Merger forum has low turnout

by Nancy Ngo

Fueled by rumors of a merger between the schools of journalism and speech communication, more than 50 students of the respective schools confronted a task force in November with their concerns.
But when the task force held a similar forum Tuesday the number of students in attendance barely reached double digits and student worry was minimal. College of Liberal Arts Dean Steven Rosenstone, who was bombarded by letters in November, said he was not surprised by the sudden shift in reaction.
“Part of the concerns before were not knowing what the report was going to say. Now we all know what it says,” Rosenstone said.
The report of the Communications Studies Task Force, which must still receive administration and Board of Regents approval, calls for a merger between the schools. If implemented, the combined school would focus on three areas: professional journalism, strategic communications and communications research.
The new school — which would also contain an Institute for New Media Studies to address changes in communications technology — would be housed in renovated Ford and Murphy halls. The exact cost has yet to be determined, but renovations alone could exceed $15 million.
Throughout the task force’s 90-day fact-finding period, some students and faculty members were concerned the hasty review and subsequent recommendations would destroy the two schools. Task force members emphasized the importance of adhering to a December deadline because the proposal needed to be ready for review for Legislators by January.
At a December news conference, Rosenstone said funding from the Legislature was crucial for carrying out the ambitious plan.
At Tuesday’s forum, some students wondered if the plan was too ambitious and whether it would cut into basic learning.
“The new media initiative gave me the impression that it would be focused on technology,” said Christine Tomlinson, a journalism graduate student and opinions editor at the Daily. Tomlinson was one of two students to voice concerns at the forum.
Rosenstone tried to alleviate the concern by speaking about the course and program additions outlined in the proposal. Even programs that were eliminated during tight budget periods, such as photojournalism and professional master’s programs, would be reinstated, he said.
“This is a set of recommendations to build upon, not a set of recommendations about cutting,” he said.
An emphasis on hands-on training, like internships, adds to its appeal, said task force committee member Lynda McDonnell of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
“If you are going to hire people from schools, (the industry) has interests in making sure they are well-prepared,” she said.