UNO hopes to establish School of Communication

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By Marion Rhodes

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents will decide Saturday
if UNO’s Department of Communication should be restructured into a
School of Communication.

The Regents’ approval would be the most important step toward
such an effort, which has been a goal of the department for 30
years, said Communication Department Chair Deborah
Smith-Howell.

Currently, UNO has three schools – Social Work, Health, Physical
Education and Recreation and Public Administration. The size,
complexity and range of activities of the Department of
Communication establish it more as a school than a department,
especially since it awards more degrees and offers more programs
than any of the other schools, Smith-Howell said.

“People in general don’t understand how one department can offer
so many kinds of majors,” she said. “We think that [a school]
better reflects who we are.”

Undergraduate programs in the department include speech
communication, journalism and broadcasting. The journalism major
includes concentrations in print journalism and public relations,
while the broadcasting major is split up into broadcast journalism
and new media.

“When I start going out to research anything that looks like us,
it’s usually not in departments. It’s in schools or colleges,”
Smith-Howell said.

The restructuring would be independent from ongoing efforts to
create a combined College of Communication and Fine Arts.

About 650 undergraduate and graduate students are currently in
the department. They would hardly be affected by the change,
Smith-Howell said.

“I think this just kind of summarizes some of the things we’re
doing,” she said. “Students aren’t going to see anything
dramatic.”

Changes would mainly affect administration, she said. The
position of chair would become that of a director, and an assistant
director would likely be designated.

The establishment of a School of Communication would also
increase UNO’s appeal to students who are thinking about majoring
in the area, Smith-Howell said. The change into a school would
increase the department’s visibility, Smith-Howell said, and make
it easier for students to find what UNO offers.

“It illustrates that we have a range of options,” she said.

Another advantage would be that a School of Communication might
be more attractive to external funding than a department, she
said.

If the Regents approve the restructuring Saturday, the new
school could be established by fall 2004.

The developments concerning a College of Communication and Fine
Arts are not quite as formalized yet.

An administrative committee composed of eight members from the
different affected disciplines has been formed and is currently
working on an outline for the new college, Smith-Howell said. The
search for a dean for the college has been postponed until plans
have been finalized.

Robert Welk, interim dean of the College of Fine Arts, has
agreed to stay on for another year, which gives the committee some
time to work out all the details.

Smith-Howell said the reason for the changes is that it is time
for the department, which has grown much over the past, to adapt to
new needs.

“We’re not doing this because something is wrong,” Smith-Howell
said. “But that doesn’t mean that things can’t be better.”

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