Pomona College will officially have a Media Studies Department on July 1. The soon-to-be department, however, is already facing problems of downsizing. After this semester, Rick Blackwood and Lauri Mullens, both professors of media studies, will be leaving Pomona. Blackwood’s departure is especially problematic as there is no immediate replacement for him.
Blackwood, a tenured professor at Louisiana State University, signed a three-year visiting contract with Pomona in fall of 2006. However, in order to remain tenured at LSU, the administration there had to grant him an additional unpaid leave of absence each year. This year, LSU denied Blackwood’s request for a third year of absence. Due to financial problems, Pomona was unable to extend Blackwood’s contract beyond the three years, so he will be returning to LSU in the fall.
With Blackwood’s sudden departure, the Media Studies Department will be left short-handed before it even exists. Jennifer Friedlander, who has been on maternity leave, will be returning this fall, but Jonathan Hall, the newly hired professor who focuses on Asian film, will not be joining the department until fall of 2010.
“In theory, the future of media studies is a four-person department,” said Professor Kathleen Fitzpatrick, currently the coordinator of the media studies program. “The strategic plan for the future of media studies includes hiring two new faculty members: one doing western film and the other doing eastern film…Professor Blackwood has been in that Western film position in a temporary fashion.”
Now, however, that position is being put on hold as the school continues to struggle with financial issues. “My understanding from the message that came back to the faculty from the dean and the president after FPAC sent out its rankings was that the administration agreed that [having four media studies professors] is a very high priority…but we have to raise the money in order to be able to do that.” Although the chances of this money coming in before next fall are slim, many students and faculty members are hopeful both for the future of the media studies department and Blackwood’s return.
Last week, a group of students created a Facebook group designed to help garner support for Blackwood. Celia Neustadt PO ‘12 is one of the creators of the “Keep Professor Blackwood” group. “We’re trying to mount a rally on two fronts,” she said. “First, we’re encouraging students to send individual e-mails to Dean Kates and President Oxtoby, and second, we’re asking students to sign a single petition to illustrate the magnitude of this loss.” Their efforts, she hopes, will help keep the department strong. “In order to maintain the strong reputation that media studies at Pomona has, the school needs to retain the professors that make it so great,” she said.
Kevin Dettmar, the chair of Pomona’s English Department, shared a similar sentiment. “Rick’s as good as they come, and our students love him. I can’t tell you how much e-mail has come in since the news of his departure started to spread,” Dettmar said. “His loss is a profound one for us, and for our students. I think the English department, along with media studies, will have to think carefully now about the future of screenwriting at Pomona.”