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University of Hawaii reorganization merges 5 academic units into 1

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A couple of years ago, amid the financial uncertainty of the pandemic’s initial year, the University of Hawaii at Manoa considered dropping its journalism program and the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution as part of a plan to deal with looming budget cuts.

Today, those programs are not only alive and well but have joined the university’s new School of Communication and Information in one of the largest reorganizations in the university’s history.

Five academic units from three different colleges — each with related yet distinct approaches to communication and information — have been combined to establish one of the largest department-like entities on campus under UH’s College of Social Sciences.

The academic units are:

>> The Communication program, formerly in the School of Communications within the College of Social Sciences.

>> The Communicology program, formerly in the College of Arts, Languages and Letters.

>> The Journalism program, formerly in the School of Communications.

>> The Library and Information Science program, formerly in the Department of Information and Computer Sciences in the College of Natural Sciences.

>> The Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, formerly in the Public Policy Center in the College of Social Sciences.

UH professor Colin Moore, the school’s inaugural chair, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser the move is part of a larger trend that has seen dozens of universities across the country set up their communication departments in a similar fashion.

At UH, he said, it will allow students to learn about communication from several distinct disciplinary perspectives and end the confusion for those trying to seek out classes in those related fields.

“Students interested in all aspects of communication — from speech and persuasion, to technologies that facilitate communication, to how information is organized, to how it is reported by journalists — can take classes across disciplines without having to search through the catalogues of different colleges,” Moore explained in an article on the UH website.

Formation of the new school comes after the School of Life Sciences was established in 2020 through the merger of the departments of biology, botany and microbiology.

The consolidations, Moore told the Star- Advertiser, allow the programs to combine resources and move forward in a coordinated and more strategic way.

Moore, who was School of Communications chair, Communicology program director Amy Hubbard, and Library and Information Science director Rich Gazan began discussing the possibility of a merger even before the pandemic cuts were proposed.

The effort grew more serious in the fall of 2020 when a faculty-led reorganization team began meeting with individuals and groups across campus. The group set up a website for announcements and feedback and held a series of town hall meetings.

Moore said “the cost- neutral reorganization” ultimately won the support of faculty, staff and students.

“This was genuinely a collaborative endeavor and one of the university’s biggest administrative changes in a while. It’s now one of the university’s largest departments, and it was created all with very little controversy,” he said.

Moore said the Journalism program, with an enrollment that dipped to 44 students prior to the coronavirus crisis, survived the proposed cutbacks in part because of pushback from faculty, staff, alumni and community members who reminded the administration that it is the only such program in Hawaii.

With journalism under attack in recent years and social media generating much interest in content creation, the program has rebounded with a current undergraduate enrollment of 79.

“It will be easier for a small program, such as journalism, to survive under a bigger tent,” Moore said. “The journalism program is much safer and primed to expand. Its only limitation will be how many faculty hires we can make.”

Moore said he’s confident the new hires will be coming.

As for now, the new School of Communications lists 23 faculty members, 371 undergraduates and 82 graduate students.

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