How Two Departments Became One

It has been seven years since the Department of Languages and Communication became a dual department. Beginning in 1925, Southeastern Louisiana University was just a two-year co-educational institution that offered basic courses in arts and sciences. It has evolved into a university that offers a premier foreign language and communication program.

It was not until 1970 that Southeastern became an official university after Governor John J. McKeithen signed the legislative act into law. In the early 1970s, D. Vickers hall was built and finished around 1972. Up until that point, the English Department existed and also consisted of speech, foreign language, and journalism. Around this time, foreign language and speech were branched off from the English department, but journalism stayed.

The next big move was foreign language and communication becoming two, separate individual departments and speech and theatre joining as one department. In the 1980s and the 1990s, talk of removing journalism from the English Department began. With the separation of journalism, a communication department was formed by the year 1999.

Dr. Joe Mirando began teaching at Southeastern in the early 1980s. He spent his first 17 years at the university in the English department teaching journalism and English. Dr. Mirando had mixed feelings about the removal of journalism from the English Department.

“At first I was kind of happy and sad that journalism was separated from English,” he said. “At the same time, though, I was happy because I was going to be with other journalism professors.”

Speech was removed from the theatre department and added to the music department. Communication replaced speech, thus the communication and theatre department was formed in 1999. From 1999-2010, communication existed as a department and in that time, ended up merging with foreign languages. Dr. Lucia Harrison became the department head of languages and communication. The secretary and staff that worked in the former department became her new administrators and the administrators that were already under her moved out.

When America was in a recession in 2008, Southeastern hit hard times, especially the French curriculum as explained by Dr. Mirando. When the numbers for each degree are examined at Southeastern, the requirement is that a degree has to have a certain amount of graduates. French did not have enough to graduate each semester. This forced SELU to no longer offer French as a  degree, but students are still able to receive a minor in it. Spanish remained because their were more graduates. Cathy Morgan, who currently works for Dr. Harrison in her study abroad office, said that it is not easy for even Spanish to be offered each semester.

The university was in a process of cross cutting because of budget issues. Enrollment-wise, both foreign language and communication had satisfying numbers. However, resource-wise and faculty-wise, there were problems across campus forcing Southeastern to looked for ways to combine or cut departments.

“Each year Dr. Harrison has to fight and justify why the Spanish degree should still be offered,” she said. “There is not really enough to even keep Spanish, but the university wants to at least have one foreign language degree.”

Organizational communication was not a big area of studies until around the 1980s or so. In 1994, the first organizational communication professor was hired at the university—Dr. Karen Fontenot. Dr. Fontenot built the curriculum for this field of communication study. In the late 1990s, classes in the field of study were offered and by 2001, the communication program had successfully created a master’s program in organizational communication. She may be considered one of the founders of the program.

Around 1999, there were a mix of classes such as speech, organizational communication, journalism, television and radio. There were three distinct areas of study and these areas were called concentrations. The concentrations were mass communication, organizational communication and speech. Around the mid 2000s, the concentrations were expanded. This introduced public relations, multi-platform journalism and electronic communication. This meant that students could major in communication, and also pick a specific concentration in which their curriculum would follow.

Enrollment began to drop in the communication department gradually around 2010, prompting the decision to remove the concentrations. This decision still stands to this day. Although students now may take classes in a specific area, their diploma will only show that they received a bachelor in communication, with no concentration specified.

Dr. Mirando would like the concentrations to be offered again to communication majors. One setback of the concentrations is the possibility of graduating later than expected because each curriculum varies with time, but he believes it would be more beneficial to students.


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