Speech faculty criticize student R-TV-F protests

Becky Bowman

School of Speech faculty and students said Tuesday that they are working to bridge a communication gap that has caused conflict and confusion within the radio-TV-film department.

Two weeks ago, a group of doctoral students began protesting a proposal to replace the R-TV-F program with a more technology-based program that combines R-TV-F and communications studies. But students in the undergraduate and graduate programs of the school have since joined in questioning what they call a long-term shift in the department’s direction.

School of Speech faculty said that while they are open to hearing student concerns, they are confused by the responses of undergraduate and master’s students to what they see as only small changes within the department’s doctoral program.

“It’s not clear to me why the undergraduates are unhappy,” Senior Associate Dean James Webster said. “This is a fairly moderate change to the way we structure the programs in the master of fine arts and doctoral studies, and how that affects undergraduates is unclear to me. I don’t know if the doctoral program is serving as some catalyst for a number of things that are not related to the doctoral.”

Students said that is exactly the case.

“For the last four years or so, there have been undergraduate and M.F.A. protests to changes in both of those programs,” said Stephen Deline, a Speech sophomore. “The sudden, basic dismantling of the Ph.D. program was, in a sense, the last straw. It’s what brought us together in realizing that this is a pattern of ignoring student voices that isn’t going to stop without some sort of action on our part.”

Deline said recent changes to the undergraduate curriculum turned the school’s sophomore class into “guinea pigs.”

“That has been an unsatisfactory experience for most of us,” he said. “These sentiments were already in place. This really is a matter that directly involves the undergraduates, the doctorals and the M.F.A. students, not just the changes to any one program.”

To improve communication with faculty and administrators, students in the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels of the department organized a group called SaveR-TV-F. Following the group’s first meeting Monday night, members drafted an e-mail to students and Speech Dean Barbara O’Keefe that focused on the group’s current goal, Deline said.

“We have come up with a question – the question that we want to be our mantra, at least for the first step of the program,” Deline said. “‘How does the faculty plan to meet the vision and goals of the students?’ We want to keep repeating that until we feel that we’ve got a full answer.”

That e-mail reached only portions of the student body because of technical restrictions in place on the group’s e-mail account, Deline said. Only one faculty member had responded by Tuesday afternoon, he said.

Representatives of the Undergraduate R-TV-F Students Association, a separate group, will meet with O’Keefe next week when she returns from a fund-raising trip. The group also would like to hold a faculty-student forum next week, Deline said.

Changes to the undergraduate program strengthened the curriculum and allowed the school to move on to improving other levels of the department such as the Ph.D. program, said R-TV-F Chairwoman Mimi White.

“We really focused attention on the undergraduate curriculum and what would be the best one we could have over a two-year period,” White said.