By Kimberly Bryant
The Department of Communication is no more. The University of Nebraska Regents approved the School of Communication at UNO.
As for clarification about when the department of communication will become the school of communication, Deborah Smith-Howell, chairwoman of the School of Communication said, “We’re actually a school now. We’re answering the phone ‘School of Communication.'”
The decision to evolve from a department to a school has been an ongoing process, said Smith-Howell.
The former department of communication was formed in 1975 by the merging of the journalism department and speech department. While a proposal for a school of communication was made at that time, it was not approved. However, UNO decided to integrate the majors into a department because of their compatibility.
“We know we were one of the first in the country to successfully merge those disciplines. We were kind of on the forefront,” said Smith-Howell. “Ever since we became the department of communication, our external committees have always recommended that we would be better as a school.”
Despite being on the forefront as being one of the first departments to offer an integrated program, Smith-Howell said more communication departments at colleges around the country were moving to school status.
“So even though we had been on the forefront, we were getting left behind. So this is really exciting that we had thought it through conceptually really early. This is now where we should be in terms of our peers. I think that will help us in a number of ways, especially externally.”
In 2000, an academic planning council review, consisting of internal and external committees was held for the former department. Again, a recommendation was made for the establishment of a school.
“So we really started working from that and looking at where we are now and wanted to pursue it,” she said. “We have really grown in the last 10 years. We’ve become more complex, we have more majors. There’s so much going on that what we thought a long time ago is even more true today. So that was the final push.”
Smith-Howell said the students in the new school of communications will not notice any drastic changes for the spring 2004 semester.
“We’re not canceling any classes. We’re not changing classes. We’re teaching our schedule for the spring,” Smith-Howell said.
In addition to classes staying the same, class sizes will also stay the same.
“We try real hard to keep the class sizes small. We do have high demand for our classes and we will work hard to meet the demand and keep it so that you can have that direct faculty/student contact,” Smith-Howell said. She added that while upper division classes are larger, she hopes the school will not have to increase class sizes.
As for the curriculum of the school, some adjustments have been made for the fall 2004 semester.
“We’ve made some adjustments to the curriculum, like what the sequences will look like and what will be required and some of those kinds of things,” she said. “Those will all be available for the fall.” New students who enter the university under the new catalog will be under the school’s new curriculum.
Smith-Howell said current students will not be forced into the new curriculum.
“Current students can always stay with what they have or they can choose the new sequence. It will be in the new catalog,” she said. “What we’ve found in the past is that usually when we make changes [to the curriculum], the students like the new one. So they end up going with that.”
Even with all the changes, no new faculty will be brought in to the school.
“What we will be doing is some internal reallocation and kind of changing how we do a few things and some responsibilities. We will have an assistant director of the school. We’re going to reassign existing assignments,” she said. “We’ll kind of do some of our daily business a little differently. In some ways, the students aren’t really going to see a dramatic shift with how we do business.”
New titles and responsibilities will shift with some of the other faculty positions and will be made effective in the summer and the fall.
Smith-Howell is positive that the transition from department to school will be a smooth one because of how long the school has been planning for the transition.
“With this faculty and the people here, I don’t worry about that at all. For us, we’ve been working on how to make it happen for so long that it’s like, ‘Yes, we can do this,'” she said. “Because it’s not a surprise, it’s not something that we’re not prepared for, so it should be fairly seamless.”
In comparison to communication schools at other metropolitan universities, such as Wichita, Cincinnati and Memphis, Smith-Howell said UNOs School of Communication is “something different…We work hard to be a part of and use that metropolitan environment as part of our learning experience. And it benefits not only our students, but it benefits the community too,” she said. “I think it’s real important that we see the need that each of the Nebraska institutions serve and make sure that we do that the best that we can for the type of institution that we are. So that’s what we’re trying to be: the very best metropolitan experience that we can offer.”