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Rein’s Reign

Popular professor celebrates a half-century.

Spring 2019
2 Responses

The year Irving Rein first taught his now-famous course Persuasive Images: Rhetoric of Contemporary Culture, the nation was engrossed in Woodstock, the first moon landing and the first draft lottery for the Vietnam War. It was 1969.

School of Communication professor Irving Rein

Fifty years later, Rein is still teaching the course — though the cultural touchstones, images and mediums now used in persuasion couldn’t be more different. “Times have changed tremendously,” says Rein, who with two undergraduate assistants prepares extensively for each class with edited videos and visuals. “It’s a huge challenge because of that rate of change.”

Yet at age 81, Rein keeps up. Winter quarter 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of his joining the Northwestern faculty, and he has taught the class every one of those years (except the year he was on leave as the Van Zelst Research Chair in Communication, but even then he assisted with the course). Rein recalls a bit of a fracas when he started it; taking over a semantics class, he changed it to reflect what he thought his students urgently needed to learn. “People were saying, ‘Students should be taking Beowulf and Shakespeare. What’s going on at the University?’ ” Yet Rein had the support of the dean’s office as well as the legions of students who flocked to the course every year thereafter.

Television producer Jeff Pinkner ’87, known for such series as Fringe, Lost and Alias, credits Rein with changing the way he looks at the world. “His unique genius is identifying the intersection between all modes of communication, psychology and emotion,” Pinkner says. “And like a magician who reveals the secret of the trick, he pulls back the veil to explore how that intersection can be exploited to manipulate our experiences. But more than that, he has the rarest of gifts: He makes deep learning, the kind that permanently expands your field of vision, not only thrilling but fun.”

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Reader Responses

  • It is so wonderful that Professor Irv Rein is still contributing to the Communications Department at Northwestern University. He was my inspiration and a significant contributor to my ability to have a successful career in the technology industry. He made us think and communicate in an effective manner. He got us out into the world and out of the library
    to experience and not just read (well he did that too!).

    Fifty years of teaching, 81 years young — he continues to be a role model.

    Stephanie Gall Carmel ’78 South Orange, N.J., via Northwestern Magazine

  • As a Medill broadcast journalism undergrad in 1974, I took Irv Rein’s course, then titled Rhetoric and the Arts, as a means for deconstructing the hidden communication strategies that operate within advertising and public relations messaging. What a treat!
    Irv’s enthusiasm and energy were exhilarating. One day we all rode the "l" downtown to visit the J. Walter Thompson ad agency and learn about its clever “Uncola” ad campaign for 7-Up.
    To research my class paper, “Peacocks, Robins and Sparrows,” I attended an afternoon performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to observe the distinctive class differences in appearance and behavior of patrons seated in different sections of Orchestra Hall. What an eye-opener!
    Irv’s savvy insights served me well over a 27-year radio career at Voice of America and local public radio. I’m glad he’s still helping new generations of NU students get “woke” to the ways of surreptitious strategies in communications today.

    James Russell Woodgates ’75 Washington, D.C., via Northwestern Magazine

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