Communications department to relocate

Since the opening of the RUC in Fall 1970, the communications department and student media has called it home. Fall 2011 that will no longer be. The Upper Cumberland Regional Health facility sits on land leased by Tech since 1973. Now that the group has outgrown the space, they will be moving to a new facility near Highway 111.When new space is acquired on campus, the time period is usually years instead of months before occupancy. Provost Jack Armistead’s job is to make sure the deans and, through them, other administrators and groups know of the timeline for acquisition, so that ideas for its use can surface and be considered.

“A key factor in the final decision was the increasing pressure TTU was feeling from the Board of Regents and State to increase retention and graduation rates,” Armistead said. “One response to that pressure, based on national research, was to seek ways to offer a more centralized and comprehensive advising service to first-year students and to those second-year students who had not yet declared majors.”

To make this a possibility, Armistead asked Paul Semmes, College of Arts and Sciences dean, to talk to the communications faculty about moving from the RUC to the newly acquired space.

According to Armistead, three other requests for the space were submitted: one from the child development laboratory, one from the College of Engineering, and one from WCTE, the Upper Cumberland’s public television station that is not a Tech unit.

At first, it was thought that all groups could be accommodated. After a study of the architectural papers and visits to the facility, it was found the space could only be open to two or three entities.

The 18,000-square-foot space will be divided among the speech and communications department and student media, the child development laboratory and possibly a third entity. As of now, two-thirds will be for the speech and communication department and student media and one-third for the child development laboratory. There will be a wall separating the classrooms and offices from the lab, so it is safer for the children, and strangers can’t walk around that part of the building.

“The third priority would have been WCTE, since it could collaborate better with communications if the two activities were housed near each other,” Armistead said. “However, the WCTE staff decided the station needed much more space.”

The space was considered unsuitable for the College of Engineering’s needs because of the potential high-cost of renovations that would be necessary.

Brenda Wilson, communications and journalism director said, “It is disappointing that we will no longer be located in the University Center. The journalism program and student media have been housed here since the university center was constructed, so we can be closer to the campus offices and student activities that we report on. If our new location gives us more space and dedicated classrooms for our growing programs in journalism and speech, then we will be pleased to have more room.”

Wendell Bryant, junior, speech major said, “I think it’s a great opportunity for the college to expand. A little walk never hurt anybody.”

Jenda Wilson, sophomore, journalism major said, “I’m not sure if I’m excited about the move, especially since I’m a creature of habit, but as with any experience, we have to give it a chance to see how it works out.”

Jessica Smith, freshman journalism major said, “I’m not very happy about the move. I think we are in a convenient spot as it is.”

According to Kurt Eisen, College of Arts and Sciences interim assistant dean and former the English and communications department chair, the building will have a multi-purpose room, larger classrooms, a small commons area for students to relax between classes, and offices for speech and communications professors. Some of the speech introduction courses will still be in Henderson Hall.

“The advantage of this move will be to put them [the department classes] all together in the same space, so that, ideally, they can work more closely together and generate more collegial inner dynamics,” Eisen said. “They could see each other more regularly and won’t have to be separated all of the time.”

Some want to know how the school can afford building new buildings, but at the same time be cutting departments and making major budget cuts. The new buildings like New Hall North and the Millard Oakley STEM Center, and renovations in Tech Village all cost money.

“A lot of the new buildings are funded by different money, what’s really being cut is the state allocation,” Eisen said. “State allocations are what we depend on for money to support academic programs.

“There are two different kinds of cost. One is something you have to pay for every year, and another kind of cost is one-time,” Eisen said. “We don’t actually have to build the building. It’s already there. We just have to make it work for this academic purpose, and the cost of doing that is extremely reasonable compared to the cost of building a new building.”

If the speech and communication department grows large enough, they could be broken up into their own degrees. As of now, the journalism department has enough students, but the speech department does not.

“I think the main opportunity this presents is for the communications program to be more unified and to have a more visible presence on campus, instead of being scattered, and ideally this will help the program grow,” Eisen said. “I think this building will help the communications department develop a distinctive collective culture.”

Ross Harvey, sophomore, journalism major said, “I think that we are already a close knit group, so I don’t think moving will help or change our perspective.