The Department of Media Studies, like several other majors at the University, requires that students apply to the program during their second year. This spring, the department expects to accept fewer students to account for faculty changes in the coming academic year.
Traditionally, over 50 percent of roughly 200 applicants are accepted to the media studies major each spring. However, there is a second application round that occurs over the summer for any incoming third-year who either did not complete the application or was not accepted during the spring. The summer round is usually composed of a much smaller applicant pool.
The application process is expected to become more selective this spring as the Media Studies Department anticipates five faculty members taking leave next year. These faculty members are leaving for a number of reasons, including to go on sabbatical and to work in the Fellowship Program. As such, some of these faculty members are expected to return to the department in the coming years.
However, according to the Media Studies Department Chair Camilla Fojas, the department has already added a new faculty member to account for these departures, and the department will still offer a myriad of courses across specialties, despite the anticipated changes in faculty. Aswin Punathambekar, the newest addition to the Media Studies faculty, specializes in global media.
Punathambekar is working to establish a cross-disciplinary space at the University, the Global Media Studies Collaboratory, where students and individuals from the media industry can further explore and analyze the role and impact of media globally.
Director of Undergraduate Programs William Little noted that the department has put in a request for a number of additional hires next semester. These hires may be interim and will not become permanent members of University faculty, but the department is open to all types of hires as they try to fill the gap left by the five absences.
According to Little, if this process is completed in a timely manner, the Media Studies Department may have more liberty in the number of courses offered and the number of students they can accept in the coming semesters. However, this does not apply to the current application round.
Little acknowledged this unusual inflection in the application process this round while still encouraging any and all applicants. In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, he explained the need for the application process as a whole.
“We have an application because we do not have the staffing to accommodate everyone who wants to become a media studies major,” Little said. “We have to have a filter. We started as a very small program about 15 years ago, and we have grown incrementally but the growth of the staffing has not matched the growth of interest [from students].”
The application process consists of a series of informational and biographical questions, relevant grades and coursework, the name of a professor for reference and two short essays of 300 and 500 words respectively. Little stressed the importance of the essays for the applicants.
“We look very carefully at the essays,” Little said. “We ask students to treat those essays with the kind of serious they treat a paper assignment. We’re really looking to learn from the student how she/he can imagine offering something to the program [and] what the student hopes to get out of the major.”
Second-year College student Willa Hancock, still plans to apply to the major this semester, although lamenting a more selective process for the community.
“While it is upsetting to hear that the application process has become increasingly more competitive, I am continuing to pursue this particular field of study,” Hancock said. “However, it is disappointing that such a culturally important and relevant subject is not going to be as accessible to the U.Va. community.”
Ian Baucom, Buckner W. Clay Dean of Arts and Sciences, stressed the overall purpose of faculty leaves and the College’s support for such endeavors. Although certain departments are experiencing a higher number of faculty members on leave than others, the College as a whole is comfortable and familiar with these fluctuations.
“Whether it’s for an academic year or just one semester, we support faculty taking leave for a variety of reasons — like pursuing research or finishing a book — because we know that ultimately that knowledge will come back to the classroom for the benefit of students,” Baucom said.
The College does not expect any similar changes to majors or programs outside of Media Studies in the coming year.
The application opened on the Media Studies website Jan. 17 and will remain open until Jan. 31 at 5 p.m.