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The big news around here is last night’s announcement that the Media Studies program at Pomona, in which I’ve taught for the last ten years, and which I’ve chaired (other than the semester I was on sabbatical) for the last four, will as of July 1, 2009, be converted into a department.

On the one hand, this seems a small, symbolic change; media studies already has tons of majors, a strong faculty, and a coherent curriculum. But the conversion will actually have enormous effects: we’ll be able to hire faculty directly into media studies, without requiring that they be joint with another field; we’ll have dedicated space, both for the faculty (instead of being spread throughout the campus) and for the department itself, so there will finally be a there there; and we’ll have a budget more appropriate to an academic unit our size.

But I don’t want to discount the symbolism here — and I’ve been shocked this morning to discover how much this means to me. Pomona College, in many ways a very traditional bastion of the liberal arts, a place whose faculty has at times joked that our school motto should be “We Have Never Done It That Way Before,” has decided that media studies is genuinely a discipline, not a flash in the pan, not a fad, but something that should be considered on a parallel with English, or history, or psychology, or chemistry. I hadn’t really realized until this morning the degree to which I had internalized and accepted the two-tier system here, in which media studies was for years “only” a program, held together with volunteer labor and duct tape.

Of course, there’s a lot more labor that will be required in order to get this conversion underway, and in order to get a new department up and running. But it feels, on some level, like the labor you put into painting your very own house, the house you own, as opposed to the apartment you’re renting. I’ll be happy to put in the work, because I’ll be building something permanent, someplace I and others can live for years to come.

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