Longtime communications faculty Ronald Bettig member dies

August 19, 2016

Associate professor Ronald Bettig, a faculty member in the Penn State College of Communications since 1988, died Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016.

Bettig taught undergraduate and graduate courses on the political economy of communications.

Bettig earned the Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Communications Alumni Society in 1996 and was named a faculty marshal — escorting one of the college’s undergraduate student marshals during commencement exercises — a half dozen times.

At the graduate level, he chaired and served on nearly five dozen scholar, master's and doctoral thesis committees. A graduate teaching award in the college is named for one of his students.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss. He was a part of the fabric of this College for many years. All except our very newest faculty and staff members very likely knew Ron, who was one of our longest-tenured faculty members,” said Dean Marie Hardin of the College of Communications. “Ron was the kind of teacher who connected powerfully with students, who found his classes in political economy — at both the undergraduate and graduate levels — transformative.”

Bettig, 56, was the inaugural representative for the college in the University Faculty Senate. He served on behalf of the college in the senate from 1996 to 2000, and then from 2003 to 2005. He also served as a member of the University Judicial Hearing Board and was also active in the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies. 

He was the author of two books, including "Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property" (1996, Westview Press), and co-author, with Jeanne Lynn Hall, of "Big Media, Big Money: Cultural Texts and Political Economics" (2002, Roman & Littlefield). He published a number of book chapters and journal articles and presented many conference papers on political economy, intellectual property and media industries.

He was a longtime member of the Union for Democratic Communications and had served as a member of the organization's steering committee since 1993.

Anthony Olorunnisola, head of the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies, said Bettig’s contributions and impact went far beyond a list of publications or service opportunities.

He said Bettig was intensely private and kept in touch with a handful of close friends that he had had since high school. He said Bettig fought for the underdog and, as an example, would not hesitate to lend a helping hand to previously unknown persons who were struggling with lost employment. Bettig also played his harmonica, guitar or piano to small gatherings around town in the evenings or on holiday weekends.

“Across the domains of teaching, research and service, the common factor that characterized him was his nonconformist ways,” Olorunnisola said. “Over 22 years of working together in varied capacities, I came to know him as a man with tons of healthy skepticism and courage of conviction who readily questioned the status quo and led others, especially his students, to interrogate received knowledge.

"In his classes, where he adopted the Socratic method, that included re-examining assumptions about the ‘innately good values’ of capitalism. Those who didn't know him well enough considered him a ‘nutty professor’ or a ‘communist’ who bucked the trend. He was well-aware of the reputation and remained comfortable with who he was.” 

Bettig earned his doctoral degree at the University of Illinois Institute of Communications Research. He earned his bachelor’s degree, completing a double major in communications and political science with a minor in sociology, at the University of California at San Diego.

Bettig was not scheduled to teach during the fall 2016 semester.

  • Ronald Bettig

    Associate Professor Ronald Bettig.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated August 19, 2016