James Gregory Payne, an expert in public diplomacy, awarded an honorary doctorate by the URL
18.11.2019

James Gregory Payne, an expert in public diplomacy and director of Communication Studies at Emerson College (Boston, USA), has been awarded an honorary doctorate from the Ramon Llull University (URL) on a proposal by the School of Communication and International Relations (FCRI) Blanquerna-URL.

The event began with Anna Berga, URL General Secretary, reading out the Senate's appointment of James Gregory Payne as an honorary doctor. After that came the praise of the merits of Gregory Payne by Josep Maria Carbonell, Dean of the FCRI Blanquerna-URL. Dr. Carbonell told us about the reputation and personality of the candidate and set out his merits in teaching and administration, researching, advising, disseminating, creating, promoting and managing projects aimed at improving international relations and global communication. Dr. Carbonell highlighted Dr. Payne's “extensive commitment” as an attitude running right through his research, dissemination and teaching activity, as well as his social contributions. “His attitude is one of commitment to rigour and of rigorous commitment”, stated the Dean.

The Dean of the FCRI Blanquerna-URL also commented on Dr. Payne's activity in the field of politics. “He has played a very active role in the study and analysis of electoral campaigns and, as always, has been 100% committed. The Dean pointed out that it this arena “in which his well-known role as a speech writer comes to the fore, composing words that would be shared and spoken by the Mayors of Los Angeles and Boston - Tom Bradley and Ray Flinn -, by Senator Robert Dole, Senator Clinton and by Prince Faisal Al Saud”.

Dr. Carbonell stated that Dr. Payne is a firm defender of the new diplomacy, based on legitimate and shared leaderships, a “bottom-up” diplomacy, from citizen to citizen, via associations, non-governmental associations and teaching centres, based on close relationships between people and organisations, beyond State-level diplomacy. Dr. Payne's works, continued Dr. Carbonell, revolve around concepts such as Grassroots Communication and Public Diplomacy, “which would allow us to attribute to him the renewal of 'Grassroots Diplomacy',” a term the Dean coined to refer to this type of diplomacy. Dr. Carbonell also clarified that the aim of global communication, of diplomacy as he sees it, is “social change and the endorsement of the general interest”, in other words, “communication strategies make sense only when they work to serve the general interest, when they are -or aim to be- a lever of social change”.

Finally, Josep Maria Carbonell had this to say about Dr. Payne's personality: “Today we pay tribute to the teacher, professor, researcher, writer, communication and international relations professional, to the inspirer of new educational realities anywhere in the world - like our Degree in Global Communication Management. But we also pay homage to the person, to his generous commitment, voluntary spirit, overall commitment, his big heart and enormous capacity for empathy. I am sure that both Barcelona and Catalonia will do their very best to take care of their friends around the world. It is not so easy to earn the passionate affection of such worthy people and with such a great reputation and we must be up to the task of recognising the regard they have for us. We do not enjoy so many such friendships and we must know how to appreciate and maintain them within the frame of world understanding” added the Dean.

Next, Gregory Payne began his speech by recalling when he brought a group of Emerson College students to see the Barcelona Olympics and how “over the years and especially thanks to the many trips he has made to his second study home, Blanquerna-URL, that first date in 1992 has led to a long-term relationship with Barcelona. What began as a summer workshop has evolved into student exchanges, visiting lecturers, joint talks, international projects ... and with Provost Pelton, Dean Carbonell, Dean Tresserras and Dr. Enric Ordeix, among others, a formal agreement and a memorandum of understanding that offers both faculties a wealth of opportunities and activities, both in the classroom and in the field of academic and professional immersion experiences around the world”.

In fact, Gregory Payne is among those who have most promoted the city of Barcelona in international networks, and was behind putting the Blanquerna-URL Faculty of Communication and International Relations on the map in the United States. Since the Faculty was set up in 1994, Dr. Payne has provided strategic support in orienting the studies and rolling out its policy in the United States. The result of this was the creation of the Emerson-Blanquerna Center for Global Communication one year ago, which has already set up a number of projects and symposia.

