Annu Subramanian: Let SMPA stand alone

It’s time that our school does itself a big favor by becoming more efficient.

The School of Media and Public Affairs at GW, commonly referred to as SMPA, is a noteworthy institution that has produced numerous successful journalists, media analysts and political figures.

SMPA students are assigned advisers who double as their professors. They study in a building almost strictly intended for media courses, and they are expected to complete a lengthy list of course requirements that pertain exclusively to the school. To achieve a slot in this institution, students must complete a competitive application process. Journalism and political communication majors are seen as members of their own system, much like the students in the Elliott School of International Affairs and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. It appears SMPA stands alone as an autonomous organ of GW, and with its specific course requirements and highly regulated student body, this setup seems appropriate.

But this program’s independence and self-sufficience are largely in name. The SMPA is a member of, and as such hindered by, the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

The horror stories I’ve heard are countless. A senior friend of mine just had her AP credits from high school transfer last semester because they had to go through both CCAS and SMPA. A classmate, who has an adviser in both schools, ended up consulting the incorrect professor for a question about courses and could not register for classes at her predetermined time. A sophomore who was accepted to SMPA as a freshman is finally taking her first course toward her major because until now, she was completing CCAS general requirements. Personally, I’ve seen advisers in both schools and gotten completely different responses to the same question.

All of these issues stem from the fact that SMPA students must go through CCAS to fully achieve their long-term educational goals.

Since the Media and Public Affairs building’s opening in March 2001, the school has even been geographically separated from CCAS. With its establishment, it too should have gone down the path of the Elliott School and SEAS by becoming its own entity with an indigenous curriculum and a set of requirements not constrained by those from CCAS. Instead, the weight of the CCAS course requirements rests heavily on SMPA students’ workloads, and unless AP credits dismiss several GCRs, taking even a basic course in SMPA is often a second-year luxury.

Indeed, CCAS is addressing the issue of requiring too many general courses for all majors. But in SMPA, after completing a competitive application and getting accepted to pursue a certain passion, students are told by CCAS that to capitalize on that interest, they need to complete a series of unrelated requirements. Because SMPA offers such a multitude of course opportunities for students, it should also be left to the discretion of the directors of this school to ultimately determine what classes are required for their students.

As students within SMPA, our capabilities and freedoms are limited, and therefore we cannot employ our opportunities and resources to their fullest potential. GW should adopt the model of the University of Missouri, which has a relationship with its media school that is separate and therefore enhanced. The Missouri School of Journalism was the world’s first (and remains one of the premier) journalism institutes in the country. It has a system conducive to growth for communications scholars and even students who just want to take a few media classes. The school stands as a separate institution within the university, and has an individual system in place for its students. With no unnecessary ties to their college of arts and sciences, which as we can see result in incorrigible knots, journalism students pursue their majors with fewer complications.

The School of Media and Public Affairs at GW already stands apart in several ways from the rest of the University. As such, removing CCAS’ suffocating hold on SMPA would not be so difficult, but the benefits of this formal separation will be remarkable.

Resolving this issue on campus would result in a more efficient academic system and much happier political communication and journalism students. And you know how important it is to have happy journalists; they’ll be the ones writing about you in Monday’s paper.

The writer, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.

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