SMPA task force looks to cut EMDA major

A School of Media and Public Affairs report released last week recommended phasing out the electronic media major and offering only two majors – either political communication or journalism and mass media with various concentrations.

An implementation committee, consisting of nine faculty members and professionals, will consider whether to use suggestions made by a task force studying the school since first semester. Officials said they do not know when the implementation committee will begin meeting, but it is set to make decisions by Sept. 10.

“I think its going to become an even more competitive environment for admission,” said Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “I never really thought we should be a traditional journalism school. We need to be different, we need to be better, and we need to have a focus.”

If the committee implements the task force’s suggestions, the political communication program would remain similar to its current form, but the journalism program would expand to let students choose from concentrations. The current journalism major is print-focused.

“The goal is to focus the school on an area of excellence where it can really achieve a national ranking,” said Al May, interim director of SMPA.

In their report, task force members said the electronic media program does not fit in with the rest of the SMPA curriculum. Electronic media students currently do hands-on production work and take media history and theory courses.

“We doubt that the offering of an undergraduate major that is so heavily centered on production skills per se represents either a mission-compatible dimension of SMPA teaching or a best use of the available facilities,” the report stated.

However, several electronic media students said they are unhappy about a possible cut.

“I don’t think that anyone who wants to do anything non-news-related will be interested in going to SMPA,” said senior Chelsea Higgins, an electronic media major. “All they teach the majors is how to work at CNN, and I don’t know anyone in my major right now who is interested in that.”

Officials said current majors will be unaffected by curriculum changes. Students can also apply to electronic media for next semester.

The report emphasized the integration of more theory and practice into the curriculum. Along with taking theory classes, the task force recommended students gain wider practical skills because the “digital revolution is redefining the nature of news and information.”

The report also stated that much of the school’s high-tech equipment goes unused because many people do not know how to use it.

“Our facilities are as good as network bureaus that I’ve worked in,” said Mark Feldstein, an associate professor of Media and Public Affairs and a member of the implementation committee.

He added that knowing how to work with digital media is important because “that’s where a lot of jobs are and that’s where a lot of interest is for students.”

Feldstein said he hopes to “beef up broadcast journalism.”

But journalism professor Bob Davis said he hopes the committee “would protect some of the basics of print journalism.”

“Right now there is solid print journalism instruction and I consider that to be the bedrock of the program,” he said.

The new curriculum would also include core classes for students to take prior to beginning the degree to provide a “broader intellectual background” in journalism.

Political Communication professor Jason Friedrich said he is optimistic that changes to SMPA will make the school more prominent while strengthening the political communication program.

May said the implementation committee will decide on further curricular details, as well as a timeline for carrying out recommendations. He said the transition will be smooth and no faculty members will lose their jobs. The implementation committee will also determine when to elect a new interim director for SMPA.

The Student Association is forming a Student Review Group on SMPA reorganization, made up of current SMPA students. Aaron Connelly, SA vice president for Academic Affairs, said the SA “offered to provide an observer,” but the implementation committee chair declined.

This SA committee will submit its report to SA President Kris Hart and Connelly by May 1.

-Caitlin Carroll contributed to this report.

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