Media dean will soon be 'interim' no more

URBANA — The dean of the University of Illinois College of Media will soon drop her "interim" title and says it's a sign the college's future as a freestanding unit is secure.

Jan Slater, interim dean for the past three years, was offered a more "regularized" appointment as dean earlier this month, pending approval by UI trustees, according to Ilesanmi Adesida, vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost.

Slater has agreed to serve as dean through August 15, 2015, but the campus will also launch a national search for the position in summer 2014.

Adesida said Slater had made extensive contributions as interim dean and received exceptionally strong support from faculty and staff in the college when he spoke with them over the past 12 months.

"She has worked diligently to improve the financial condition of the college, to develop a team of leaders with a shared vision for the future and to improve student support services," he said in a release.

The two-year appointment, combined with her three years as interim, will bring her to the five-year time frame most deans serve before undergoing a review, Slater said. She will earn $253,400 annually.

Slater said the appointment indicates the college's future is no longer up in the air.

"We have done what was necessary to show that we're viable," Slater said Monday.

Slater was appointed to a two-year term as interim dean in July 2010 during a tumultuous time for the college, as it was addressing organizational and financial problems identified in a campus review.

The College of Media was one of four small academic units being examined for possible consolidation, along with the School of Labor and Employment Relations, the School of Social Work and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. A budget review committee concluded that no significant savings could be gained from merging those units.

But it also recommended that the College of Media — with units for journalism, advertising, media and cinema studies, communications research and public broadcasting — continue discussions about possible reorganization as part of a comprehensive planning effort.

The college's last permanent dean was Ron Yates, who stepped down in 2009. Professor Walt Harrington agreed to take on the interim job for a year while the college found a permanent replacement, but the search was called off with no clear favorite and bleak financial conditions facing the university.

Richard Wheeler, visiting associate vice president for academic affairs at the UI, said it was clear the college needed strong leadership and said Slater, then head of the advertising department, had restored "integrity and national prominence" to the department.

In fall 2011, Wheeler, at the time the interim vice chancellor for academic affairs, asked Slater to continue as interim through the 2012-13 school year, saying that the college was still sorting through those challenges and that a full dean's search should be the responsibility of the next provost. (Adesida was appointed provost a year ago.) Wheeler said key factors in the college's future were the development of a "clear mission" and core curriculum for the college that unite its varied units, the financial stability of the college and progress toward eliminating a large deficit.

Slater said Monday that the college now has a more sustainable and efficient structure, with centralized services for human resources, information technology and budgeting. That gives departments more time to focus on academics, she said.

The college balanced its budget in 2011-12 for the first time in six years and has made progress paying off its $3.2 million deficit, she said.

"We've been very systematic in how we've allocated and managed our resources," she said.

The doctoral program has shrunk from about 80 students to 23 to 27, mostly by encouraging those who had been on campus for many years to complete their degrees and being more careful about how many new candidates are accepted, she said.

Hires are being made more strategically, with one search underway for a faculty member who could teach digital media across all the departments in the college, she said.

Resources were reallocated to improve student-faculty ratios, she said. At one time, advertising had the worst ratio on campus, at 100-to-1, despite generating the most teaching units in the college, a key source of campus revenue, she said.

The college is also developing new sources of income, such as professional development degrees that aren't necessarily supported by full tuition and fee waivers. Advertising has already moved to that model for some students, and it's under consideration in journalism, she said.

Introductory journalism classes were allowed to grow from 19 students to about 60, opening them up to non-majors and generating more income from campus. And this summer, the college created a summer media camp for high school students.

The college also has a fund-raising plan outlining future needs and "how to get there, something we never really had," she said.

The college's first four-year undergraduate cohort just graduated, and the curriculum in both advertising and journalism has changed "dramatically," she said. Faculty committees are also studying a core curriculum for the college.

As a small college, Media will continue to look for possible collaborations with other colleges on campus or across the Big Ten, she said. The college has 1,162 students, all but 99 of them undergraduates, and 40 teaching faculty. Its $8.2 million budget includes WILL's Illinois Public Media.

Slater isn't sure if she will be a candidate next year when the search begins for the next dean.

"I always felt my goal, my mission, was to make it better, get it stable and sustainable, and I think we've been there," she said. "I think we have a very positive future. If I should be part of that in two years, in terms of leadership, then that's great. If I'm not part of that, I'm perfectly happy being a member of this faculty."

Slater came to the UI in 2007 after 10 years at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, including four years as associate director. She received her master's in advertising at the UI in 1992 and has also worked in the advertising field.

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