(Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Five decades on, a champion at BC

A graduating senior writes in tribute to longtime Communication Department faculty member Donald Fishman

For her Lifestyle Journalism course, Isabel Potter ‘24 wrote a profile of Donald Fishman, a Communication faculty member who has taught at Boston College for five decades. Her piece has been adapted and edited.

Warm, caring, generous, significant, hardworking, humorous, genuine, smart, mensch, Obi-Wan Kenobi of BC Communication, heart and soul of the department, forward-thinking, steadfast, friendly, good person.

Associate Professor Donald Fishman, wrapping up his 51st year on the Communication Department faculty, has earned every such accolade, according to his colleagues and students.

“Don is a champion on this campus,” says Christine Caswell ’89, a former Fishman student who is now assistant to the department chair and director of the Communication internship program. “He is one of the hardest workers that BC has known.”

In any given semester, by Fishman’s estimate, he teaches between 80 and 100 students; over the course of his career, he has shaped the minds and hearts of approximately 10,000 alumni across 50 graduating classes, teaching subjects ranging from mass communication to public speaking to crisis communication, and everything in between.

Fishman has been a significant figure in the growth of communication from a tripartite department that also included speech and theater, with an enrollment of about 80 students, into a standalone program that is consistently among the University’s top 10 popular majors.

“He was an important member very early on, and he has played pretty much every role that there is in the department,” says long-time colleague Professor Lisa Cuklanz. “Don is a central member of the direction that the department is taking.”

He’s also contributed to the field of communication itself, having published articles on such subjects as libel law, parliamentary procedure, and crisis communication theory, serving as vice president of the Eastern Communication Association and chairing its task force on the Status of Interest Groups, and working on the Commission on Parliamentary Procedures. His professional honors include a Haiman Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Freedom of Expression, a Phifer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Parliamentary Procedure, and an O’Neill Award for the Top Paper in Freedom of Speech Commission at the National Communication Association Convention.

For all this success, Fishman does not rest on his laurels. He brings the same energy, passion, and care to students, colleagues, and the BC community each day. As the world of communication has evolved, Fishman’s commitment has been unwavering, even under difficult personal circumstances. When his wife Joyce Lindmark, who worked with BC’s debate program and taught in the department, became seriously ill in 2021, he helped teach her classes. After Lindmark died in the fall of 2022, Fishman declined his colleagues’ offer to step in on his behalf and kept teaching. 

In college, there are many large classes, and it can be hard to feel like teachers know you as a person, or that you know them as a person. But he made an effort to get to know everyone. He knew all of our names and made sure to call on us. It was one of my favorites.
Kate Pulgini '25

On a typical Monday afternoon during the academic year, Fishman can be found walking into Lyons 202 for his section of Survey of Mass Communication with a black briefcase—now gray from its many years of use—and manilla folders, packed full of exam preparatory material.  

“I like being in the classroom, I’m energized by it,” says Fishman, who has been assistant chair of the department since 2010 and served two terms as chair. “I like the interaction. I always learn something from the students; the world changes very quickly.”

After hearing her peers proclaim it as a “must-take class,” junior Kate Pulgini took Survey of Mass Communication and although she considered it daunting at first, found Fishman’s “cold calling”—soliciting comments from students with whom he’d had no prior contact—created a positive experience. “In college, there are many large classes, and it can be hard to feel like teachers know you as a person, or that you know them as a person. But he made an effort to get to know everyone. He knew all of our names and made sure to call on us. It was one of my favorites.”

“I’ve got to know everybody’s name,” says Fishman. In earlier sections of his classes, he taught groups of 150 students; although he is still able to learn each student’s name, he finds the sense of closeness is lacking nowadays. “You don’t have that same feeling.”  

Pulgini’s sentiment runs in the family: Her older brother Jack ’22 and mother Dierdre ’90 experienced this same passion and encouragement in Fishman’s Public Speaking course. Jack—who had to take the class via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic—recalls how Fishman made everybody feel comfortable and excited for class amidst trying and isolating times. “He always found something good to say and really paid attention to everybody’s work.”  

Fishman’s contagious passion for communication sprouted from his own college experience, particularly his involvement in debate. He was active on the University of Minnesota debate team and was the assistant debate coach at Northwestern University while a graduate student, helping lead the team to a national championship (it was also through debate that Fishman met Lindmark, then a fellow debate circuit judge). BC’s impressive debate legacy helped steer him to the Heights.

“I felt right at home,” Fishman says.

“His class was challenging,” recalls Robert Rosenthal ’74.  “He was a younger guy, and he had a good sense of humor. He was really cutting-edge in terms of his understanding of theory. Very bright guy, good teacher, and very interactive in the cold call.”

We want our students to be competent, we want them to be good thinkers, and we want them to be good people along the way.
Donald Fishman

Once at BC, Fishman worked tirelessly on the Communication curriculum, helping institute its internship program and encouraging majors to pursue occupations in the field for credit, and working to create an honors program for the department’s most elite students.

Amidst these and other changes, Fishman says, questions arose about the direction of the communication program: Should it continue to be grouped with the theater program? Should some communication classes be taught by other schools or departments? Or should it be completely reconfigured as a standalone program in the College of Arts and Sciences? Fishman was a strong advocate for the latter option, and he strengthened the department’s public relations and advertising components, working to add curricula such as interpersonal communication. He also was a key asset in bolstering pre-existing programs to meet the needs of the ever-changing field and establishing BC’s chapter of Lambda Pi Eta, the Communication National Honors Society.

Seeing advanced composition as a necessary skill set for students, Fishman took the lead in constructing a two-course writing-intensive requirement for all majors. He also was instrumental in the creation of the department’s media lab in Lyons Hall, providing students with the tools necessary to work in an increasingly digitized age, and he has continued to advocate for innovation. 

“The Internet has changed the nature of society,” he says. “The digitization of America is real. People are going to have to adjust, and you see the landscape changing.”

For Fishman, it is the day-to-day victories that testify to success, but not just his—the department and the students it serves.

“We want our students to be competent, we want them to be good thinkers, and we want them to be good people along the way.”