Growth of university department requires split

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rapid growth in the communications department at Southeast Missouri State University has led officials to split the department in two -- mass communication and speech communication.

A more directed focus will be placed on each area, with the possibility of expanding course offerings and perhaps programs. One option leaders are examining is health communication.

Stuart Towns, formerly chairman of the communication department, will chair the speech communication department. Officials plan to name an interim chair for the mass communication department by the end of the semester, then begin a national search for a permanent chairperson.

"I think the main reason for the separation is that mass communication and speech communication are too different. They're two separate disciplines," Towns said.

The two areas were once separate at Southeast, but were joined in 2002 when the university faced budget cuts. Speech was moved from the theater department to the communications department and theater and dance were grouped together.

Speech communication, which includes corporate communication and communication studies, has doubled in size in the last two or three years, Towns said. Between 45 and 50 people are majoring in the discipline now.

Mass communication, which includes advertising, television/film, journalism, public relations and radio, contains about 530 students. That's up from 400 people about three years ago, when the five programs became accredited, Towns said. He expects growth to continue with the targeted focus.

Provost Dr. Jane Stephens said the split is based more about creating a better structure for reaccreditation than to expand the programs.

"We're hoping to accomplish [the split] by next summer," said Dr. Frank Barrios, dean of the college of liberal arts.

Towns said students won't notice any major changes during implementation.

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