William Youmans' first interaction with the School of Media and Public Affairs occurred in 2008 when he came to the school as a visiting scholar and enrolled in Professor Silvio Waisbord’s course in comparative media systems. Little did he know he would return to SMPA almost five years later as a professor himself.
Youmans, who specializes in global communication, media law, and Middle Eastern politics and society, will bring an international perspective to students at the School of Media and Public Affairs when he joins the faculty as an assistant professor this fall. He comes to the school from the University of Michigan, where he was a Ph.D. candidate in Communications Studies—and where he earned a bachelor's degree in political science.
Prior to his doctoral studies, Youman earned a JD from the University of California, Berkeley. While at Berkeley, not only did Youmans begin his teaching career as a graduate student instructor, but also he focused on the sociology of the development of laws in various countries, which piqued his interest in how ideas are exchanged in the public sphere and the role of media on legal developments.
“I began to notice that changes in the legal world followed a change of dialogue in the public sphere,” he explains.
After law school, Youmans spent time working on civil rights and immigration matters, but he again observed how media affected the public discourse around such important issues.
“At the heart of this phenomenon was the flow of information into the world and the power of government to define issues and set the agenda on these matters,” says Youmans. His experiences and insights inspired him to pursue a Ph.D. to explore this concept further.
This exploration culminated with his dissertation, which studied Al Jazeera English as it struggled to find market entry in the United States. He found that, despite the greater exchange of information promised by a world connected with technology, national borders still matter a great deal.
“While government may be less able to control the flow of information, it still influences how this information is interpreted,” he explains.
Youmans, a native Michigander, is thrilled to move to Washington, DC, at a time when news media and technology are changing so rapidly.
“It puts at the forefront my core interest: the power of borders on the flow of information,” he says. "What better place to study this concept than the nation's capital."
This year, Youmans will teach courses in media law and international communication. As for future research, he plans to further examine the international flow of information.
“I definitely have a few books in me,” says Youmans, “but my biggest ideas on the subject are a work in progress. I look forward to the intellectual exchanges I will have as a member of the faculty, which definitely will help me develop my theories.”