R-TV-F faculty vote to alter grad program

Becky Bowman

Radio-TV-film faculty voted Friday to move ahead in designing an interdisciplinary doctoral program that will place more emphasis on technology in the department’s graduate program.

School of Speech Dean Barbara O’Keefe said Sunday she will appoint a committee of students and faculty to incorporate elements of the R-TV-F, communications studies and telecommunications departments into one graduate program called media and technology.

While O’Keefe called the vote a positive step for the school, some students at the meeting described the atmosphere as tense and said faculty may have felt pressured by the dean to vote in favor of continuing discussions – a charge O’Keefe denied.

“It felt like the dean was threatening to cut funding to programs,” said Nate Pence, a Speech junior and undergraduate representative to the Speech faculty. “It looked as though (the faculty) felt pressured to vote in favor of it.”

Faculty members at the meeting were unavailable for comment. O’Keefe was present only to answer questions at the beginning of the meeting and did not stay for the vote. About 12 faculty members discussed the proposal for less than two hours Friday.

Once students and faculty have completed the design for the program, a more exact proposal will be returned to both Speech faculty and administrators.

But many R-TV-F students said they aren’t interested in a technological approach to film and would rather study more traditional topics.

Speech freshman Jon Lefkovitz said students need to study film as an art even though technology is a necessary part of film production.

“(An emphasis on technology) leaves out this huge factor of being able to understand film as art and as a history of development,” Lefkovitz said. “It ignores a huge part of what a film school is all about, which is studying the value and aesthetics of film.”

Lefkovitz also said teaching assistants from a changed R-TV-F program might emphasize technology over good film practices when instructing undergraduates. But O’Keefe said most teaching assistants come from the department’s master of fine arts program.

O’Keefe added that the R-TV-F department should not be considered only a film department and that Chicago, known as a magnet for media in radio’s heyday, is not the best place to study film.

“There is no local film industry in Chicago,” O’Keefe said Thursday. “We make films, to be sure, but not like New York and Los Angeles. It’s not strategically sensible to build a film school in Chicago. We’ve never had one, we don’t have one and it’s very unlikely that we ever will.”

Changing the graduate and doctoral programs would benefit students by using campus resources better, O’Keefe said. Students also would have several other options for study under another proposed program called culture, media and performance.

“This is much more complicated than people are being led to believe,” O’Keefe said before the meeting. “We’re really trying to take a weakened doctoral program in R-TV-F and a weakened master’s program in R-TV-F and strengthen both to create much better programs.”

O’Keefe said that any increased use of technology would better prepare students for careers in film and wouldn’t eliminate the R-TV-F program.

Graduate students said they learned about the proposal too late to have any say in whether it was adopted. O’Keefe met with about a dozen disgruntled graduate and doctoral R-TV-F students Thursday evening, but J.B. Capino, a sixth-year graduate R-TV-F student and vocal opponent of the proposal, said he couldn’t attend the session because he was only told about it the day before.

Students also e-mailed faculty early last week, urging them to vote against furthering discussions. Lefkovitz and Capino gathered 252 signatures from Speech students by circulating petitions against the proposal.

O’Keefe said Thursday she sympathizes with students who complained about their lack of input in the process.

“I don’t think there was ever any intent to exclude,” she said. “It’s just that there wasn’t a convenient place earlier in the process to include them.”