SMPA considers EMDA cuts, curriculum changes

Freshman Matthew Saunders, an electronic media major, said he was accepted to several of the top communications schools in the country but thought that GW would best help him launch a career in television direction. He said he was attracted by the School of Media and Public Affairs’ selectivity and its boasting of hands-on experience with equipment.

However, after learning of an SMPA task force’s recommendation to phase out the electronic media program, Saunders said he is thinking about transferring to another University. This semester, students could no longer apply to the program.

“They’re dismantling the program and pulling the rug out from under us,” Saunders said. “What they are trying to do is pool the three majors. What they are doing is taking away electronic media and beefing up journalism.”

Al May, interim director of SMPA, told students at an SMPA majors meeting on Tuesday that current electronic media majors will be able to finish the major. He added, however, that no more students will be admitted as electronic media majors for Fall 2004, and “parts of the major will be phased out.”

“We are committed to continuing the curriculum you need to continue your major,” May said. “I do think a part of the independent film studies will be phased out.”

An implementation committee made up of SMPA professors has formed to determine curriculum changes. The changes come after an external committee researching the school released a report last month recommending significant curriculum revisions.

David Liban, former director of Electronic Media, said he wanted to enhance the creative aspect of the program. He left GW in August after a tenure dispute.

“The fact that I was battling for my tenure was a clear indication that it was about a program change, and not my record,” he wrote in an e-mail last week. “I have a very strong background, but I did not fit into their scheme of things. About creativity, it was dismissed by the other programs from the day I got there.”

“The powers that be don’t think art in media is an important educational venture,” he added. “How will it affect it? More news TV shows and lots of students reading off of teleprompters.”

Some electronic media majors said they are optimistic about the change. Freshman Nathan Imperiale said SMPA will place more emphasis in his interest – broadcast television.

“I came to the school thinking that it would be really news focused. After first semester, I realized electronic media is really broad,” Imperiale said. “To me it seemed like the major didn’t have a specific focus. Now with the changes, it is making a focus I want.”

Electronic media majors received an e-mail March 22 informing them of the reorganization of SMPA and the task force report.

“I think now there is so little information and people are frustrated because they don’t know exactly what is going to happen,” Imperiale said. “I think more information should have been released a lot sooner. Some of the students thinking about transferring are out of options. They’ll have to wait until next year.”

William Hanff, an adjunct professor of electronic media who taught a television production class last semester, said the class was “suspended” this semester due to the reorganization efforts. Hanff said he is worried that the electronic media program is “effectively being ended.”

“Hopefully, electronic media instruction will be preserved and integrated into the newly reorganized SMPA,” Hanff wrote in an e-mail. “With the right student and instructor input (and pressure) to the University administration, that goal could be achieved.”

The task force also recommended maintaining the structure of the political communication program and expanding the journalism program to include mass communications.

May said he is aware that some students are concerned about the changes, but that they are intended to make “a step towards taking the school to a higher level of excellence” and to “focus our school to a more central mission.”

“The result will be two stronger majors,” he said.

Specific curriculum changes have not yet been determined, May said. An implementation committee of nine faculty members and media professionals will begin meeting in order to determine how the reorganization will be put into practice. The committee is set to make decisions about the reorganization of SMPA by Sept. 10.

Journalism faculty members said they are looking forward to an expanded program.

Journalism professor Adell Crowe said she believes the changes were made “to better meet the needs of students.”

“I think that the school has to look around and say ‘Are we preparing our student the best way that we can for what’s out there?'” Crowe said.

Crowe added that the changes occurred in order to keep up with the advancements and trends of modern media.

“I think it is very important that the school change along with technology and what readers want,” Crowe said.

Journalism professor Peggy Simpson said while she does not oppose a change, she thinks SMPA already has a strong journalism program with “talented” faculty members who are experts in investigative reporting.

“From what I can tell, GW is a good program,” she said. “I think it is important for reporters to be resources to people who are going to be reporters.”

Mark Stencel, senior editor for continuous News at The Washington Post works as a liaison between the print and Internet newsrooms. Stencel said the news media industry is a “multi-media business these days.”

“(Journalism is) changing a lot, and reporters and editors in our newsroom often have to think about our Web site as much as their thinking about tomorrow’s newspaper. They’re also thinking about our television partners,” Stencel said.

He added, “the best journalism schools these days are trying to adapt to these changes and are creating multi-media journalism schools.”

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