Bethel College addresses adjustment to Communication Department

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The student media center is in a state of flux after broadcaster-in-residence Tim Ceravolo was let go due to Bethel College financial stresses. Ceravolo has overseen the student media department, which includes BC Pilot Radio, “The Bethel Beacon,” “The Helm” yearbook and Bethel Sports Network. In a letter to students, Bethel College president Gregg Chenoweth wrote, “While those options for you grow, we will modify the Student Media Center operations (BSN Sports Network, Bethel Beacon, Bethel Radio (and) The Helm) into a more like a student-run experience with internship options. No academic major is eliminated, but the pool of students already engaged in the Center (either as a Communication major or in co-curricular participation) will soon be offered a Q & A session to offer input and design a function that meets student interests and Bethel’s overall program obligations.” Dr. Barbara Bellefeuille, vice-president for academic services, spoke about when and why the decision was made. “In January the cabinet met and began to realize that as we were trying to project out many years, not just one year ahead, and it became evident that we had to make some decisions, tighten things up, even for next year but also ongoing,” she said. “And so, I was given the responsibility of making decisions in my area about that.” It hasn’t been decided what form the reorganization will take. Bellefeuille said she’s waiting to hear what students feel they need before taking any definite steps. “(Chenoweth) was being probably vague, because I’m not making those decisions until I hear from (the Bethel students),” said Bellefeuille the day before the Q&A mentioned in Chenoweth’s letter. “So there is no plan at this point. All we know is that it’s got to probably function differently, because we don’t have a professor dedicated to that area. So, there is no reorganizational plan or anything. (Chenoweth) is basically saying, 'we want to hear from you all and what you need.' We’re in lots of conversations with Dr. (Elizabeth) McLaughlin (communication department chair) …our priority is to make sure that juniors and seniors don’t have any interruptions, and that the majors are taken care of. And, to be honest, there are scenarios where there will be very little interruption to what’s going on in the student media area. And so, I hope as we listen to the students tomorrow and gather information, that that’s what will happen.” “I’m not even sure how severe the reorganization will be,” Bellefeuille continued. “All I know is that we’re going to have to do things a little differently, because you don’t have a dedicated professor to the area, but by all means…student media, things like the Beacon, I mean, that has to exist. How it exists, how we move forward with it. It’s just too early to design that. I’m not going to impose that, it’s not my area, it’s Dr. McLaughlin’s and Bradley Smith, (dean of social sciences) …we want to particularly make sure no one gets into a situation that affects their graduation, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen. This major is still a viable major.” Still, some students are upset over Ceravolo’s being let go. “I honestly think that this is a critical mistake for the department and for Bethel,” said Katherine DeBolt, senior communications major. “I know that the decision didn’t come from the department, it came from the administration. I don’t know exactly who in the administration was spearheading it, I don’t know any of that, or if any one person was. But I think on the part of the administration to make a decision like that without realizing the full impact of what Tim brings to the table and just the importance of student media having that professional guidance, I think that’s a huge mistake. And it’s been a huge selling point for the program; it’s one of the reasons I came here. And so, to not have that, I am really disappointed and I think that it will be a huge blow to the program.” “I’m actually not very happy about it, to be completely honest,” said Jordan Hopkins, senior business major and general manager of BC Pilot Radio. “…and it could just be that I think that Tim is really cool, and he’s kind of the…person that gave me the opportunity to become the general manager of the radio station. And he just let me come in as a freshman, and just basically run the whole thing, just figure out how everything works and just try to keep it going.” The students also spoke about what they feel Ceravolo has brought to the department. “I think it is a huge mistake for Bethel,” said DeBolt. “I am very disappointed in Bethel for doing that because (Ceravolo) is such a crucial part of the program. What he brings to the program, you can’t replace that. He brings knowledge and expertise that comes from actual real world experience, and he explains things in ways that we understand. He knows how to get us from point A to point B, where, by the time we’re through the program, we are fully equipped, and we could go into journalism or any kind of media. He knows his stuff. And that’s something you can’t replace; when you have somebody who not only knows what they’re talking about but also knows how to explain it and help others understand it and know how to actually do it. You can’t replace that.” “I feel like (Ceravolo) has the drive to make things happen,” said Hopkins, “especially with the sports network, he’s been putting a lot of effort into that, and especially the fact that he’s been putting so much effort into that and now he’s just going to be gone. It’s kind of upsetting. And putting myself in his shoes, that would be really frustrating, the fact that you’ve been putting all this time into this project that you really want to take off, and then you’re just told that you can’t do that anymore, it’s an infuriating thing.” The question and answer session took place the morning of April 7. Communication majors and student media workers met with Chenoweth, Bellefeuille, McLaughlin and Smith to discuss what the reorganization will look like next semester. Bellefeuille explained a bit more about the reasoning for letting Ceravolo go at the Q&A session. She said that each year the administration must show the board of trustees the school’s financial stability, and that the communication major is at a 10-year low for numbers. DeBolt brought up the issue of hiring an adjunct to replace Ceravolo. She said that many adjuncts are knowledgeable in their disciplines but are unable to teach their skills effectively. She also mentioned the experience of having Ceravolo right alongside students as they worked in student media. “I understand what