Commission deliberates future of communications

By Ann McBride

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Looking at similarities not differences gives the Commission on Communications and Information a unique perspective on the future of communications at the UA.

The nine-member commission has been given the task of finding the common thread that runs through the departments of journalism, media arts, communications, library sciences, management information systems, and information and communication sciences.

This common thread will create something that goes "far beyond what any other university has done," said Jay Nunamaker, chairman of the commission and MIS professor.

Nunamaker, who founded the UA's nationally ranked MIS department in 1974, said academic disciplines have traditionally grown vertically "like stove pipes," but societal and technological changes demand a horizontal approach that utilizes each other's strengths. He said the commission is not discussing specific changes in core courses or department structures, but "much higher level" discussion of theories and principles of communication relevant to all students, as well as basic information-gathering skills.

After much deliberation, the commission is now working with a list of topics common to all departments. Commission members have been instructed to discuss these topics with fellow faculty members and get their input, Nunamaker said.

"People have been really very good about getting above their individual unit level and looking at what we should be doing as a whole," he said. "I think it's worked incredibly well." Nunamaker said he is "very pleased" with the commission's progress.

The commission and a corresponding advisory group were formed in February under the direction of Provost Paul Sypherd. In a Feb. 28 letter, Sypherd said the commission was to explore the "dramatic developments in the application of information" and study how these developments "affect the direction that the UA takes as it looks at the intellectual agenda for the 21st century."

The commission has met weekly since the beginning of fall semester, a total of nine times, according to Nunamaker.

What the commission would like, Nunamaker said, is to present Sypherd with a "general" recommendation by December, but they feel it is more important to "get it right than get it done fast."

William Crano, head of the communications department, said "standard meeting stuff" such as conflicting schedules and heavy workloads has resulted in a slower process than many had hoped for. But, he said the group is "not going to rush to any kind of recommendations simply because it's the end of the semester."

While Nunamaker is not certain what Sypherd's next step will be after the group delivers its recommendation, he said that presumably, the group would need to work on "getting to the next level of detail" if the recommendation is met favorably.

Vice Provost Ken Smith said the commission has rolled up its sleeves and gotten down to taking a global look at university capabilities and how they relate to communications on campus.

The commission will host an open forum on either Nov. 10 or 17, which will feature national figures in the communications field, Nunamaker said. They will be asked to review a preliminary proposal and provide feedback to the commission in a closed session as well. Nunamaker could not confirm who would attend the forum, but he said they plan to invite professionals from the television networks, national newspapers, academia, and technology futurists.

The commission's advisory group, made up of working professionals, has met three times in conjunction with the commission. Nunamaker expects the advisory group to play a larger role in the process once the "academic" discussion is complete.

The commission is scheduled to meet today in the MIS department where they will communicate through a group computer system interspersed with traditional dialogue.

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