posted on: Thursday April 26, 2018
By Taylor Godfrey ’19
The importance of a liberal arts education has always been to learn how to read, especially at a school like Providence College. From Aristotle to modern and postmodern texts, the humanities have always given students in all departments a unique set of skills that they may not get in pre-professional programs. These skills are something that may be lost if a proposed communications major is added to the curriculum at PC.
The study of communications is not complete without the study of literature and history. Literature may seem archaic in the fast-moving modern world of breaking news and 140-character tweets, but it is an important way that humans have communicated for years and continues to be an important method of communication today. Without the background of English literature, writing would lack the depth and resonance that comes with studying the history of literary communication.
Not to mention the practical problems that would arise from implementing a communications major. “I think it will devastate us,” said chair of the English department Dr. Bruce Graver, citing a concern that students might gravitate towards a communications major, thinking it would prepare them to write professionally without the pages and pages of reading that the English major entails. For a major that has been declining over the last 10 years and has only recently been increasing in enrollment, Graver worries that a communications major could be a difficult blow for the English department.
An increased emphasis on the practical side of communications and a decreased emphasis on the humanities would also affect programs such as DWC. If more strictly professional writing and communications faculty are hired in departments, such as the English department, who will be left to teach DWC? In that case, “you are writing the death warrant of the DWC program,” said Graver.
That is not to say that the humanities are not responsible for creating more classes and programs that fit better with the modern technological world, for which Graver said the English department is trying to push. Simply adding more classes focused on digital media and technological communication does not negate the importance of Shakespeare or Byron. Adding a major that will likely pull students away from this literary background is not doing them any favors.
“English majors go into communications fields regularly,” Graver said, rebuffing the prevalent idea that English majors have limited career options. The solution is not to create a new major that might hurt departments such as English or history, but instead to foster more growth within the departments themselves to help them move forward into the digital age, while retaining a firm liberal arts background that will ground students’ writing in history and culture.
By Sarah Kelley ’18
For countless students thinking about attending Providence College, there is a major allure to the liberal arts education that the College promotes. Students are required to take a diverse range of classes and must engage in an interdisciplinary approach to learning which is truly unique to PC.
But for some students, something seems to be missing: a communications major. This is especially true for those interested in applying their reading, writing, analytic, and critical thinking skills outside the realm of traditional English courses.
While on the whole, Providence College’s English department promotes students’ analytic, communicative, and research abilities through their degree programs in creative writing, secondary education, and English literature—the course offerings do not promote the application of these critical thinking skills outside of the limited list of course offerings.
The lack of academic freedom this situation creates rings especially true for those students looking to develop their skills in specific areas of communications studies, such as: strategic communications, advocacy and social activism, digital communications, health communications, and countless other concentrations this dynamic field encompasses.
This reality does not deny the major value that an English degree provides for so many students interested in a wide range of career fields at PC. But in order to continue promoting the kind of liberal arts education that is foundational to the College’s mission, faculty and administration must recognize the need to expand academic options for students interested in applying many of the skills an English degree encompasses outside of the English classroom.
In light of the recent actions taken by PC professors Heather McPherson of the art department, and Wendy Oliver of the theater department to co-chair a committee working to propose a communications major, the College must seriously consider the major opportunity this field of study presents.
As Oliver commented, “We believe that the need for critical thinking and challenging the prevalence of disinformation so prevalent in the media today can be specifically addressed within a communication major…”
A communications major would strengthen PC’s interdisciplinary approach to learning, as Oliver explained, it would be embedded within, “the existing liberal arts curriculum.” It would also allow for an expansion of students’ academic freedom, providing a new pathway for students interested in both the oral, written, and visual arts.
The College should not ignore the overwhelming benefits this kind of academic program could provide to both the students and the school as a whole.