In November, I announced the “brutal-sublime” news that I would be leaving MIT after twenty years to accept a new position at the University of Southern California as Provost’s Professor of Communications, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts. Personally, I prefer “Professor of Misc. Studies.” This new position comes with few fixed responsibilities, no obligations to raise money or manage a program, but with enhanced opportunities to interface with the industry, other media scholars, and Ph.D. students.
I had struggled with growing frustration with MIT but was determined that I did not want to leave just to be leaving, and for the first time, I found somewhere I wanted to move towards. While USC offers new directions, my first two classes will be New Media Literacies and Transmedia Storytelling, both building on work begun through CMS.
I have been deeply touched by the response from the CMS community. You have expressed disappointment with the circumstances leading to my departure but have supported my decision. I am now joining the CMS diaspora — there’s a really large chapter of our expanded network in southern California.
We will all have to work that much harder to stay in touch, but there are people out there who value all that we have accomplished and who want to maintain strong ties come what may. Over the next few issues, we are going to be reaching out to our graduate alumni to hear what their CMS experience looks like from a few years’ distance and to discover what they are doing with their lives now. All of this will build up to a ten-year celebration and reunion.
For now, I can just look back with wonder at all we have been able to do together. Every day in CMS has been a rollercoaster ride of spectacular highs and sometimes gut-wrenching drops (especially when MIT was slow to lay down the track we needed to keep on moving). Through it all, we’ve created an environment where creative work can take place, where people can collaborate across a range of disciplines, where theory and practice merged on a daily basis, and we’ve prepared nearly a hundred students for new kinds of jobs which didn’t have names when all of this began. CMS has been a spectacular success: our students have risen to the top across a range of fields; our educational and research accomplishments have been celebrated across the media; we’ve continued to attract world-class students with near perfect yields every year; we’ve raised money from companies, foundations, governments, and individuals who saw the value of what we were doing; we’ve collaborated with many groups both within MIT and far beyond, and we’ve done so in ways which are humane and humanistic to their core. Each student, faculty member, and staff person contributed something vital to the mix.
Yet, all the time, we’ve struggled for resources from MIT which would allow us to stabilize and secure what we’ve built. A decade is a long time to remain in start-up mode. A decade is a long time to try to demonstrate proof of concept. Somewhere along the way, MIT needed to give us more dedicated faculty, to show that it understood what we had built and what we could accomplish given more resources. No matter how hard we worked, we were still just treading water hoping for the rescue boats to come.
And William and I finally awoke to the painful reality that things were never going to change.
We aren’t closing our doors yet: there’s still an outstanding group of students who arrived this September and who will be learning and growing through the year ahead. William will be holding down the fort, and I will be flying back often to make sure that they have the full CMS experience.
What happens next is up to MIT, I suppose, but it is also up to us. One cohort of CMS graduate students reconnected and wrote a collective statement, via Google Docs, about the CMS vision which was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, reminding all of us that our future is not limited to the financially-strapped coffers and limited imagination of any one institution. The CMS ideal moves forward and moves outward through the activities of our alums as they draw on their education through their work in industry, education, the arts, journalism, policy making, and academia. We each have a chance to try to build a stronger creative community and to speak. As the class of 2005 demonstrated, you can always find ways to reconnect and collaborate yet again.
Au revoir. Until we meet again.