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Gone but not forgotten: The life cycle of a major

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When Miami University launches a new major, it’s greeted with press releases, articles and speeches from alumni about how excited they are for their alma mater’s new direction.

But when a major leaves the catalog forever, its death is marked with little fanfare.

Liren Wu graduated this August with a degree in interactive media studies (IMS) and a co-major in comparative media studies (CMS). She will be the last graduate the CMS program ever has.

“When I took the basic course of CMS, I could use this knowledge in my other IMS courses,” Wu said. “That’s super helpful, and it’s like, you do learn something, not just to write a paper.”

Throughout her time at Miami, Wu was able to apply what she learned in CMS to aspects of IMS. She learned about media production and analysis and carried that knowledge back to her production classes in the College of Creative Arts, where IMS is housed.

“I just don’t understand why they’re going to phase out this co-major,” Wu said.

But the death of the CMS co-major was a long time coming.

Even before the pandemic, Mack Hagood, an associate professor in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film, said CMS was a difficult program to execute. 

The co-major was designed to be highly interdisciplinary, with students focusing on how media impacted various industries. Studying in areas like politics and science became difficult, however, when CMS students encountered seat limits and classes required for other majors.

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“It just becomes really difficult to choose your own adventure in the way the university is structured,” Hagood said. “Interdisciplinarity is something we really desire, and a buzzword at universities for years, and we’ve just found that it can be difficult to implement.”

The death of CMS won’t result in any lost classes or faculty. Hagood, the only full-time faculty member of CMS, will move to media communication, a new major forming from the combination of CMS and the media and culture (MAC) major. Andy Rice, an associate professor who split his time between film studies and CMS, will join him as an instructor for the new major.

“In a way, it’s great for the new media communication program,” Hagood said. “If you think of it that way, it adds one and a half faculty members.”

CMS is only the most recent in a long string of majors that have seen their last graduates at Miami.

In 1983, photographer Ron Stevens was hired by Miami to teach classes in industrial art, a major which housed photography, woodworking and metalworking.

Soon after Stevens arrived at the university, the industrial arts program dissolved. Woodshop classes were picked up by the architecture department and photography by educational media.

Stevens stayed on as an instructor, teaching photography in a department that boasted other classes on how to use overhead projectors and VCRs.

Technologies that rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s were soon replaced by even newer gadgets. The educational media program — created to prepare students for modern classrooms, — quickly became obsolete.

“Educational media morphed into the educational leadership [program],” Stevens said. “When that occurred, photography … moved to the art department.”

More recently, programs that still have undergraduates on campus have stopped accepting new students as they prepare to shut down.

John Forren is chair of the Department of Justice and Community Studies, which offers a variety of majors at Miami’s regional campuses. Starting this fall, however, forensic investigation won’t be one of them.

Two years ago, Forren’s department went through an academic program review. Professors and faculty studied the substance of their majors and classes, how enrollment had shifted in the past few years and student outcomes for each major. After a team of reviewers looked at more than 100 pages of documents, they made their recommendations.

“One of the pieces of feedback we got from the external reviewers, which was something that sort of matched our own impressions, too, is that basically, ‘Gee, this major is very similar to your criminal justice major,” Forren said.

While some of the 40 students still majoring in forensic investigation were upset after receiving an email in February 2021 saying the major would no longer be advertised to prospective students, Forren said the content isn’t going away for good.

“We’re developing what is essentially a forensic investigation track within the criminal justice major,” Forren said. “This was not a situation where the university said, ‘We’re cutting things, [and] you’re next on the chopping block,’ or anything like that. This is a response to substantive concerns about whether the major was serving its purpose.”

The department is also saying goodbye to its forensic science and nonprofit and community studies (NCS) majors. While forensic science was cut due to its heavy focus on physical sciences like chemistry which led to staffing concerns, Forren said it hurt to get rid of NCS.

“[NCS] has been a major that’s been very successful in its mission, and we’ve been very pleased with the outcomes,” Forren said. “This was not a concern about the substance of it at all. This was a concern about … can we sustain it with the numbers of students we were getting.”

Like prospective CMS majors who can redirect their attention to the media communication major, though, not all hope is lost for Miami’s regional students who wanted to major in NCS. Forren said the department is always exploring new options for education, and NCS may become a minor or career path within a different major.

“It’s a tough process any time a large organization pauses and says, ‘We’re going to revisit everything we do,’ because there will be some things that you conclude, ‘We shouldn’t be doing that,’” Forren said. “But that’s a healthy process, I would argue, and just because something goes away, that in some circumstances opens up new ground for something better.”