Journalism, Communication Studies departments to unify

Journalism, Communication Studies departments to unify

It’s my pleasure to announce today that two academic departments in the College of Arts and Sciences – Journalism and Mass Communication and Communication Studies – with distinctive but increasingly overlapping missions are joining forces.

The newly established Department of Communication and Journalism will debut in the 2007-08 school year, bringing together 15 full-time faculty, 30 adjunct faculty and 550 students majoring or minoring in these programs.

Merger discussions have occurred off and on for many years, but each time various issues prevented us from moving forward. This time around was different. The faculty from both programs did an excellent job of outlining the benefits of integrating these programs. As a result of this reorganization, an even stronger, more vital, and more effective department will emerge.

It’s important for the new department to draw on the leadership of veteran faculty members from both disciplines. I am grateful that Dr. Kris Bunton, who joined Journalism and Mass Communication in 1993 and has been chair since 2005, has accepted an appointment as chair of the new department. Dr. John Cragan, who has taught in Communication Studies since 2003, will be assistant chair. Dr. Bernard Armada, chair of Communication Studies since 2003, will be on sabbatical next year.

In a memo to me last December, faculty from the two departments said they believed a combined department would better position St. Thomas “to build upon our shared focus on communication in all its forms, while also drawing upon our distinct and longstanding disciplinary histories.” They cited many benefits, including:

  • A stronger curriculum. Decisions have yet to be made about curriculum changes, including whether to maintain the five concentrations (print, broadcast, advertising, public relations and media studies) in Journalism and how Communication Studies’ general major might change. “For instance, we might design a major that emphasizes images – their creation for documentaries, webcasts, podcasts, TV news and ads,” the faculty memo says. “Or, we might develop a shared specialty in political communication. … We would hope to create more flexibility in our courses of study, which would lead to graduates who can be more versatile professionals.”
  • Better recruitment of faculty and students. More new Ph.D. graduates have interdisciplinary backgrounds and would fit best in a joint department, the memo says. Students would be attracted more to a program that reflects an environment “where media forms overlap and where the journalist and communicator are sorely challenged to adapt.”
  • Less confusion about identity. Faculty admit that current and prospective students, parents and alumni regularly confuse the departments’ names and programs. “In a period of increasing convergence between communication forms,” the memo says, “our distinctions – such as electronic media production and broadcast journalism – seem increasingly artificial.”
  • Shared space, activities and equipment. Journalism majors might more easily work on Campus Scope, a television program produced by Communications Studies. Digital video cameras owned by both departments will be shared, as will budgets for other equipment and repairs.

Students with double majors in the two areas agree with the faculty. Dr. Bunton interviewed four seniors for a newsletter column, and they told her their most valuable experiences as double-majors were studying with excellent professors, completing internships, studying communication abroad and learning through activities such as Ad Club, Campus Scope, Communications Club and the Public Relations Student Society of America.

“I think the new department will allow students to have more options for courses and more flexibility for deciding what career path they eventually want to take,” Laura Wegner, who majored in Communication Studies and Public Relations, told Dr. Bunton. “Plus, the Comm Studies and Journalism departments have some of the best professors at St. Thomas. I have no doubt that students who choose to major in the new combined department will leave St. Thomas with a great education.”

The full-time faculty who will teach in the new department include the following (the year they joined St. Thomas is listed in parentheses):

  • From Journalism and Mass Communications – Betsy Anderson (2006), Kris Bunton (1993), Tom Connery (1982), Robert Craig (1994), Dina Gavrilos (2006), Mark Neuzil (1993), Michael O’Donnell (1999) and Wendy Wyatt (2003).
  • From Communication Studies – Bernard Armada (1997), Carol Bruess (1998), John Cragan (2003), Debra Petersen (1990), Ellen Riordan (2005), Kevin Sauter (1982) and Tim Scully (1990).

St. Thomas established the Journalism and Mass Communication Department in 1959. The Communication Department – later renamed Communication Studies – was created in 1990 after a decision to split the Speech-Theater Department, which had been a joint department with the College of St. Catherine.

Please join me in celebrating the achievements of these two departments and in pledging to work with them to form a new department that will better serve our students in the years ahead.