Responding to passage of Utah Senate Bill 238, which transfers responsibility for academic program approvals from the Utah State Board of Regents to campus’s Boards of Trustees, SUU will shortly announce the first new academic programs to be adopted anywhere in the state under the new plan.
Beginning in the fall of 2017, SUU will launch three new majors: Fake News, Partisan Policy and Factual & Scientific Denial leading to a BS degree. These programs combine the current heated state of political affairs, state performance-funding for quick pathways to credentials, and the unregulated nature of the Internet. All courses offered will be delivered online and print versions will be available.
A parallel track will offer Certificates of Accomplishment to applicants who have practical experience, through an alternative-credential process. “Of course, we hope students will stay for all four years,” says SUU President Scott Wyatt. “But Certificates are steps that lead toward a full BS degree. They are flexible. They may be awarded to people who work all day and only have time to ignore media and blog at night on Facebook, or who are too busy dodging reality to take time to think carefully.”
Provost Dr. Brad Cook agrees. “Someone who compiles a portfolio of existing work that consistently falls below rigorous academic standards of factual accuracy, displays bias, or employs invective or irrelevant argument, should be singled out and recognized for what they have accomplished.”
The University has been quickly hailed for its forethought and action, as job demands in the sector are growing. Even as praise began circulating, SUU fielded strong criticism from certain bloggers and twitter trolls. Subject to the same pressure for both accurate and ethical reporting applied by responsible mainstream media, legitimate news sources expressed anger at being upstaged once again by better funding and lower standards.
President Wyatt reiterates the University’s commitment to offering BS courses that will train students for work that can be applied across the political spectrum. “Whether on the right or the left, there is a demonstrated need for competent professionals in these fields,” he points out, noting that most are run by agenda-driven professionals with degrees in other fields, such as law and journalism, or no collegiate training at all. “This is about jobs. This is about people pursuing things that they wish were true and just—aren’t. The opportunities are virtually limitless.”
Several SUU faculty members expressed concerns in private meetings with both the provost and president as planning progressed. Members of the Communication and Political Science & Criminal Justice departments were concerned that employers and the public might not understand or even recognize the difference between real and fake events. The English Department voiced open concern about the threatened survival of parody. The provost, understanding the issues, wants the public to accept the new realities, “The dialogue is no longer just about facts and ethics, it’s about the power of persuasion.”
Faculty were also deeply worried that they might be required to teach in the new programs. The provost reassured existing faculty that they would not, and that any new hires would not carry degrees in fields covered by the existing SUU departments. Alt-faculty would come on board only after demonstrating that they could set aside ethical considerations for fact or fairness.
“This is new ground for SUU,” says President Wyatt. “It will take some getting use to, but as of April 1 of 2017, SUU will not cross this chasm in one large step. It will require a series of small hops. The BS will help us do just that—or help us persuade people that we did it.”