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Saving cinema at the UI

BY GRETA HAGEN-RICHARDSON | FEBRUARY 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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We are at the beginning of the second semester, and students have already been subjected to quite a few service cuts. I have thus far kept quiet because I understand that the university is under a lot of pressure to provide innumerable services and resources to a large student body, while coping with a decreased amount of available funds.

However, I recently discovered that the university has formed a group, titled the Provost Task Force on Graduate Education, whose job is to examine various graduate programs and consider whether they are necessary. One of the programs that this task force has considered cutting is the films studies Ph.D. program in the cinema and comparative literature department.

This is an attempt to voice an opinion that I know is not solely mine. As an undergraduate student who spent her first two years paying out-of-state tuition (roughly $22,000 annually), it would seem that my opinion (and our opinions) should be at least considered.

Most of us have heard that the UI is home to the prestigious Writers’ Workshop, with its winners of Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Award honorees. I also knew as a freshman about the business school, the music program, and the sociology program.

But for those of you who walk past Adler Journalism Building daily without ever knowing who is inside and what is going on, the UI houses an internationally recognized film studies Ph.D. program. It began in the early 1960s, with faculty who still teach here.

I spent most of my first two years at the UI taking a myriad of classes under the general-education heading and trying to get a footing, much like thousands of freshmen and sophomores. I began to feel as if I was floating between interests, lost among the hundreds of students in lecture classes with professors who didn’t know my name or care to find out.

I took a year off and tried to figure out my direction for the remaining two years. I signed up for a film-analysis class, and it was as if I had entered a completely different school. My teacher, who shall remain anonymous, was a Ph.D. candidate in the film-studies department.

And despite all my classes with big-name professors and brilliant graduate students in various departments around the UI, this 20-something, fourth-year Ph.D. candidate was easily the most engaged and compelling instructor I had ever encountered.

He was just the beginning. I enrolled in a solid slate of film-studies classes, and it was as though a new world opened up to me.

The people who make up the Ph.D. program and the faculty who advise them (and occasionally teach me) are smart, passionate, and care about my progress. If I don’t show up to class, I get an e-mail asking what happened to me.

I step into office hours, and the instructor cares about my interpretation of the material. I don’t get pushed off as an ignorant undergrad who is taking up time that could be spent doing research.

These teachers love film, and they love teaching. That is rare, especially at a school in which half of a graduate student’s job is research.

I love my classes now, and I love my teachers. I feel like I belong to a community of people who matter — people who are at the cutting edge of cultural and film criticism. Most importantly, I don’t feel like I am here to get a piece of paper.

The Ph.D. students in the film-studies program make me want to absorb as much knowledge as possible in my remaining year. They motivate me to excel.

Rather than spending my weekends at Summit and Jakes, I am working toward contributing to the community that has basically saved my academic life.

So, Provost Task Force, please do not close this program. If you do, you will lose some of the best things this university has to offer.


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