News, UCM News

Photography shuttering away

The photography department at the University of Central Missouri is no longer accepting new students to be a major or minor as of Fall 2017.

Thomas Mitchell, program coordinator of professional photography, said students finishing their photography major or minor will be able to complete their degree. The program is still offering the courses in order for them to graduate.

Mitchell said he formed a committee of faculty from the art department, photography department, and digital media program last spring to work on a new major in another area and college on campus to incorporate more business, video and social media branding courses. He said the administration felt they needed a completely new program with photography as a component, but not the only core study area.

The committee proposed moving photography into the art department as well as having photography courses in other departments.

Mitchell said Deborah Curtis, the provost/chief learning officer, told him over the summer that photography has a place at UCM, possibly as a core component of an art degree.

“The end of this particular major was expected at some time, though I did not anticipate it this quickly,” Mitchell said. “There is no reason that photography courses cannot exist in several departments as part of the same or different degree programs.”

Mitchell said he believes there are two main reasons for the end of the photography major. The first is that the market is changing, and the degree needs changing. It needs more course areas such as video, social media branding, business and more variety and skills in general.

The second reason is enrollment in the photography major has slowly declined over the last decade. Mitchell said eight to 10 years ago, the number was about 150 to 160 majors, and since that time, it declined to less than 60. Mitchell said they are still graduating 10 or more photography students each year, but the number they enroll and graduate is not sufficient to sustain the program.

Jeffrey Murphy, assistant director of University Relations, when asked if this change had to do with budget cuts, said there are other reasons the department will be discontinued. He said it was because of the decline in enrollment, and students needing more multi-media skills, such as video.

“Photography is an important skill,” Murphy said. “Steady and growing enrollment is essential to the success of any academic program.”

There is a desire among the art faculty to have photography in their courses Mitchell said, it is common in most colleges. He said he would be in favor of that because students expect to take photography going into the art program.

Representatives of the art department did not respond to interview requests.

Mitchell said another fit for some photography courses would be the communication department, which teaches video and photojournalism; uses the same equipment; and has a staff willing to work with them.

Joe Moore, program coordinator for digital media production, said a lot of photography students have been interested in video courses. He said in colleges across the country, photography is either a part of the art or digital media production program.

“I was hoping we’d get them,” Moore said.

The committee proposed making photography a fifth concentration in digital media production, but that proposal failed.

Moore said photography would have benefited the digital media production program because, especially for journalism students, they need that skill. He said many digital media students have been interested in photography courses.

“I am disappointed, but I do think it’s a good fit being in the art department,” Moore said. “I hope and pray this works. To me, photography is an art.”

Robert Breshears,  photography instructor, said although he is disappointed by the changes, he is also excited for making the photography program even better.

“Now, we have a clean slate to build a program that is more applicable to the industry,” Breshears said.

He said he believes the technology is changing fast, and this gives them the opportunity to leap from where they were to where they need to be.

Breshears said some photography students have come to him concerned about their degree, but he reassured them they will be able to graduate as normal. He said the department is focusing on them more individually.

“I think they’re disappointed, but they’re not informed,” Breshears said. “We are at a point where we can’t provide additional information.”

Breshears and the photography department can’t give students any more information until the committee makes its final decisions. Mitchell said the committee will be discussing final decisions this fall.

Nicole Schartz, a junior photography major, said these changes in the program have made her worried about the future of photography.

She wonders since UCM won’t have the photography degree anymore if that means society is needing fewer professional photographers.

“I’m afraid,” Schartz said. “Makes me wonder if I’m in the right career… If you’re coming here to study photography and it was not an option, I think you might look somewhere else, if that’s what you want to do.”

Colin O’Brien, a junior photography minor, said his friend tried applying this year to major in photography and was told the program no longer existed.

“Because of that,” O’Brien said, “he just decided to go to a different school.”

Luat Vu, a junior photography major, said not many schools offer a major in photography, and he is disappointed that UCM has to dismantle the program. He said students are coming to college now more focused on money and majoring in jobs that he believes are more needed in the real world.

“It kind of sucks for incoming people that want to do photography,” Vu said. “People are here for different things…photography is really risky.”

Vu said he has enjoyed the photography program at UCM and believes the instructors are really involved with the students.

“Photography seems like what teachers love to teach,” Vu said. “They have passion.”

Mitchell said it is hard to accept the change in this department. He said the imaging market has changed, and the needs of the students have changed as well as the needs of the university.

“The photography department has always had some really great students,” Mitchell said. “Many of which have gone on to great careers.”

Vu said he believes this shut down won’t affect the amount of students coming into our school because the program has not been bringing in many new majors.

“The photography program lately has had such low numbers,” Vu said.

Mitchell said even though the department has recently had an enrollment decline, they still have outstanding students. He said they have had great instructors with a love of photography and professional experience.

“What I hope,” Mitchell said, “is that we can find a new strong path for photography to continue in the university that benefits the most students in the best ways, which is sustainable for the university.”

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