• Passed away on August 16, 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.

Posted by Robin Deacle on 31st August 2016
Professor Bettig's classes are some of the few I still remember.We read studies about and debated the dangers of consolidation of media ownership. Every day we see those things come true, and it's likely why I remember the classes. It's only later that we recognize a true visionary.
Posted by Alison Plessinger on 29th August 2016
I was a doctoral candidate in the 1990s and Ron taught one of the foundational courses. We spent hours discussing comm theory and his always insightful questions helped me develop my own scholarship. He influenced so many scholars through his classes, mentorship, and the way he spoke through action. He will be so very missed.
Posted by Ocek Eke on 25th August 2016
Dr. Bettig was one of my favorite professors at Penn State. He was very compassionate and laid back. His analyses of political economy, corporate media and their power to "industrialize the mind" was fascinating and still rings true in our current over consumption and reality television world - you just had to "dig" a little to see it - and Ron taught me and many other students how to think critically and how to "dig." Ron will be missed, we've lost a great one. (RIP)
Posted by Chad Liu on 24th August 2016
Dr. Bettig had great influences on Taiwan's communication research. He had been the dissertation adviser to many Taiwanese students who then became excellent scholars. His works inspired many on the political economy of communication. Dr. Bettig had visited Taiwan and had conversations with local academic groups. Many of us were impressed by his generosity and brilliant intellect. We feel deeply sorry for the loss and may he rest in peace. Campaign for Media Reform, Taiwan
Posted by R Thomas Berner on 24th August 2016
Ron had a good sense of humor. I bumped into him one day as he was limping into the office. I inquired and he informed me that he had torn his ACL or something like that. For some reason he revealed the he had just had his 40th birthday and then, commenting on the limp, "One day after the warranty ran out." We both laughed. Ron's scholarship increase the intellectual diversity of the college in positive ways. I used to tease him about being a Marxist and a subscriber to the Wall Street Journal. "You have to know the enemy," he replied with a quiet laugh. We mourn for Ron and especially for his children.
Posted by Craig Stark on 23rd August 2016
I took COMM 501-B and COMM 514 with Ron "back in the day" and in both classes he inspired me to dig deeper and never stop questioning when it came to issues like media diversity and inclusion. He also served on my dissertation committee and his insight was invaluable. Ron challenged me to consider aspects of radio research that I hadn't considered before and I couldn't have gotten the job done without his help. I also appreciate his taking time out of classes to talk about movies, baseball, and trying to raise a newborn while also working on a doctorate. He was a great guy and I am so glad we were able to cross paths during our brief times on this rock. Rest in Power, Dr. B.
Posted by Steph Orme on 23rd August 2016
I took Dr. Bettig's graduate course on political economy during my very first semester at Penn State. He was a person of strong conviction, and he embodied his beliefs in both the classroom and in his personal life in a way that is truly admirable.
Posted by Matt Jackson on 23rd August 2016
Ron was a hugely important scholar in the field of political economy of communication, especially with regard to copyright law. I first became familiar with Ron’s work when I was in graduate school and he greatly influenced my own research. Ron was very welcoming when I came to Penn State and we had many engaging conversations over the years. He was a brilliant scholar with a keen intellect and he had a profound impact on his students. He helped colleagues and students to think critically and he challenged you to examine your deeply held assumptions. Ron was also generous of spirit and passionate about social justice. He dedicated his life to fighting against the inequalities caused by capitalism. Ron worked tirelessly to create a truly democratic media system to make the world a better place. I am grateful to have known and worked with him.
Posted by Marie Hardin on 23rd August 2016
I'm so thankful that Ron was part of the College for so many years. It's been gratifying to hear the stories from the students whose lives he changed. His impact now lives in the lives of alumni around the world! I've heard more than one say that he taught them not what to think, but how. That is a lesson that lasts a lifetime.

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