Wnona State University’s Mass Communication Department, which includes four emphases of study: public relations, creative digital media, advertising and journalism, currently only holds seven professors.
Ethan Kolb, a fourth-year student at Winona State majoring in mass communication with an emphasis in advertising and minoring in public relations, is concerned for the future of the department and wrote a letter to explain his thoughts on what he views as its impending collapse.
“Starting in the Fall of 2022, we lose our termed professor and two have applied for sabbatical. This creates a challenging opportunity. However, this opportunity comes with a great loss. This loss represents the quality of education that this university prides itself on. This leaves two full-time professors and a department chair to teach an entire department,” Kolb said.
Tanya Ryan, the department chair of mass communication, talked about how the mass communication department is not the only major limited on faculty.
“We’ve had several faculty retirements over the past five years that have not been replaced. I put forward a request for new faculty positions in MCOM and the request is currently being considered by administration. There may be several departments across campus with limited faculty – not just MCOM, but I can only speak about MCOM,” Ryan said.
Kolb spoke about the weight that this faculty drought brings upon the professors left in curriculum.
“I took into consideration the classes offered in the Fall of 2021– 33 courses–and Spring of 2022–33 course–to get an idea of an average course offering per semester. Taking into consideration the professors who are leaving and those who are remaining, this leaves an average of 16.5 courses per professor for Fall 2022,” Kolb said.
Kolb expressed feeling like this is not a healthy workload for the remaining professors.
“Unlike previous semesters it has been fewer courses, about an average of 4.7 per professor. This is not feasible for anyone to teach 16.5 courses. As faculty are contracted to teach eight courses per year, where are a department chair is contracted to teach five per year,” Kolb said.
Ryan explained what would happen if this did occur and the department would only have two professors.
“If the MCOM department had only two full-time professors, we would only be able to offer eight classes per semester or 16 classes each academic year. However, if budget allows, faculty often teach overload courses (teaching more than they are contracted for additional pay), or we hire adjunct instructors to fill the gaps,” Ryan said.
Kolb explained what he thinks would happen in a different note, explaining that the two professors would not be able to handle it mentally.
“This will require the department to unwillingly remove majors and minors to help ease the course load on the available professors. The ill-equipped department will turn out below-average students because it’s physically impossible to teach 16.5 courses without letting large portions of information slip through the cracks and courses cut. Not to mention the mental health of the professors and students who are still human beings,” Kolb said.
Kolb mentioned that even though he is graduating this year, the students under him and the faculty should not ‘suffer’ through these circumstances.
“Why should students suffer? Education takes a huge priority especially when students are paying for it. Students look to chase more after high school and further their education as they are eager to learn. Why take this monumental moment away from them? How can students be confident that they will finish their degree, as their department is diminishing before their eyes,” Kolb said.
Kolb also mentioned how this issue is not only centered around the mass communication department and other majors may be struggling as well. He stated he only is highlighting the mass communication department because his studies fall under it.
Peter Miene, a professor and the interim associate dean for the college of liberal arts at Winona State, talked about the possibilities of the major being removed.
“As a university, it is important that we pay close attention to enrollment patterns to make sure that we can provide the programs that students want with the resources we have available. As the university adds new programs, it is sometimes necessary to remove older programs to best take advantage of the expertise of our current faculty,” Miene said.
Miene continued by saying the school would do their best to help students complete their coursework if this were to happen.
“If a program had to be discontinued, the dean of the college would work with the faculty in the department to make sure that the necessary courses would be offered to allow students to graduate,” Miene said.
Kolb explained how dire this situation is and how it affects the students that are studying in this major.
“I am not alone in this tremendous fear for the loss of equal education. While I may have written the letter, it has been signed and approved by my peers. With this course of action, we are asking to have you reflect and find a way to right this wrong. Our education should not be reduced to a mire nothing when we are only looking to learn and gain better opportunities. The Mass Communication Department has turned out exemplary students and to give us less than what we need to succeed would be damning and frankly disgusting,” Kolb said.