College of Media is different in more than just nameBy Craig Chamberlain, News Bureau Staff Writer
On March 26, the UI Board of Trustees approved renaming the College of Communications. The new name is College of Media.
As of the next day, the new name already was at the top of the college home page and in use by WILL radio stations, which are part of the college.
It’s not the first time for a name change, according to Ron Yates, the dean of the college. In the years since journalism courses first were taught at the UI in 1902, the college housing journalism and other communication-related units had changed its name four previous times, the last one in 1968, he said.
The change this time was prompted by a desire on the part of the department of speech communication, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, to drop “speech” from its name, following a trend among counterparts at other universities, Yates said. The college agreed to change its name to avoid the confusion that would be caused by having a department of communication and a College of Communications on the same campus.
Yates, however, said he also saw it as an opportunity for the college to better define itself, especially in a period of rapid changes in news and communications, many brought on by the Internet and other technologies.
As part of the process of finding a new name, the college surveyed its alumni, faculty and staff members, students and others, and received hundreds of suggestions, Yates said. After a process of elimination, College of Media Arts and Sciences rose to the top of the list, but concerns were raised about confusion with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
College of Media was the second choice, Yates said, and so the college went with that. It makes sense and embraces everything the college does, he said. “We’re really about media now.”
Nothing has changed for now, with the new name, in terms of the composition of units in the college. It still comprises the departments of journalism and advertising, the Institute of Communications Research and the Division of Broadcasting, which includes WILL radio and TV stations.
But the new name could be considered symbolic of numerous other changes over the past four years, and some still under way, initiated in part by an ad hoc campus committee report on the college in early fall 2003. The committee raised what it saw as serious communication and budgetary concerns within the college, and even suggested the possibility of disbanding it.
Yates, then head of the department of journalism and newly appointed as interim dean, said impressions of deep rifts within the college were mistaken and that dismantling the college “was never part of the agenda.” In response to the report, however, he formed a task force to address the issues raised, as well as others within the college. He saw it as an opportunity, he said, for “some really intense self-study.”
The task force report, followed by the provost’s response to it, came in the spring semester of 2004. Among the changes in the four years since:
The college has moved from being a two-year, to a three-year, and soon a four-year college, starting with the admission of its first freshman class this fall. Largely as a result of that transition, Yates said, the college’s student population has increased from 550 in fall 2003, to 950 in fall 2007, to an estimated 1,100 for this coming fall.
The college received about 950 applications for the fall freshman class, a number Yates called “astounding.” Many of those being admitted, he believes, are “kids we were never getting” when the college could not admit students until their junior year. Without a guarantee that they would be admitted after two years, he thinks many chose to go somewhere other than Illinois.
Yates also thinks the college is benefiting from an overall interest by many students in all things media-related, even when they don’t always know where that will lead them. “They’re just trying to come in to figure out where it is in this whole milieu of media that they want to land,” he said, and the college wants to encourage that exploration.
A department of media and cinema studies will be created this fall, assuming a proposal to do so gets the required approvals. The department would result from the combination of the existing media studies curriculum and the Unit for Cinema Studies, the latter to be moved from the College of LAS.
The Institute of Communications Research, open to researchers throughout the college, as well as elsewhere on campus and even beyond, is refocusing its efforts. According to Yates, the ICR had “drifted” over the years into becoming “an institute that behaved like a department.” The institute is “an enormous brand around the world,” Yates said, and the college doesn’t want to do anything that will change that.
The doctoral program was repositioned so it is administered centrally in the college, rather than through ICR, and involves all of the college’s academic units.
A department of advertising, “considered to be in receivership” four years ago, has been revived and is growing, with a new permanent head, Yates said.
The college as a whole, Yates said, is firmly holding onto its identity as a professional school, geared toward the development of practical skills along with academic preparation. “We’re holding onto the fundamentals,” he said, even while learning to adapt to technological change.
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