Dr. Payne, Professor of Communication at Emerson College Boston, one of the principal communication faculties of the United States, focused his speech on his “deep and solid belief in the inherent strength of communication to generate the greatest good for all” and on the aim of dialogue, which is to “find common ground” among parties and “be able to create trust, relationships and learning through the most basic of human actions”. Dr. Payne acknowledged that he has always been fascinated by the power of communication: “When I was a child living on a farm in southern Illinois, I was captivated by political communication. I remember perfectly seeing the Nixon and Kennedy presidential debates of 1960, and realising the influence of different media in forming opinions: radio listeners considered Nixon to be the winner, while those watching television were fascinated by the delivery and style of the charismatic senator from Massachusetts”.

Dr. Payne closed his speech with an observation on democracy and technology: “The evidence does not augur well for those who imagined that technology would achieve a more democratic world. We have seen how the very democratic principles that we hold so dear are under attack. Every day, in an attempt to ridicule reason, facts and the possibility to think critically, we are bombarded into acceptance”.

Nonetheless, Dr. Payne feels we must not lose hope and must remain convinced that change will be come thanks to great asset of our students, because “youth is not a matter of age, but a state of mind. Our students, in Boston and Barcelona, Lisbon and Los Angeles, have not lost their optimism. In an era comparable to that of Watergate, if not worse, with attacks on every part of our system and our governments, the youth of today continue to show a characteristic that Aristotle described more than 2,000 years ago: an idealistic vision beyond what the world is, or what it could be. We are very impressed by the optimism of young people all around the world, many of whom had lost their faith and have no regard for the status quo. In spite of everything, they are smart, capable people who maintain their commitment, dedication and determination to bravely face our problems from a new perspective. We hear the young voice of Malala Yousafzai defending the rights of women and educational opportunities at the UN; Greta Thunberg's warning to world leaders about the parlous state of our environment; the passion of Emma González, a Parkland student, and her position on gun violence, or Frances Hui, an Emerson student, defending freedom of expression in the Pacific basin”.

Finally, the rector of the URL, Josep Maria Garrell, thanked the Dean of the Faculty and the sponsor of the honorary doctor. “Dr. Carbonell has been the alma mater of this proposal. The Dean has spoken about Dr. Payne for many years and continues to speak of him with deep admiration. He also explains the significant, fruitful cooperation between this faculty and Emerson College. It is an intense and very fruitful cooperation, involving a long list of people who have helped it to be born and to grow. I would like to quote the previous dean of this house, Dr. Tresserras - who is with us today - and the provost of Emerson College, Dr. Lee Pelton. He too helped to build this relationship”.

President Pelton, let me publicly thank you for all your personal and institutional commitment with the bilateral relation between your college and our university.   Your presence here today, for this ceremony, but also participating in the summit that took place this week, is a clear sign of this commitment and personal involvement. I also would like to thank the whole Emmerson College delegation, the provost, vice-president and other colleagues. Thank you very much for being here and for making the collaboration between our two institutions possible, in a daily basis!

Dr. Garrell also underlined a few ideas that Dr. Payne addressed in his speech. On the one hand, he emphasised his personal experience in trying to build bridges between the American and Saudi peoples after the terrible events of 11 September 2001. To do this, the rector selected a fragment of the original speech that Payne wrote for the event:

“My response was that in order to have any influence, one first had to create a context, and to find commonalities to begin a needed dialogue. If successful, trust could follow, potentially as well as a relationship, from which I could eventually discuss problematic issues. Engaging was not equivalent to endorsing, yet a necessary step in this soft power approach”.

The rector underlined that, from all the experience shared by our honorary doctor, “we can draw a significant legacy, able to communicate and to move, which becomes clear to us when he tells us how in a world that is both globalised and extremely fractured, the path towards conflict resolution involves honest involvement and participation with other people, with other cultures or with other countries”.

On the other hand, Dr. Garrell commented on the comments made by Dr. Payne on the hope of the new generations and the great asset represented by students. “I think that it is very appropriate for any university institution what he tells us about an attitude of young people that is very particular and should be shared by everyone,” said the rector.