By ELISABETH DELLAROVA
At their Sept. 27 meeting, the UMW Board of Visitors approved the submission of a proposal to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), requesting the creation of a degree program for the Communication and Digital Studies (CDS) major. Since its appearance in the academic catalog in 2014, the major has experienced rapid growth, which is why UMW is now requesting a degree program for it.
“Since 2014, the number of students choosing this special major has grown from eight in fall 2014 to 121 in spring 2018,” read the report brought before the Board.
Until now, the CDS major has existed as part of the General Liberal Arts and Studies degree program, along with other interdisciplinary majors like Women and Gender Studies, American Studies, and Interdisciplinary Science Studies.
“The big change will be how the major is classified — it will no longer be in the special major category, but in the category for communication,” said Dr. Anand Rao, professor of communication and the proposed director of the new BA for Communication and Digital Studies program.
Rao worked with Dr. John Morello, the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, on the SCHEV proposal.
“Right now, the transcript for a Communication and Digital Studies major says ‘Degree: BA, General Liberal Arts, and Studies. Major: Communication and Digital Studies,’” said Morello. “This would change that by creating a BA in Communication.”
Before approving new degree programs, SCHEV tries to identify any similar programs at other Virginia universities to avoid unnecessary duplication. “We had to prove how our program will be different,” Morello said. The proposal brought before the Board, which was a fraction of the length of the one sent to SCHEV, explained how the Communication and Digital Studies major at UMW differs from majors offered at Christopher Newport University, James Madison University, Longwood University, Radford University, and Virginia Tech.
Morello and Rao pointed to the interdisciplinary nature of the CDS major, which incorporates electives in studio art, political science, computer science, English, Spanish, history, music technology and historic preservation. Their proposal also mentioned the major’s special focus on digital media.
The next step for the proposal, according to Morello, is a review process by the staff at SCHEV. If they approve the new program, then it is passed on to the governor-appointed members of the Council itself. “They ask that you submit it at least nine months before the date it would go into effect,” said Morello. “We will be notified by the Fall 2019 semester.” If the proposal passes, the new BA program will be available beginning in that semester.
Siobhan O’Connor, a sophomore Communications and Digital Studies Major, was somewhat skeptical of the need for a degree creation. “To me, it doesn’t matter, but I do think it’s a little weird that it’s a little repetitive on the transcript,” she said. “There’s only one Communications major, so why do we need a special degree program?” Ultimately, current CDS majors and underclassmen who are considering the major will not notice a change.
“The review, and eventual approval, of this as a degree program will not change much for current students. It is the same major, and we will continue to offer the same great courses in communication and digital studies that we always have,” said Rao.
There will be no changes to funding or program requirements. “The proposal notes that the resources to support the major already exist and the proposal does not call for any new resources. We have been fortunate to welcome two new faculty members in communication this year, Dr. Adria Goldman and Dr. Emily Crosby — they both started this semester and I have already heard many good things from students about both of them,” Rao said. There are now four full-time faculty members in communication, as well as two in digital studies.