Details of IU?s media school merger still up in the air

  • Sept. 23, 2013

Indiana University faculty members left a meeting with Provost Lauren Robel with many of the same questions they arrived with about the merger of the School of Journalism into the College of Arts and Sciences as part of a proposed media school.

And that’s because many of the answers about the school’s name, its curriculum and which professors will be assigned to the media school have not been decided and will probably not be decided before the IU Board of Trustees vote on a merger in mid-October, Robel said. What a proposal will not include, she said, is any move to dissolve departments, adding that “an axe isn’t over anybody’s head.”

After peppering Robel and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Larry Singell with queries about the shake up at a Bloomington Faculty Council meeting Tuesday — a session that featured a slide show about the proposal to combine journalism with parts of the telecommunications and communication and culture departments — a filled classroom at the Kelley School of Business was told there is a “vision” for a school.

Robel’s pitch is that the merger will allow for better sharing of equipment by the various media-focused departments in a renovated Franklin Hall and will strengthen the college overall. She also reiterated that the university has been looking at reorganization since the fall of 2009, when the trustees asked for a report on the issue. She quoted 2011 recommendations from the New Academic Directions Committee that sought to “seize opportunities for structural innovation,” including the consolidation of small schools to reduce the “cost of administering programs and free up more funding” for academic programs.

But Gracia Clark, a professor of anthropology, asked why a new school was needed in the first place, especially when prior recommendations from faculty had pointed toward a “virtual school” where collaboration could be created between different schools and their departments. Robel compared a prospective media school to the School of Global and International Studies and pointed toward opportunities to create new curricula through collaboration between the new school’s partners, bringing more of a focus to emergent and digital media programs.

While a memorandum of understanding with the School of Journalism has promised that the number of faculty members and donations to journalism-specific efforts will remain constant after a merger, faculty from communication and culture became worried when Singell met with them a couple weeks ago and speculated about certain departments as a “fit” in the media school, specifically the film school. Faculty with a performance focus were concerned about whether they would be “invited” to the school or not.

Singell disputed that he had already delegated any specific factions of IU’s faculty as a fit or not, reiterating that “nobody will be forced” to join the media school and that the administration will work with outlying faculty to find other places at the university for them to teach and do research. But when a faculty member asked if communications and culture professors could maintain their own departments if they “will it to be,” Singell said “no.”

Because of confusion like that, faculty council President Herb Terry said his colleagues would like to see an actual proposal, in writing rather than slide show, before a vote, and said he would ask IU President Michael McRobbie to make it available to the public.

Regardless, Robel admitted that probably no proposal would make all sides happy, including a name for the school, which she dubbed “M-School” for the sake of the meeting.

When asked to compare the university’s vision to other prominent media programs across the country, such as those at Syracuse, Northwestern or Missouri, Robel said IU doesn’t want to copy any of those programs, either.

“Let’s break new ground,” she said.

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.