Media Studies Grows Into Its Own Department

August 31, 2007

Aug. 31, 2007 — This summer, the Media Studies Program officially became a department, beginning the process of broadening its resources and course offerings to better meet students’ needs.

Media Studies began at the University in 2000 as an interdisciplinary major focusing on the mediums and effects of mass media, particularly in contemporary society. The major is open to undergraduates by application only, though a minor was created recently to accommodate more students.

One of the major results of the change to department status is that Media Studies will now be able to hire its own faculty, instead of being restricted to jointly appointed faculty as before.

Andrea Press, director of media studies, said the department is still waiting to hear how many new faculty members it will be able to hire.

“There are a lot of areas in Media Studies that, because we’re so small right now, we don’t cover, and so we’d like to hire several new professors to cover those areas,” she said.

Some of the areas not covered include global media and globalization, new media technology and media policy. The new department has already hired one new faculty member for the fall who will add to the department’s attempt to expand course offerings. Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor from New York University, will teach copyright law and new technology and copyright issues as an associate professor of media studies and law at the University. Vaidhyanathan is well-known for his book "Copyrights and Copywrongs" (New York University Press, 2001), and the University has been looking to attract him to the developing program for over a year.

“It’s a testament to the resources that have been devoted to Media Studies that we could get a professor like this," said Preston Gisch, a Media Studies alumnus who was on the advisory panel. "He doesn’t come easily. We’re happy to have some of the best professors around.”

Press said they hope to round out their curriculum with a more complete set of offerings in the next one to three years.

“Our expansion of our undergraduate major will happen pretty slowly because we’re very happy with the major and we don’t want to do anything to shake up whatever it is that makes us so happy about it,” she said. “We have great students who seem very satisfied with their educational experience and we would like to have that continue.”

Gisch agreed that students will benefit from a broader range of course offerings and more views on the topic in general.

“More professors means more backgrounds and more perspectives on how to interpret this world around us, this mediated society,” Gisch said. “We know that [the department] is going to grow sensibly and still maintain that intimacy, while still growing in prestige.”

Gisch added that Press has been very willing to discuss this changeover with students and hear their input in an attempt to better provide for the students.

“She’s been very open to student feedback and questions and concerns,” Gisch said. “The students haven’t been clamoring to grow this out, but we kind of understand that this is something that is inevitable.”

The Virginia Film Festival has recently come under the umbrella of the Media Studies department, and Press has been named the executive director.

“We have been developing courses in conjunction with the festival curriculum, and trying to involve media studies students more in the festival,” she said.

Previously, the program brought a film professor from New York University to teach a course related to the festival, which they hope to continue. The department is also contemplating holding a January Term course in Los Angeles with Virginia Film Festival board members.

Future developments for the department include an undergraduate minor in film studies, in response to the large student interest in film, and Press said they are also hoping to create a graduate program in media studies.

“We encourage integrating production and theory in our classes, and I think that’s something unique that we bring to the University,” Press said. “We’re excited about this vote of confidence from the University community, and we hope to be an excellent department as we were an excellent program.”