Bret Harte House, home away from home to HSU’s journalists. | Photo by Elliott Portillo

Impending mergers threaten Humboldt’s identity

Department mergers could permanently damage HSU’s College of Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences

The merging of departments within the College of Arts Humanities & Social Sciences will lead to the detriment of distinct programs and the appeal of Humboldt State as a unique university. 

As smaller departments are pressured to combine in order to meet the demands of budget cuts that add up relentlessly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we run the risk of losing the focused, intimate education that drew students to campus in the first place. 

Due to low enrollment the journalism and communication departments have submitted a proposal to Dean Roseamel S. Benavides-Garb, suggesting they be combined, for fear of losing the departments altogether – a fear that is shared among many of the smaller departments on campus.

One practical benefit of combining the journalism department with the communication department is the opportunity it would allow for courses to be offered more often with more students in the department. On the flip side, combining departments presents the potential to strip each major of its individual identity. While the increased size of the combined department could potentially attract more attention to each discipline, the lack of distinction between the two could also prove confusing and drive prospective students away. 

Higher education is a step away from the general, scattershot education of grade school. We learn what we’ll focus on, and begin developing specific skills. We also begin to add to the greater pool of knowledge for our chosen field of study. The less our education hones in on a specific field, the more it feels like a shallow high school class – lacking the depth that student’s pay for when they attend a university. 

While the emphasis of the study of communication is on the underlying meaning of how we communicate, the primary concern for most journalism students is the application of skills to make media of our own. Journalists are already required to take communication classes which prepare them for their chosen focus. Communication classes are valuable to journalists. Every member of our editorial board has taken a communication class which has shaped our perspective, just as our other general education classes impart valuable lessons. 

Combining departments also comes with grave concerns that the departments will lose lecturers and potentially some of the classes they teach as former chairs are forced to move into teaching positions. This would cost journalism students opportunities to interact with more media professionals and those lecturers would be placed in danger of losing pay and the health insurance they have come to rely upon for themselves and their families. 

The proposed plan not only throws the student experience in the department into question but ultimately, the merger’s promise to cut $180,000 in expenses annually feels almost like chump change in comparison to the monster deficit the university currently faces. At the end of the day, administrators, students and faculty have to ask themselves whether or not all this restructuring will benefit the university in the long term. Cuts save some money in the short run, but they represent a greater loss to the university and the Humboldt community.

Some good will come of department mergers. We all have a lot to learn from each other. As journalism students, we will welcome our peers from the communication department and the value their program will add to ours in regards to the developing fields of ethics and theory of communication. Understanding how we interact with the world through language and the culture of communication is critical to operating as an effective journalist. 

We hope that we can offer greater knowledge of media literacy. Today especially, media literacy is an essential skill any student with a university education should have, and it is crucial that students across all disciplines are armed with the tools to critically assess, analyze and critique media so that they can be more mindful of the media they consume.

We also hope to impart our own personal experience writing about our university. All of us hear stories of poorly run programs, incompetence at the top of the HSU ladder, haphazard cuts, and a lack of forward thinking. We speak to staff who are afraid of the repercussions for simply telling us their stories. If we want to make HSU a better place, where else might $180,000 per year be saved?

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