Through a partnership between SJMC and the University of Minnesota Law School, students can now earn their M.A. or Ph.D. in mass communication and a J.D. concurrently.
By Taylor Selcke
Photos by Mark Vancleave
Holly Miller wasn't planning to go to law school immediately after finishing her undergraduate degree, but a poor economy and bleak job outlook forced her to reconsider as she completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism at the University of Minnesota in May 2010.
Instead of taking her chances in the job market, Miller accepted a spot in the University of Minnesota's Law School, where she decided to pursue her passions of law and journalism by enrolling in the dual degree program offered by the Law School and the School of Journalism & Mass Communication.
Upon graduation in May 2013, just three years after beginning the program, Miller will hold a master's degree in mass communication and a juris doctorate from the Law School.
"I went to law school with a specific interest in media law," Miller said. "I think the program has allowed me to really focus on that area of interest in a way that I couldn't have by just going to law school."
The program, which entered early stages of formulation in 2006, allows students to complete either a master's or doctorate in mass communication and a juris doctorate in a condensed amount of time. Typically, it will take a student two years to obtain a master's degree, three to four years to get a doctorate, and three years to complete law school. In this intensive dual degree program, a M.A./J.D. typically takes three years while a Ph.D./J.D. takes a little more than five years.
"The dual degree program saves students time in terms of the number of credit hours they need to take," said SJMC Assistant Professor Amy Kristin Sanders, who was instrumental in launching the program. "It can save them tuition as opposed to taking the two degrees separately," she said. "It also, from an educational perspective, allows them to integrate two disciples into their studies at the same time."
The dual degree program was the brainchild of SJMC Director Albert Tims, Silha Professor Jane Kirtley, former SJMC Dean of Graduate Studies Brian Southwell and former SJMC Assistant Professor Michael Stamm. Sanders, who completed a similar dual degree program at the University of Iowa, joined the team in fall 2007.
While dual degree programs have become increasingly popular in a variety of fields across the country, there are only a handful that cross between a journalism school and a law school.
"This is certainly not the only program in the country, but one of the benefits is that not only do we have a top ranked law school, but we also have a top ranked journalism program," Sanders said. "We are in a giant media market, which makes us a good venue to host one of these programs."
Students in the program spend their first year solely on West Bank, taking all of their classes in the Law School. As they begin their second year, time is split between the Law School and SJMC. Dual degree students take 15-18 credit hours, as opposed to the 9 credit hours typically required of SJMC graduate students.
"The biggest drawback for the program is that it's challenging," Sanders said. "These students take a large number of credit hours, they're highly involved and they're very ambitious students. The biggest hindrance to success in this program is the time management skills. But as a general rule, the students that we have now and the students that we hope to attract in the future crave that kind of challenge."
Miller was up to the challenge. Since officially beginning the dual degree program in fall 2011, she has been splitting time between the two schools as well as acting as a teaching assistant, being a research assistant in the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law and editing the center's publication, the Silha Bulletin.
"When you're going back and forth between East Bank and West Bank, you want to make sure you're keeping up with all of your friends and fellow students in both programs," Miller said. "It's really important to me that I'm spending time in the journalism school and participating in the graduate student culture there as well as making sure that I'm doing the same thing at the Law School."
As the first ever student to go through the program, Miller also faced the challenge of solving problems that had never been dealt with before and acting as a "guinea pig" when it came to figuring out how the program operates.
This past September, the program gained its second student. Cassandra Batchelder came from the University of Missouri in Columbia, where she received her undergraduate degree in journalism. It wasn't until her first year in the U of M's Law School that she heard about the dual degree program and decided to apply.
Since she was accepted, Batchelder has relied on Miller to help her through similar challenges to those Miller faced as the program's pioneer. The two have even started the Media Law Society in the Law School to attract students who share their interests and are curious about the legal side of journalism.
"I would not be a functioning human being without Holly Miller," Batchelder joked. "She and Dr. Sanders have provided me with so much guidance and support in terms of what classes to take and just providing really great insight on what the program looks like and how to succeed."
Although Sanders hopes to see the program grow, she is adamant about being conscientious of resources in the journalism school and making sure each student seeking this dual degree gets the attention they need.
"We're not going to have 50 people in this program at any one time," Sanders said. "You have to gauge the demand of the program with what the market needs, and right now, this kind of program can give students a competitive edge in the job market. So it's a pretty good time to have this program developing."
For both students in the program, their dual degree has been a selling point in job interviews. Miller has accepted a job with Faegre Baker Daniels upon graduation and Batchelder plans to work for Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi next summer.