The University Record, January 30, 1996

LS&A executive committee approves restructuring of communication studies; all new courses will begin fall term 1996

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services 

The newly restructured bachelor of arts concentration in communication studies---with all new courses---has been approved by the LS&A Executive Committee, effective fall 1996.

The Department of Communication Studies, formerly the Department of Communication, will now offer an interdisciplinary undergraduate curriculum that will emphasize mass communication as a social phenomenon, focusing on its structure, processes, contexts and effects.

"We are very pleased with the new program and feel it will offer our students a challenging and exciting undergraduate education in communication studies," says Vincent E. Price, chair and associate professor of communication studies. "It is a departure in a number of ways, not only from our previous program but also from other communication programs throughout the country. We have charted an innovative course."

The new curriculum will be broken into four general areas of scholarship: 1) the structure and function of media systems; 2) the process of mediated communication; 3) the relationships of media systems and processes to cultural, political and social contexts; and 4) the media's role in shaping knowledge, values and behavior.

Students will be required to complete 24 credit hours in intermediate and advanced course work in communication studies, including an introductory research methods course, and six credits of cognate course work. In addition, all concentrators must take nine credits of introductory prerequisite courses, which offer an overview of research and scholarship in the field and expose students to electronic information resources.

The new program, Price says, will provide students with a systematic, well-structured examination of mass communication, how it works, and the role and impact of the media in society.

"It should ensure that all our students are exposed to diverse scholarly approaches to mass communication and have a chance to contemplate and examine some very important questions surrounding the roles and responsibilities of the media, particularly in the context of a democratic society," Price says. "In the process, they should also acquire a very solid conceptual and methodological grounding. Our objective is to encourage student analysis that is critical, constructive and well-informed by the latest research."

The new curriculum will form an excellent base of academic knowledge for students considering graduate study or professional work in journalism, film, public relations or advertising, but is not designed to specifically prepare students for careers in media and will not include courses in these areas, Price says. The department, however, will maintain a strong and well-managed program of internships and practica, he adds.

"What communication studies proposes to do with its new curriculum is to strengthen the intellectual basis of its concentration," says Lincoln B. Faller, associate dean for undergraduate education. "Students will bring out of that program enhanced analytical skills and a capacity to deal with a whole array of information in a way that would surely suit them for careers in journalism, advertising, law, business and a whole variety of other things."

Everette Dennis, executive director of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University, believes the U-M may have "charted new territory" with its revamped program.

"It isn't strictly theoretical and it is not trade school," Dennis says. "It's somewhere in between. To me, it's an intelligent choice. As a preparation for graduate education on an advanced conceptual level, or even as a prelude to the more trade-oriented journalismmaster's programs such as those at Columbia, Berkeley and Northwestern, this approach should work well."

Carroll Glynn, chair of Cornell University's Department of Communication, says that communication teaching methods in higher education must be revised to keep pace with a rapidly changing communication field.

"We cannot keep doing what we're doing because it's not successful anymore, either in teaching our students or in addressing research issues and training needs," says Glynn, who likes the U-M's new communication studies curriculum as a model for her own changing program. "I think the U-M plan is forward-thinking---something more journalism and communication programs need to be."

Price says that while the restructured curriculum takes effect this fall, new courses will be phased in over time. Students majoring in communication under the "old" requirements will be allowed to substitute other courses to complete their degree.

The new curriculum is the result of a year-long process begun in January 1995 when the LS&A Executive Committee endorsed the LS&A Faculty Advisory Committee's recommendation "to constitute and invigorate a newly defined Department of Communication Studies, including the need to hire additional tenured and tenure-track faculty and to develop a rigorous and coherent undergraduate currriculum."