MCMA gears up for program overhaul

By Gus Bode

New entry-level courses proposed to replace current college structure

Factoid:An open meeting for students will be Thursday at 5 p.m. in Room 1046 in the Communications Building.

After meeting several times recently, the curriculum review leaders of the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts have reached a consensus – their students do not write well enough.


“Every teacher in this college has agreed on one thing,” said Leo Gher, a curriculum review leader, “and that is that our students are not very good writers.”

Four specialty groups were formed earlier this fall to propose changes to the college’s 40-year-old curriculum. MCMA students can bring questions and suggestions for curriculum reform to leaders of the review groups and MCMA administrators during an open meeting Thursday.

By implementing a mandatory introductory writing course, the college hopes to emphasize the importance of good writing and continue to develop that skill, said John Downing, the co-leader of the media analysis group.

Each group studies one of the following:media business, media analysis or media arts production and news, which are also being proposed as emphasis areas for new courses.

Downing said the groups decided to begin with the foundation of each curriculum, which is the college’s introductory courses, MCMA 201 and MCMA 202. The groups are recommending those courses be thrown out and new courses be developed.

“We decided rather than say, ‘How can we tinker with what we’ve got?’ we recognized that many students find the intro classes of the moment not very satisfying,” Downing said, who is also the director of the Global Media Research Center.

Student representatives were added to the discussion groups after overwhelming student outcry in the spring to be a part of the review process.


MCMA Associate Dean Gary Kolb said they want to replace the classes with four introductory courses focusing on news, media business, media analysis or media arts production. The plan is to make each course dramatically smaller and include a discussion group. Kolb said students could choose which of the courses they wish to take, but they would be required to take two. He said this is an effort to reduce the “watered-down state” of entry-level courses.

“The idea of taking two CORE courses is because we still want to make this a more interdisciplinary program,” Kolb said.

Students could also take more than two of these courses and, Kolb said, having more options might reduce the number of undecided students in the college. MCMA has 40 undecided students this fall.

Gher, who is also a professor in radio and television, conducted a survey of more than 400 hiring professionals nationwide that asked what skills were lacking the most in the incoming workforce. He said the top complaints revolved around the students’ writing skills.

Gher said according to the SIUC catalog, an introductory writing class is already offered in the college as “Critical thinking through media writing.” The college created the course as the third requirement for all of its students, Gher said, but then did not have the funds to offer it.

“We kind of felt ashamed that we had not implemented [the writing course] because that is what everyone is shouting about,” Gher said.

Gher said in his discussion group as well as in others, the general theme is “bridges of excellence.” Even in his group, which includes advertising in the School of Journalism and media management in the department of Radio-Television, some of the courses are duplicated because the two majors are taught separately.

Convergence is growing more between professions, Gher said, and students should be able to perform in many areas. Also, students should have a large variety of knowledge because studies have shown that people change their professions about four times.

Kolb said one of the main objectives of the review is to create more flexibility between programs. In essence, Kolb said they want the students to be able to tailor their majors to suit their needs and desires, but there are no plans to abandon any of the current programs of study.

“The programs should also allow for students to cross over without being limited by prerequisites,” Kolb said. “Right now, that is hard to do. We are trying to break down those barriers.”

Phylis Johnson, co-leader of the news discussion group, said they are looking at many other universities’ curricula for ideas. She said another idea is an honors program that would create an accelerated track for some students.

Leaders of the media arts production and media analysis groups said nothing is nailed down, but their discussions focus on increasing flexibility, too.

“This is a process of input,” said Johnson, who is also the chair of the Radio-Television department. “We’re not trying to subtract anything. This will allow doors to open between departments.”