New dean could bring needed cohesion

At issue: Schools and departments are disjointed.

Our take: There’s no reason collaboration can’t work.

Emerson’s School of Communication has had an interim dean since 2012. The announcement of a permanent hire to this high-ranking position gives this school—which is comprised of communication sciences and disorders, communication studies, journalism, and marketing communication—the opportunity to improve its inter- and intra-departmental disconnects. With his appointment, Dr. Raul Reis has the chance to bring properly integrate courses of study that are arbitrarily segmented. Imagine a School of Communication that deals in both breadth and depth, where a relevant writing, literature, and publishing class can count toward a journalism major’s graduation requirement or a communication studies class can help a marketing communication student graduate early.

Emerson sells itself as a marriage of communication and the arts, yet students within the School of Communication are often unable to fit School of Arts classes into their schedule and vice versa. Taking classes outside of a given major’s department usually means taking a class that doesn’t count toward your degree requirements. But these departments offer classes that teach the same skills, perhaps in a more immersive manner. Journalism students are required to learn audio and video editing through the journalism department, even though there are visual and media arts courses that could teach the same lessons. Writing, literature, and publishing majors take courses on the publishing business that contain the same information as numerous marketing courses. Yet students are forced into their department’s classes, some of which are incredibly difficult to find space in despite being degree requirements. Not only would inter-departmental coordination provide people with a more personalized education, it would make registration a far less frustrating process. 

The new dean could take his appointment as an opportunity to rein in a new era of change for the School of Communication. During Reis’s time at Florida International University, he created two new undergraduate majors as well as a new graduate major. Those are impressive undertakings, which means that Reis could open up the opportunity for inter-departmental and cross-school collaborations. As dean, he could work with a team to alter curriculum requirements for majors within the School of Communication. Those requirements could allow for the possibility of a more mosaic course load reflective of the entire communication school rather than one department, for students who so choose. He could also open up discussion with other deans to discuss possibilities of bringing their expertise into his school’s classes. It makes sense to have sound-design students assist with journalism podcasts and film students guide broadcast junkies on how to work with Final Cut Pro. 

Our siloed departments could benefit from breaking down some barriers— sow the knowledge across the scholarly lands, we say. We’re not only stymied from cross-departmental collaboration, but our access to classes in other departments and in other schools is majorly blocked. A myriad of courses offered exclusively to one major could be greatly beneficial for another major to build into their education. Here’s an illustration: a journalism student dreams of making documentary films. In their major course requirements, the student is learning to conduct interviews, write ledes, and format scripts, but they haven’t got a clue how to work a camera. They want to take cinematography classes, they desire to learn how to film in an artful manner, not just a straight journalistic style, but they face a stack of barriers. The expertise students seek exists, it’s just in another department or school. The tools are all here, we just can’t reach them.

Schools and departments do separate for a reason, but if we allowed ourselves to test these boundaries, opportunities to innovate could easily exist—and with his recent hiring, Dr. Reis has the chance to make this happen.