Six days after faculty in the School of Mass Communications received an email stating that changes to the school were coming, including leaving its accreditation agency and replacing its interim director, they met with College of Arts and Sciences Dean Eric Eisenberg to discuss the future of the program.
In the initial email, sent hours before students received a similar version over spring break, Eisenberg was apologetic for the sudden announcement of changes decided upon by the president, provost and himself.
The School would be leaving the Accrediting Council on Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC), the agency which had placed the school on two years of probation after a site team visit in January, and Eisenberg had appointed Jim Andrews, Director of the School of Information, as director of the school in an effort to bring the two schools closer together.
“I apologize for the heavy-handedness of yet another administrative change,” Eisenberg wrote. “This is definitely NOT how I wish to lead and I very much look forward to a time when you have stable leadership and are fully in charge of your future direction. In doing so, I wish to reiterate my commitment to each one of you and to the future success of your school.”
The meeting on Tuesday addressed the process by which the changes came about and what the future may look like for the school – something Eisenberg said the faculty would ultimately determine.
Rick Wilber, a professor in the school who has been at USF since 1989, said the meeting was “productive” and “useful” in helping the faculty understand why changes were being made.
Eisenberg said he thought the meeting was a success.
“A few of the people were a little in shock about some of the changes and how fast they happened,” he said. “We kind of talked those things through. But just about everybody, except for a couple of people, felt they were ready to embrace the freedom to move forward.”
Eisenberg told the Faculty Senate on Wednesday that faculty members were excited about the possibilities that may emerge after leaving the agency.
“We’ve been in this accreditation box for a long, long time,” he said. “Little light bulbs were going on in people’s heads (at the meeting), saying, ‘Oh, I thought a student needed that, so we can redesign that?’ or ‘We could take control of what the students need.'”
Andrews said he is “thrilled” with the possibilities that could come from closer collaboration – something he said he had been working on with the previous two directors of the school for the past year.
While he said he is normally a big fan of accreditation and sees much good that comes from it, leaving it could loosen some curricular “handcuffs.”
“We’re talking about big data and visualizing infographics and how to better relate to people’s different appetite for new media,” he said.
But what the relationship looks like between the two schools will come from the faculty, he said.
“We’ll see how it goes from there. We’ll see if it makes sense to have a certain kind of structure. If not, fine, and we’ll just keep working,” he said. “But it’s got to come from the faculty. What happened with the accreditation was a decision at the administrative level, but change must come from faculty … It has to be organic. It has to take some time. It has to come up from the bottom.”
Andrews said the school’s first priority will be holding “town hall” meetings and FAQ sessions for students in the college, many of whom have sent in concerned emails, about the changes.
“We want to rest them assured that this is not going to negatively affect their graduation,” he said.