Communication breakdown

“Your instructor, Jil Freeman, has taken a job elsewhere,” Department of Communications Chair Cynthia-Lou Coleman told students on the first day of a spring term media literacy course.

“Your instructor, Jil Freeman, has taken a job elsewhere,” Department of Communications Chair Cynthia-Lou Coleman told students on the first day of a spring term media literacy course.

Coleman explained to students that Freeman was an asset that would be greatly missed, and that a last-minute replacement had been found to instruct the class. The circumstances leading to Freeman’s departure were not, however, last minute, according to communication department faculty Darlene Geiger.

“I’m in the same position she is,” Geiger said. “She and I were both told last summer that we’d have one more nine-month contract, and then it would be over.”

Both professors came to PSU as full-time faculty 10 years ago, and both are the most recent victims of a state budget crisis that has affected many of its departments and programs.

Freeman left before the expiration of her contract, over spring break, after securing employment with the Corporation for National and Community Service.

“I just finished my first week designing curriculum for programs like AmeriCorps,” Freeman said Friday. “It’s interesting work that uses a lot of the skills I developed while teaching at PSU, and I’m excited that it’s toward a good cause. I will miss my students very much, and I consider myself lucky to have spent 10 years learning more from them than they could have possibly ever learned from me.”

Yet with Freeman’s recent departure, and Geiger’s contract expiring on June 15, students may miss Freeman more than she knows.

Freeman was responsible for coordinating the Department of Communication internship program, while Geiger is the department’s undergraduate adviser. Students scheduled to participate in Freeman’s spring term internship program received an e-mail from Coleman on March 30, stating that internships would not be arranged, a “setback” for which she apologized.

Geiger’s departure, meanwhile, will leave communication undergraduates without a departmental adviser.

“In the micro-system of the communication department, these are big changes,” Geiger said. “You’re taking away the two people who have the most student contact: Jil, as the internship coordinator, helped move students into the real world, while I have the most experience in moving them through the university system. In the short term, I’m not sure how students will get what they need, but like any system, it will right itself and things will normalize. What’s normal just becomes different.”

Geiger explained that the reason for the elimination of their positions was due to a larger call by the provost to allocate more resources that move the department, and the university, in the direction of research that attracts funding through grants.

Research necessitates tenured staff, who have less time for student instruction and make a salary far greater than instructors like Freeman and Geiger. In order to move forward with the provost’s new direction, Coleman opted not to renew the contracts of the two faculty members responsible for instructing and advising the largest number of students in the department in order to allocate more funds for research and tenured staff.

Communication department graduate student Sean Rains said that this is an approach that may prove to be problematic.

“Having purely instructional faculty like Jil and Darlene is important,” Rains said. “Tenured faculty tend to not have any extra time for

students. Jil was able to help walk me through most of my applications for graduate school, and help students in her internship program secure jobs after graduation.”

Geiger added that Freeman’s approach was also beneficial to the community.

“Jil was very student-centered in both her classroom teaching and her curriculum development of our department,” Geiger said. “She focused on students as members of our community, and did a lot of advocacy work to get students interested in the politics of media, media ownership and teach them that individuals can have an impact on what is just and right in society.”

Ironically, the present curriculum in the communication department is one that both Freeman and Geiger worked for several years to develop. According to Geiger, Freeman held a position on the curriculum committee.

“We really took a strong look at shaping the way that we could give students the academic and utilitarian values with their degree to move forward toward careers in media,” Geiger said.

Ben Morton, a sophomore and communication major at PSU, took two courses that Freeman instructed.

“Honestly, I worry about PSU’s communication department moving forward without Jil,” Morton said. “In most courses it’s easy to learn a lot without ever knowing how to exercise your new knowledge. Jil’s classes always left me with a clear list of tools and behaviors, and she helped me to realize how real and pertinent the field of communication is.”

Asked for her own feelings on what students need to move forward and succeed, Freeman said that it’s easy to make assumptions about what students need.

“I think that the most important thing is for students in all departments to tell their faculty and administrators what they want or need to be successful,” she said. “Unfortunately, I’m not sure that those needs are being interpreted correctly. This whole thing has been framed as a new direction for the university, while we’ve also heard a lot of talk about the need for student retention at PSU. I don’t know how administrators expect to retain more students with less faculty.”

Coleman could not be reached for comment as of press time. ?