1994. In addition, he served on the editorial boards for 10 different journals.
Michael was a mentor to many graduate students in his tenures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oklahoma, as well as several undergraduates at Augustana College who went on to advanced degrees in communication as a result of their contact with Michael at that institution. Michael Pfau always allowed his graduate students to find their own voice, in terms of both content area and method. He would allow this freedom for personal scholarly activity while also remaining ever vigilant in his making sure his students remained on track in their programs of study and their professional development. This balance of freedom and direction is difficult to master, but Michael Pfau did it with ease. The effects of his mentoring will be felt within the discipline for many years to come.
Given Michael’s prominence in the field, he also served as a mentor to many communication scholars who were never formally one of his students or colleagues at one of the institutions within which he was housed. He was always willing to offer advice on various research programs when asked, sharing insights which served to advance knowledge in innumerable ways. He remained engaged in the business of knowledge building and generating new ideas right up until his final days and he valued being part of the community of scholarship. Being a scholar was not just a profession for Michael, it was a part of his being. One need only look at these last few years where he remained an extremely productive scholar, publishing major works in some of the discipline’s leading journals, while also serving as chair of a highly regarded and thriving department of communication at the University of Oklahoma and serving as editor of the Journal of Communication, one of field’s leading journals. Taking on the task of chair or editor and doing either of these jobs well would be more than enough for most individuals, but Michael always made time for his scholarship while tackling both tasks simultaneously. Above all else, Michael Pfau believed in the calling of generating new knowledge. It was this calling which led to him being a productive scholar, an able administrator, and a disciplined editor.
We are writing for many others in the discipline when we state that he will be deeply missed - the field of communication has lost one of its leaders.