Tuesday, February 23, 2010

College of Comm: A Good Marriage

Tonight, a town hall meeting – made up largely of faculty and some students – gathered to discuss the creation of a sixth college at Butler – the College of Communications.

It would encompass the Media Arts and Journalism programs, as well as Communication Studies and Communication Disorders. I will admit – it’s a big decision for such a small school. But it's a concern I've raised in the past, and it hasn't gone away.

I got to speak at the Town Hall – in front of a room of about 60 or so faculty – to make my case for a College of Communications.

Why the decision to mix things up a bit? As a student of both Media Arts and Journalism, I can give you a bit of insight:

  • There is an overlap in curriculum. I have taken an ethics course and media law course in both departments.
  • Other institutions have taken the step to converge these programs.
  • Students in both departments should have equal access to camera equipment and software.

In the “glory days” Butler University used to have a renowned radio and television program. Today, the revised Media Arts department focuses on dynamic areas such as digital media production, recording industries, and broadcast journalism. It is a fairly small department, but also lacks a traditional communication foundation (i.e. writing).

Journalism is an altogether separate department, largely funded by newspaper giant Eugene S. Pulliam (hence, the name of the j-school) and it's part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It boasts a strong internship program, and solid reporting classes needed to work as a traditional journalist.

The only problem is that both departments fall under two different colleges. Media Arts is aptly named the “step-child” of the Jordan College of Fine Arts. We’re chalked up next to the ballerinas and musicians – while Journalism falls under the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – by far the largest of Butler’s five schools.

The proposed College of Communications would:

- Include accreditation

- The three current departments would develop into 6 programs

  • Journalism
  • Strategic Communication
  • Digital Media/RIS
  • Organizational Communication
  • Critical media/rhetoric
  • Communication Disorders

Even though professors in the liberal arts school are concerned about journalism breaking away from LAS, in reality, a converged curriculum would allow those students time to take additional classes in the College of LAS. Problem solved.

I was most impressed by one of my journalism professors, Dr. Anokwa. He stayed quiet for most of the conversation, then offered his thoughts, with an excellent analogy: “[Journalism with the Liberal Arts] is a bad marriage and our children are suffering.” (PS - I am one of those "children.") He added that he wished his colleagues would be more supportive. He comes from broadcast background, having grown up and worked as a broadcaster in Ghana. But he couldn’t teach broadcast and print journalism – he had to pick. This is just one of the many challenges the faculty face - not being able to fully practice their area of study. Most of the room clapped at the end of his comment, including me.

The case of a College of Comm. has even been attempted in the past. In fact, both departments are already housed in the same building – Fairbanks!

Other perks of a new college: a college-wide internship program, and potentially a graduate program in the future.

The decision is far from being made. On March 2, there will be a Faculty Senate meeting, and then two additional meetings in April. Ideally, we’ll know sometime before the semester ends.

Here’s what I concluded: After a two-hour presentation and lively discussion, it’s clear that the faculty, staff and administrators care about Butler. They care about it as an institution, they care about the students. They care about its future. They cared enough to show up and duke it out. That alone gives me hope.

A College of Communications would break down barriers between departments and work in the best interest of students – to prepare them for real-world, multi-platform media experiences.

It was a beautiful thing to see professors from both departments work together on this proposal - better yet, to see them in the same room together! Last month I had to decide which program to sit with at graduation. Journalism? Media Arts? Like the child of bad marriage, I could not decided which 'parent' I liked better. I'm hoping for a better marriage for future students.


Sarah said...

Well said, Meg. I was happy to see the turnout at the meeting as well. But, like most of the students, I felt pretty disheartened after hearing some of the "opposition" (which generally started with something along the lines of "I'm not saying I'm opposed, but...").
My biggest worry with this proposal getting shot down is that the faculty and students in both Journalism and Media Arts won't back down. This proposal has potential to be revised and brought back to Faculty Senate year after year, and it has the exact same potential to get rejected year after year.
I just wish that those who take issue with it would realize that our current system is awfully archaic, and this change should have happened in 1989 when it was first brought to the table.
Then again, I don't know about the administrative or financial side of things, so maybe I'm too idealistic.

Meg B said...

Hey Sarah - Thanks for your comment. I know there are so many of us who agree that we need to come together.

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