When We Say “The RTVF Department,” How Many People Are We Talking About?

Metropolis (1927, Lang)

If you scroll down the faculty page for the Northwestern RTVF department, you may walk away thinking it’s a pretty large group. By my count, there are 36 faces in that lineup, sporting 14 pairs of glasses, 9 beards, 3 hats, 3 scarves, 2 hoodies, and 1 necktie with a matching smirk (Sconce).

Now, obviously, when we say “the department” or “the faculty,” we’re not talking about all of these people. The Save RTVF campaign is fighting for undergraduate student filmmaking, and some — actually, most — of these faculty members are not concerned with undergrad production at all. Some are strictly Screen Cultures faculty. Some only deal with graduate students. Some aren’t even on campus right now.

So when we colloquially refer to “the RTVF department,” how many people are we even talking about?

Cut out the non-players from the picture

There are a few different ways to parse the faculty roster, but the best place to start is to eliminate those who are not at all related to what we’re talking about. At the very least, that means disregarding:

  • Professors Emeritus
    That’s Chuck Kleinhans and Lawrence Lichty. “Emeritus” comes from the Latin term for “veteran soldier who has served his time” and has been used in academic settings since 1794 as an honorary title for professors with distinguished careers who have retired.
  • Academic Advisers
    That’s Catherine Carrigan and Freda Love Smith. Both hold a rank of Lecturer in addition to being undergraduate advisers, but neither are teaching this academic year. (Carrigan’s only listed course is the CMN 340 Internship; Smith has no courses listed.)
  • Professors in Qatar
    By which I mean Scott Curtis, who’s been serving as the Director of the Communication program for NU-Q in Doha.

That brings us down to 31 from the get-go.

Who’s teaching this year?

Listed below are all the undergraduate instructors teaching in 2016–17, grouped into three broad categories of Production, Screen Cultures, and Screenwriting. Some of these folks will no doubt be strangers to you, so for context, I’ll include their highest degrees earned (to indicate their training/area of expertise) and the courses they’re teaching this year, as well as links to their individual faculty pages for full bios. This is all taken from the department’s course planner from April 2016, individual faculty pages, and what can be gleaned from Google.

Production faculty

13 people, plus two instructors TBA:

  • Clayton Brown (MFA Filmmaking) — Advanced Directing I & II; HD Cinematography; Advanced Cinematography; Special Effects Cinematography; Color Correction.
  • Stephen Cone (BA Theatre) — Media Construction; Intro to Acting for the Screen; Diagnostic Scene Study; Comedy.
  • Chaz Evans (MFA New Media Art) — Media-enabled performance; Interactive Arts; Intro to Game Studio; 3D Computer Animation; Web Convergence.
  • Kyle Henry (MFA Film Production) — Editing; Film/Audio topic TBA.
  • Christian Jensen (MFA Documentary Film)— Media Construction; Lighting & Cinematography.
  • Laura Kipnis (MFA from NSCAD)— Making the Romantic Film; Rebels, Losers, and Misfits; Film/Audio topic TBA.
  • Stephan Moore (Ph.D. Electronic Music and Multimedia Composition and MFA Electronic Arts)— Interactive Sound for Life Events; Creating Sonic Environments; Sound: “A Dip in the Lake.”
  • Spencer Parsons (MFA Film Production) — Blocking & Staging; True Crime Production.
  • Eric Patrick (MFA Experimental Animation) — Pre-production: Storyboarding; Video Mixing for Live Events; 2D Computer Animation; Conceptual Design; Stop-Motion Animation.
  • Ozge Samanci (Ph.D. Digital Media) — Computer Code as Expressive Medium; Drawing for Media.
  • Ines Sommer (MFA Filmmaking) — Media Construction; Producing.
  • Deb Tolchinsky (MFA Painting) — Doc Production.
  • Calum Walter (MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago) — Lighting & Cinematography; Introduction to Sound Production; Post-production: Finishing.
  • TBA Instructor — Professional Post-production; Marketing & Distribution.

Screen Cultures faculty

9 people:

  • Erik Gernand (MFA Writing for the Stage and Screen) — Media Topics TBA; Media Construction; Sitcom Production.
  • Hamid Naficy (Ph.D. Critical Studies and MFA Film and Television Production) — Middle Eastern & North African Cinemas; Doc History/Criticism; Postcolonial Cinema.
  • Miriam Petty (Ph.D. American Studies)— Analyzing Media Texts; Film Noir; Reality TV; Passing.
  • Jeff Sconce (Ph.D. Communication Arts) — Television Comedy; Issues in RTVF topic TBA.
  • Jacob Smith (Ph.D. Communication and Culture)— Meet David Lynch; Film History I; History of Recorded Sound.
  • Lynn Spigel (Ph.D. Film and Television)— Television History.
  • Roberta Stack (MA English) — Media in the Movies.
  • Domieta Torlasco — Italian Cinema (note: Domieta is a member of the French & Italian department, not a full-time RTVF faculty member).
  • Neil Verma (Ph.D. History of Culture) — Media in Context.
  • Mimi White (Ph.D. Communication Studies) — Nostalgia & Popular Culture; History of Film II.

