Turbulence hits ad schools: fund cuts, academic feuding

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Advertising studies at many colleges and universities are facing budgetary and philosophical scrutiny while ad schools focused on the job of advertising face no such restraints.

What's going on? Part of the problem is university ad programs are oversubscribed yet understaffed. Some risk getting eliminated altogether amid state budget crises. More students than ever apply for these programs (and to schools specializing in advertising). Yet college ad departments have to fight for academic respect and funding.

But ad schools such as Creative Circus in Atlanta, Miami Ad School and the Virginia Commonwealth University Adcenter are charging ahead. They are unabashedly trade schools for making ads, and they award certificates of completion to mostly college-graduate enrollees. As The Wall Street Journal recently stated, the quality of undergraduate ad studies at colleges and universities is "inconsistent." Dawn Waters, assistant managing director of VCU's Adcenter, told The Journal, "When students graduate from these programs, they find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get jobs at the top agencies."

There's also another factor. At universities, some academicians who want to restructure college ad programs (including integrated marketing communications programs) also want to treat advertising as an evil force in society. They regard it as a way to manipulate people and want to refocus ad-studies programs "on a deeper understanding of the public-as-consumer" (as an academic committee at the University of Colorado recommended last year).

Colorado's school of journalism and mass communication has done away with its IMC graduate degree program-but it didn't implement some of the radical proposals of its academic committee. "We are continuing the single ad sequence with all of the traditional courses in place and have simply strengthened both the creative and strategic sides of the program by adding new elective courses," associate professor Brett Robbs told me.

Tom Duncan, who headed the IMC program at Colorado, is continuing what was Colorado's IMC graduate program at the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business. Daniels is one of the first business schools to offer integrated marketing. At San Francisco's Golden Gate University, the master's degree program in IMC is also housed in the business school and MBA students can take IMC as well as other marketing courses.

The University of Illinois College of Communications, which houses the nation's oldest ad program, seems to be going through a similar soul-searching process. Provost Richard Herman called off a yearlong search for a new dean, citing "fundamental issues" about the college-such as whether journalism and advertising have a "coherent vision" and can "function effectively as a collective enterprise."

Some ad students concerned the Illinois ad program might be closed have formed AdAdvocates to get their views across. Linda Scott, who resigned as head of Illinois' ad department 15 months ago but remains with the faculty, told me the justification for cutbacks at Illinois is the same issue raised at the University of Colorado-"advertising is bad stuff so it's OK to shortchange anyone associated with it."

(More on the U of I ad program next column.)

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