Journalism, CMCL, telecom could merge

The proposal, prepared by a faculty committee, provides for the merging of the IU School of Journalism, Department of Telecommunications and Department of Communication and Culture. According to the proposal, cinema and media studies, communications and public culture, journalism, telecommunications and emergent media arts could be part of a new school, tentatively titled the School of Communication, Media and Journalism.

“Students would all major in CMJ — instead of the current departments that will be merged,” said John Lucaites, College of Arts and Sciences associate dean for arts and humanities, in an email.

Additionally, students could be required to develop concentrations and specializations, which could “cut across the various departments within the school,” said Lucaites, a communication and culture professor.

Administrators said students could have increased opportunities, such as a raised visibility in the job market after graduation.

“It will raise the visibility of the three units,” Walter Gantz, telecommunications department chair, said. “It will also attract more students from across the nation.”

The committee that created the proposal was convened after a meeting between the provost and the deans of the College and the School of Journalism. It was co-chaired by Lucaites and School of Journalism Interim Dean Michael Evans and included faculty from all three academic units.

After a series of public meetings, the committee made 15 pages of recommendations.

These include a reorganization of the existing academic units and the possible creation of new areas of study. It also provides for some sort of campus-wide cooperation with communication courses in other schools.

The committee recommended a new location for the possible school, bringing together faculty and students currently scattered across campus.

“The only problem now is it’s too small,” Evans said. “The same is true for the other two schools. We’re in desperate need of space.”

The proposal calls for a new building near the IU Cinema to “reflect the evolving, changing communication and media environment.” However, Franklin Hall has been suggested as a possible home for the school, journalism associate professor Owen Johnson said in an email.

Student media — including the Indiana Daily Student, Arbutus yearbook, WIUX student radio and IU Student Television — could also move to one location.

“Although not discussed in the report proposal, one of the ideas that has been mentioned is to put all student media in one place,” Johnson said. “This could encourage more interaction among student media, not a bad idea in today’s media world.”

An old debate

This is not the first attempt by the IU administration to consolidate communication studies in the University. Since the School of Journalism detached from the College ­— a process completed in the 1980s, according to the school’s website — the question has occasionally been brought up.

New Academic Directions, which was commissioned by IU President Michael McRobbie with “the duty, from time to time, to ask hard questions about (IU’s) academic structures,” includes the recommendations of the second faculty committee organized to explore this option.

The committee concluded “there is no reason to consider further a reorganization of communication/media studies on the Bloomington campus.”

It cited the success of existing programs, a lack of financial benefits and faculty opposition.

Similarly, previous attempts at  reorganization during former Provost Karen Hanson’s tenure in office did not succeed.

“What has been odd about the whole discussion of merger is that it has been pursued by the administration, not from the faculty,” said Johnson.

“The first committee that was formed to discuss the subject found that the units in the discussion really didn’t have much in common,” he said. “So a second committee was formed by the administration, and it found a few possible points of cooperation. The committee that met last fall, the third of its kind, was basically told that it must make a proposal.”

Cause for change

The origins of this desire for a new structure are unclear.

During town hall meetings with students, staff and faculty in the fall, members of the committee alluded to a rumor that the trustees became aware of some of the redundancies between the units after a family member was unable to count telecommunications courses toward a journalism degree.

One problem addressed by the committee is finding a home for broadcast journalism students, who must choose between a telecommunications degree and a journalism degree.

“I think it makes sense to put the schools together,” said senior telecommunications major Lauren Morton. “There will be more focus on journalism than ever before.”

It is clear that the merger hasn’t been proposed to solve money, research or development problems.

“All three are financially strong and productive,” Evans said.  “All three are very strong, but most schools did this merger a while ago. We’re really taking advantage of opportunities.”

Mixed reviews

Outside the University administration and faculty committee, the proposed merger has been cause for much debate.

Town hall meetings conducted by the committee in the fall drew large crowds and often antagonistic opinions, although the currently available proposal did not exist at that time.

Kaleigh Bacher, director of membership for the Beth Wood Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America said the merger could be good for public relations students.

“I have no place,” she said. “I want to find a home for PR. I feel like PR is the red-headed step-child of the J-School.”

Haley Nelson, a journalism student focusing on broadcast and the senior news producer for IU Student Television, said she has mixed feelings about the proposal.

“I think if I were to get my major with this plan that it would allow more flexibility and skills,” she said. “But does it still maintain the high quality of journalism skills that I came to IU for?”

She and other students also expressed concern about losing the century-long legacy of the School of Journalism.

Johnson said he’s concerned the idea of a merger hasn’t been universally accepted, and many details are still foggy because the report is in its early stages and not yet finalized for trustee approval.

“It’s almost like an arranged marriage,” he said. “Faculty members in the School of Journalism do not want to be in the College, but after the issuance of the report, individual faculty members in the College tried to suggest that of course the new unit would be in the College. This kind of distrust and backstabbing does not augur well for a new unit.”

Moving forward

The next few steps in the decision process aren’t clear, but they will involve getting the opinions of many specialists in the areas of communications, journalism and telecommunications.

“Nothing is finalized,” said Elisabeth Andrews, communications specialist for the Office of the Provost. “It’s a proposal, and the faculty are responding to it. We’re gathering feedback on the report.”

The next group to examine the options will be an external committee of professionals in media industries, Evans said.

“They’re going to be shown the proposal and asked what they think,” he said. “Would they hire someone that graduated from the program?”

Once the final reviews have been completed the proposal will come before the Board of Trustees, likely by the end of the semester.

“I think it could improve in some ways, modernize the school, but with the convoluted title, it may convolute the tradition of the school,” Nelson said. “I hope that is maintained.”

Michael Auslen contributed additional reporting.

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