FIMS’ new Certificate in Digital Communications stirs controversy


The CDC information session will be held tomorrow, March 26th at 12:30 in NCB room 114.

In recent faculty news, FIMS has decided to introduce a new Certificate in Digital Communications (CDC). Akin to a certificate in Writing or Professional Communication, FIMS’s CDC will be made available to Western students at large, including FIMS students, with the exception of those in MTP. Upon completing the certificate, students will graduate with an extra (and free) sheet of paper—and, more importantly, a line on their résumé—that indicates that they are, in fact, sufficiently equipped to communicate in this brave new digital world.

At a very basic level, FIMS’s administration professes that the new certificate is designed to “Boost [students’] professional or academic career[s] by mastering the communication tools of the digital age.” More than this, students who complete the certificate will, in turn, receive “excellent preparation for a career in social media,” as it combines both theoretical and practical media knowledge.

Within this context, the primary goal of the certificate would seem relatively unproblematic; the CDC merely intends to provide students with an opportunity through which to develop employable skills in the “digital age”. When taking into consideration recent discussion surrounding FIMS’s politics, however, the issue becomes slightly more complicated.

In this year’s round-table conversations surrounding the state of FIMS, one question in particular has encompassed much of the discourse: Is FIMS a faculty concerned with a purely academic experience, or do we strive to provide a vocational education? It turns out we do both, at the same time. The CDC is a case in point.

Of course, it is not in and of itself problematic for FIMS to offer a simultaneously academic and vocational education—in fact, given the changing role of the university in today’s political-economic climate, it makes perfect sense. But there are inevitable questions that arise about a certificate whose main goal is, ostensibly, to teach students how to use social media.

FIMS Professor Kane Faucher, whose course appears in the list of eligible courses students can take as a part of the certificate, says that it might be too early to launch a full-blown critique of the CDC, for as it progresses, its direction will be shaped by students and faculty alike. More specifically, Faucher is worried that criticisms that peg the CDC as superficial resume padding might be misguided.

Faucher explains that classifying the CDC as “a vocational program nested in a more theory-centered undergraduate program would not be a fair assessment of the DC’s aims which seem indexed on critical use, a merger of theory and praxis within the digital domain.”

However, the certificate’s promotional efforts tell a slightly different story. The entire promotional campaign is engendered by the promise that the CDC will prepare students for a career. The promotional video in particular is demonstrative of this thrust. Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood, a representative on the MIT Students’ Council (MITSC) and the producer of the video in question, highlights some of the potential contradictions.

“Not only is the video implicitly representing social media as both beneficial and unstoppable, but it also represents the certificate as taking a pragmatic ‘how to use social media’ approach. This is clearly not the case,” notes Mertins-Kirkwood, “since FIMS is about critical media research, not self-branding and profitability.”

Although the video can indeed be read in a particular way, Keith Tomasek, the FIMS lecturer tasked with the duty of spearheading the CDC’s promotional efforts, says that the “the main message [FIMS is] trying to get across in all the advertising is the information meeting.” On the poster, for example, the text for the information meeting is larger than the text for the certificate itself.

Another potential issue with the CDC is how little students—even the students’ council itself—were involved in the decision-making process. Since the certificate will directly affect FIMS students in a number of ways (class sizes, academic resources, etc.), it seems dubious that we were left entirely out of the plan. Jessica Segal, the current Faculty Liaison on the MITSC, expressed some concern with the way in which information about the certificate has been disseminated.

She says, “The motion for approval was passed mid-first semester, but after that, communication about the progress of the certificate stopped until FIMS ambassadors were recruited for promotional efforts for March Break Open House.” According to Segal, the MITSC ought to have been more involved, as it is “a valuable liaison between the faculty and the FIMS student body, and should be considered an essential voice in future changes.”

Despite some of the promotional efforts and lack of student input, however, the certificate undoubtedly has its benefits. It would be naïve to deny the centrality of social media and digital communication to the new and emerging economic landscape. As such, it is probably safe to assume that students who complete the CDC will be adequately prepared for the “real world”. But if that doesn’t impress you, at least the CDC promotions fit nicely together with the primarily vocational theme of the FIMS website.

Before making up your mind on the CDC, ask yourself a couple of questions: Is it merely a monetary-driven expansionist policy cleverly concealed in a candy-coated social media shell? Why were students and professors alike left out of the decision-making process? Who will teach the new, required courses, and of what content will they consist? And how many new students will now depend on FIMS already over-worked academic counselors? These are important questions that we, as critically minded students of media, should be asking.

For the answers to all of your questions and more, come to the CDC information session tomorrow, March 26th at 12:30 in NCB room 114. As members of this faculty, it is up to us to guide the trajectory of this new certificate. It is therefore of crucial importance to join the discussion, for according to Professor Faucher, “we all have our hands on the wheel and have some liberty to chart the course.”

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