I am taking the liberty of cross-posting the following which
might be of interest to both SCREEN-L and MASSCOMM. Readers may
wish to cross-post whatever response they have.
A committee of outside visitors has recently recommended the
"disestablishment" of the Department of Radio, Television, and
Motion Pictures at UNC-Chapel Hill. They suggested that the
remnants of one of the oldest departments in the country be
parceled out to a relatively new Department of Speech
Communication, a to-be-formed Program in Cultural Studies, and
the Journalism Department.
There are perhaps lessons to be learned from this episode. When
I went to Chapel Hill in 1971, I became the only full-time film
professor in North Carolina. At the time the department had a
clear sense of mission: train broadcasters for the North Carolina
industry. They did this very well. Essentially every station in
the state was run by RTVMP graduates. National correspondents
Charles Kuralt and Deborah Potter were also mentored by the then-
department head, Wes Wallace.
In the interim twenty plus years this mission had become diffused
until there were multiple fractures within the department:
between theorists and teachers of production who had little use
for theory; between social science and humanities approaches;
between those who valued research as part of a professor's role
and those who valued only teaching. All of this is confounded by
activist students who want only one thing: production training
that will lead to a career in Hollywood, despite the fact that
there was not, and would not be, money for appropriate equipment
and facilities, and faculty.
The department had become essentially unmanageable; it did not
help that successive deans and central administrators had their
own opinions on the issues rending the department. A messy
tenure battle brought all of this to the surface; the dean
essentially placed the department into receivership.
This episode could serve as a textbook case history of Peter
Bukalski's observation that the departments most in peril are
what he calls "the pain-in-the-ass" departments who cannot manage
their own affairs. Regardless of what we may think of deans as a
species, it is clear that they don't want to spend their time
arbitrating internal department squabbles.
By coincidence, a few days before hearing of events in Chapel
Hill I received a letter from Tim Lyons which addressed our
field's status in the university. What he says seems to me to
serve as a useful context in which to view idiosyncratic events
such as those currently in play at the University of North
Carolina. The following is quoted with Tim's permission:
"I wonder how many of our colleagues realize just how little
political strength and clout the film community has within the
college or university, as a discipline. It's always amazed me,
the political naivete of my colleagues at UFVA or SCS, so full of
themselves as the purveyors of the discipline destined to rule
the university (reminds me of those who think that 'communication'
was the sine qua non of a university education) when, in fact,
English, history, poli sci, the hard and soft sciences, continue
to set the political agenda for the running of the university.
Regardless of numbers of majors, size of faculty and annual
budgets, film as a discipline doesn't have the credibility of the
older disciplines; broadcasting does better, but not by much."
Cal Pryluck, Radio-Television-Film, Temple University, Philadelphia
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