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A Painful Separation

When I arrived at Lincoln last fall, some of the veteran faculty mentioned that the English and Mass Communications Department would split into two separate departments.

On Monday, we came one step closer to that separation when the department voted unanimously to recommend such a move.

This was no small decision, either. The mass communications program has been housed in the English department for nearly a decade, and, as a result, many mass communications courses were taught by English faculty.

However, with mass communications professors such as me being hired in the last three years and a booming number of majors, the university’s decision-makers began to realize the practical implications of continuing to operate as a joint department.

For one thing, it has become obvious that mass communications is much more than writing, editing and producing. Courses in mass media research and theory have interdisciplinary impacts on fields such as sociology, psychology, anthropology and law, making it hard to define a curriculum on just broadcasting, print and public relations.

Some of the English faculty members, however, have noted that English courses ground students and gives them a philosophical perspective on life. That’s a point that can’t be understated, especially since so many universities are focused on becoming professional schools. It’s a shame that as many universities try to make budget-cutting moves, the departments that try to engage students in critical thinking—but can’t bring in grant money and other funding—end up on the chopping block.

But as we near the end of the joint English and Mass Communications relationship at Lincoln, I do think that universities, particularly HBCUs, need to ensure that departments, programs and courses that help to shape multidimensional and balanced students are preserved. Just as we need to teach media convergence and research methods in our field, English departments around the country need to make sure their students read literary legends such as Faulkner, Baldwin, Naylor, Lahiri, Alexie, Bronte, Gibran and Tagore.

Otherwise, I fear that the next generation of college-educated professionals will be profoundly aliterate.

Dr. Murali Balaji is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Mass Communications at Lincoln University.

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