PART 1: A Failure to Communicate

By Elizabeth Scalzo and Jennifer Malti

Editor-in-Chief and Assistant Sports Editor

FDU is halting freshman admittance to the Metro communication program for the 2021-2022 school year. 

That was the stark news that Geoffrey Weinman, the dean of the Becton College of Arts and Science, shared in a Feb. 24 email to the Metro students in the communication department.

Did this mark the first public step in cancelling the communication program at Metro? We needed to look into it.

A Five-Part Investigative Series

FDU is just one of many universities across the nation that are evaluating the future of communication programs. The Equinox counts over 30 programs nationwide have shut down since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The future of this major — and minor — seems at stake at FDU, as well as nationally. Is it a result of pandemic-induced financial challenges on top of the ongoing changes in society or academia repositioning for a new world?

“Mid Sized and smaller universities are hurting because they don’t have the revenue that bigger schools do,” said Ray Schroeder, a journalist with Inside Higher Ed and associate vice chancellor at the University of Illinois Springfield. “[Big schools] have better marketing and more of a college experience, being in a college town. Things like big-name football programs, that is what you’re fighting.”

Still, communication is important today and every day. 

Imagine a world where newspapers don’t print or post online, TV news no longer airs throughout the day, and radio stations have disappeared completely. This is a world where our First Amendment right to freedom of the press is gone because of a lack of people to pursue — and bring — the truth to light.

Throughout the week, we will talk with students, professionals in the field and experts in communication studies in higher education. 

We will look toward that future as this series investigates the realm of communication in higher education — and society. 

This work is part of an independent study class conducted this semester by the writers. The focus is to uncover what is at stake for FDU and its students, faculty, staff and alumni if communication joins history and Spanish on the cancelled file of Metro academics. 

Serving the Truth

Does FDU have an obligation to educate the future watchdogs of society?

Journalism and communication are intertwined in today’s American higher education. A trend has emerged to put the programs together. 

Journalists’ role in American democracy, at the highest aspiration, is to hold government officials accountable. They shine light into dark places and are not afraid to call out public figures on corruption and shenanigans happening behind closed doors.

FDU Metro has turned out journalists, our grads work in places like, CNBC, Telemundo, WNBC and the Dr. Oz Show, to name a few.

While FDU hasn’t cut the communication program, university administrators say there is a map to the future.

“We plan to hire a new full-time faculty member and that person will really be tasked with the redevelopment of the curriculum,” Provost Dr. Gillian Small said in an Equinox interview on March 1, via Zoom.

“Enrollment has continuously decreased in the communications program since 2008 and we hope the rebuilding of curriculum will be enough to increase enrollment,” Small said.

In the last year, the communication department’s full-time faculty was cut in half with the retirement of Dr. Karen Buzzard, the program chairperson, and the unexpected departure of another full-time faculty member. 

The ripples from Weinman’s Feb. 24 email go beyond incoming freshmen. 

Already changes have complicated offerings for those in the program. The spring 2021 course catalogue offered a total of 19 communication courses for all students, with 15 unique course codes, and three communication courses offered for the Hispanic initiative only at FDU, a program that offers courses to those who speak Spanish as their first language. 

This fall there are 20 communication courses offered, according to WebAdvisor, but only 14 unique course codes, and one course only being offered to freshmen. This decrease in unique courses is already causing issues for students, which we will explore tomorrow, with interviews with Gabriel Watson and Zaran Khan, students in the department. 

Swirling Changes Roil Media

Communication as a whole is evolving rapidly. On Wednesday, The Equinox will hear about what it’s like to be a professional and work in today’s communication industry from Alexander Rosen, a journalist who has 10 years of experience in the field, working at media brands CNN and Vice.

We also will hear more from Schroeder, the journalist and higher ed administrator. Schroeder, a former professor of communication, will help us understand communication and its place in higher ed. His insights inform us throughout the series. 

Thursday, we will examine the FDU communication program and compare it to competitors in New Jersey and reflect on why students may choose to go elsewhere for their degrees. We will have the interview with Provost Small, and we will examine the current state of the FDU communication department.

There will also be a look at what determines if a program gets cut at FDU. Over the last five years, programs have slowly gone dark on the Metro Campus. History and Spanish were wiped from the campus in 2020.

On Friday, the last day of the series, you will see a possible solution to increase enrollment and bolster the communication department all around. In this wrapup, you will hear from Barbara Allen, the director of college programming for journalism think tank Poynter Institute, and hear her ideas to help FDU better the program. This piece will also examine budget needs and a finalized plan to help FDU see where industry professionals and current FDU students would like to see the program go.

After that it will be up to you, our readers, and the FDU administration to decide what the future of the department will look like. 

Please share on social media and use #savecomm to help us spread awareness and show people what is really going on at not just FDU, but many colleges that are choosing to cut liberal arts programs.

Importance of Communication

Now there are a few things you must know to understand the world of communication and how it affects every industry out there. Communication is much more than journalists and broadcasters.

Communication is marketing, social media, public relations, sports announcers and storytellers, the list could go on. Without these vital people in every industry there are no longer commercials to sell products, no more brand pages on Instagram and Twitter, there’s no one to remind you of the stats of a player from the previous football season.

Then you have journalists and all of those involved in the news industry. These people put their life on the line to make sure society knows what is happening, those who aren’t afraid to call out government officials when they spread misinformation, those who are there to make the lives of the afflicted a little easier by shining light on the issues.

Without these vital people, society as we know it falls apart. The business structure of companies crumble. The healthcare industry diminishes and everything as we know it is gone. 

There is a fight to keep communication studies alive and we challenge you to be a part of that fight. 

Tomorrow you will see how students are already being affected by the choice to not admit freshmen into the program next year.

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Art by Elizabeth Scalzo.