Screenwriting faculty

5 people, plus a number of TBA instructors:

  • Bill Bleich (JD and MFA Screenwriting) — Creative Writing for Media Modules.
  • Zina Camblin (MFA Theatre) — 1/2 Hour Spec; 400-level sitcom class.
  • Zayd Dohrn (MFA Dramatic Writing) — Dramatic Pilot.
  • Kat Falls — Comedy (note: Kat is an affiliated faculty member of the MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage, not a full-time RTVF faculty member).
  • Brett Neveu (BA Playwriting & Acting)— Horror, Fantasy, the Supernatural; Sci-Fi; Creative Writing for Media Module.
  • TBA Instructors — Foundations of Screenwriting; TBA Media Writing Topics courses.

People on the faculty page who are not teaching undergrads this year

Either because they only teach graduate students or any other reason.

So are we only talking about 13 out of 31 people?

Well, not quite. The other way to parse the list is to sort it by academic rank, which looks like this:

Rebecca Gilman
Laura Kipnis
Hamid Naficy (Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in Communication)
Lynn Spigel (Frances Willard Professor of Screen Cultures)
Dave Tolchinsky (Chair; Director of MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage)
Mimi White

Associate Professor
Thomas Bradshaw
Zayd Dohrn (Associate Chair; Associate Director of MFA in Writing for Screen and Stage)
Spencer Parsons
Eric Patrick
Jeff Sconce
Jacob Smith
Deb Tolchinsky (Director of MFA in Documentary Media)

Assistant Professor
Kyle Henry
Miriam Petty (Director of Graduate Studies in Screen Cultures)
Ariel Rogers
Ozge Samanci
J.P. Sniadecki
Neil Verma

Senior Lecturer
Bill Bleich
Clayton Brown
Erik Gernand

Zina Camblin
Stephen Cone
Chaz Evans
Christian Jensen
Stephan Moore
Brett Neveu
Ines Sommer (Associate Director of MFA in Documentary Media)
Roberta Stack (Director of Undergraduate Studies)
Calum Walter

Ranks are significant because they roughly indicate how much administrative responsibility an instructor has. The tenured/tenure-track “ladder faculty” of Assistant, Associate, and full Professors are usually required to serve in a number of committees and leadership roles, while “NTE faculty” (non-tenure-eligible, about 57% of the university), like Lecturers and Senior Lecturers, are mostly evaluated on their teaching and “research or creative activities,” with generally fewer service requirements (and, implicitly, less authority).

In other words, while there are indeed 13 names on the “Production” faculty list, the ones who matter the most — the faculty advisers, the policymakers, the committee members who determine things like MAG implementation — are likely to be the higher-ranking ones, like Kyle Henry (Assistant Professor), Laura Kipnis (Professor), Spencer Parsons (Associate Professor), Eric Patrick (Associate Professor), Ozge Samanci (Assistant Professor), and Deb Tolchinsky (Associate Professor), along with Dave Tolchinsky (Chair and Professor) and Zayd Dohrn (Associate Chair and Associate Professor).

I mention all of this because I know the structure of an academic department can be a little inscrutable from the outside. I didn’t really grasp it myself until the very end of gradschool, and only now understand the nuances because I work for a university and need to know this stuff for my job.

For an undergrad, it’s easy to get the impression that all professors are basically co-equal with one another — which confuses things, and gives the impression of broad consensus where there might actually be indifference or disinterest or even dissent. For one thing, they act casual and informal and “collegial” with each other by design, which masks the rigid hierarchical framework in which they operate. I remember going to faculty meetings as an URSA rep and finding it hard to tell who were the key players and decision-makers (aside from Lynn, who was Chair at the time) and who were mere junior faculty with no sway or stake in the conversation taking place. To me, they were all just my professors: all seemingly possessing the same job (teacher), all equally unimpressed with my mediocre work, all indistinguishable in status aside from their age, reputations, and vague auras of accomplishment that radiated in varying degrees.

The main takeaway from this exercise

is that the number of faculty members who are personally invested in the department’s funding structure is less than 30 people, and probably less than a dozen. I really wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out fewer than five people were truly, directly involved in crafting the MAG alternative, while the rest of the faculty were off having exciting adventures — like Hamid Naficy jetsetting to Havana in the summer of 2015 to hobnob with Cuban filmmakers and buy primo papas rellenas, mmm, delicioso!