Students gather to plan future protests of changes to the R-TV-F curriculum

Becky Bowman

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About 110 energized undergraduate and graduate School of Speech students filled the basement of an apartment on Ridge Avenue on Monday night to discuss the future of the radio-TV-film department after two weeks of butting heads with administrators over proposed curriculum changes.

Students at the meeting said recent activities to gain administrators’ attention, such as a funeral procession for the department by a Performance Studies class, have started an important movement within the school. R-TV-F students have complained that administrators proposed combining the graduate R-TV-F department with other programs to place a greater emphasis on technology without asking for student input or giving students enough time to respond.

The group of upset students will continue its efforts Sunday by meeting at the same apartment building to host a phone-a-thon telling alumni and students’ parents of the situation. The group also will work with faculty this week to arrange a time to present their views and hold another open meeting March 11.

“We want to talk to faculty to find a date to get together, to make sure everyone can be there,” said Speech junior Jeremy Latcham, who worked with several other students to organize the meeting. “We want it to be on mutual terms. We don’t want to get told. At this point it needs to be a dialogue.”

As part of a project for Prof. Mary Zimmerman’s Performance Art class, about a dozen students created a memorial site for the R-TV-F department in front of the Frances Searle Building Monday afternoon.

“We decorated the tree,” said Nicole Montez, Speech senior and class member. “We buried a canister of film, put up a little plaque and had a trumpeter play ‘Taps.'”

The group paraded from the Theatre and Interpretation Center to Frances Searle and placed a cross, roses and notes reading, “I’m going to miss you, R-TV-F,” beneath a tree covered in film.

Despite the continued organizational efforts of students, Speech Dean Barbara O’Keefe said Monday night that nothing “newsworthy” is taking place in the school right now.

“If what this means is that the R-TV-F students are going to get really active about their education, that’s really great,” she said. “That’s something I’m really supportive of. Every so often students do wake up. They kind of go along and not pay attention and then they decide they want to get excited.”

O’Keefe did not attend Monday night’s meeting, saying she had early commitments Tuesday morning. In place of attending, she sent a lengthy e-mail to R-TV-F students Monday detailing proposals and past changes within the school. Students said they planned to review the e-mail point-by-point after Monday night’s meeting and to continue working to maintain the R-TV-F department’s structure.

“This is going to keep going until things get better,” Latcham said. “We’re here and we want to make a difference.”

Speech sophomore Danielle Ongart said the department’s direct effect on students’ film careers will inspire them to continue the effort.

“That alone will get people going on a long-lasting campaign,” Ongart said. “People seemed to be really passionate.”

After the meeting, Kevin Richey, a third-year student in the department’s master of fine arts program, said the administration has been lax in addressing student concerns and answering questions about changes to the department throughout his time as a student. The inattention weakens the program and does not serve the quality of students at the school, he said.

“I’ve learned more by working with undergraduates and fellow students than by anything the department has done for me personally,” Richey said. “Their tireless energy, their enthusiasm – (the undergraduates) kill themselves to go on shoots, to do work, to help each other out. It’s such a community.”

Harvard Film Archive Curator Bruce Jenkins, who earned his doctorate in NU’s R-TV-F program in 1984, said other schools would be lucky to have undergraduate programs in place like those at NU, New York University and the University of Iowa.

“(Having a bachelor’s degree in film) would have been enormously helpful,” Jenkins said. “At Harvard, we’re doing everything we can to get a film studies program. It seems rather strange that they would dismantle it.”

Jim Joyce, a third-year student in the master of fine arts program, said that he doesn’t think O’Keefe has bad intentions. In fact, she helped his class through funding troubles last year, he said.

Richey agreed, but said those things do not excuse administrators for failing to take student input into account.

“As out of touch as they are, I think they mean well,” Richey said. “But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”