you’re saying, I really do, and when you become endeared to a professor, that’s even a deeper path for us to try to walk through,” said Bellefeuille in response. “I am still committed to saying what we think this communication major needs, we want to be able to provide but in a different way. And again, I guess I would put the question back. I would love to have a communication department of 40 or 50 students, (if so, then) this wouldn’t be an issue. I don’t know why that that is.” DeBolt asked if broadcasting was being cut overall. She mentioned that neither of the remaining communications professors, McLaughlin and Dr. Theo Williams, are broadcasters. “You’re making the same case we have been behind closed doors thinking about this,” said Chenoweth in response. “Making a case for, rather than closing down the media center and eliminating all that instruction in the classroom and also cocurricular experiences, field experiences, couldn’t there be a different model to preserve it that still meets Bethel’s overall obligations? So, in that sense, we’re thinking the same thing.” Another issue brought up at the Q&A session was the fact that tuition is increasing as the number of classes is decreasing. The question posed was 'will the financial department take this into consideration when calculating cost?' Chenoweth responded by saying that Bethel’s discount rate has risen faster than its price increases. Chenoweth drew a distinction between price and cost, price being the actual amount and cost being what a student actually pays. “Discount rate meaning, if you get a grant, not a loan, a grant from an institution or other sources,” responded Chenoweth. “So, the challenge for Bethel is, sometimes people see our price…the sticker shock value, like buying a car, they see the price, they won’t even apply. They think ‘I could never afford it.’ But actually, we increase discounts faster…and there’s a report that just came out, it’s a government report, that compares us to 10 other similar mission colleges. The average net tuition, after discounts, is $1,500 less compared to the other 10.” Chenoweth also reiterated some information contained in his email, regarding Bethel’s acquiring more scholarships. The State grant for Indiana residents has increased by $2,000, and Chenoweth reported that Bethel has attracted nearly $500,000 worth of endowed scholarships. “None of this is to say you should just smile and embrace it,” he said. “In fact, those are indications of our institutional hustle, trying to do the best we can to help students.” Noah Bevington, freshman communication major, asked what the expectation was for student media next year. “I’m a freshman, I’m going to be radio station manager next year,” said Bevington. “And as a leader over the student media center, what do you want student leadership to do if all of the stuff at the media center is going to be student-run?” Bellefeuille responded by saying that she’d like students to talk to Smith about what they feel they need for next year. She said that the administration needs to know what students are scheduled for next fall. “We are not changing the building (or) the operation budget for media center, so those kinds of things are in place,” said Bellefeuille. “But that’s exactly what we’ve got to pull together (and) look at from a whole, and say, how do we support this?” In an interview, Bellefeuille expressed regret at having to make the decision. “I hate this,” said Bellefeuille. “One of the most heart-wrenching things I have to do is something like this. Tim knows how hard this was and how much I am disappointed to have to do it, but Bethel and the students experience and making sure that your tuition money is used to create the best experience, we got to be very careful about the money that we use.” Hopkins spoke to how he feels the reorganization will work next year. “I think it can (work,) but I think that it would take a lot more support than just making it a hands-off approach,” said Hopkins. “So depending on…how they explain their version for this at the Q&A, it could work, but my initial response is no, based off of the fact that, for example, with the radio station, we have…a new general manager for the radio station. So, he’s just now learning how to become the general manager and how to handle it. So, doing this right at that time where he has to learn is going to make it so much more challenging for him. And on top of that…he’s not a professional, he’s a student…the thing that comes first is him as a student, is his classes. So, trying to…manage an entire radio station with classes is already hard enough for me, even with Tim…but not having that balance of having somebody else above you to keep things going when you’re busy with classes makes it that much harder.” As for final words to administration, DeBolt said, “I really wish they would reconsider it. I think that Tim brings something to the table that is extremely valuable. I also wish they would have brought the students into the process a lot sooner; I feel like we were kept in the dark and then were told ‘this is how it’s going to be, and your opinion doesn’t matter.’ Also, I think the administration should know as far as retention for our major (and) people staying in our major as opposed to switching to other majors. Tim has been very crucial in that.” “I’m hoping (the administration) reconsiders the making of the student media center a hands-off approach,” said Hopkins. “I understand the reasoning behind letting Tim go because of financial issues, but if you can’t keep him on, (then) I would say find another person that can take his place. It makes it a lot less stressful for students to try to manage…being a full entertainment organization and student at the same time. It just makes it easier to have somebody there to handle all that.” Bellefeuille said she’d like to let students know she’s committed to keeping students' experiences at Bethel strong. “I am highly regretful and disappointed that we had to not renew the contract of a professor like Tim Ceravolo,” said Bellefeuille. “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but in the past 10 years, the (number of) communication majors (at Bethel) are at a pretty much an all-time low. It’s been a stronger major, it’s been a higher, you know, more students in the major (in the past). And so, regretfully, that created attention. We have other majors on campus that are not supported by three professors, so again, it was not performance decision, we’re very pleased with what Mr. Ceravolo does with our students. It truly was a budget situation.” Talks regarding the reorganization of the student media center are currently underway.
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