CU-Boulder to study restructuring of journalism program

Plan reflects shifting landscape of traditional news, demand for digital communicators
By Staff

An exploratory committee will study how the University of Colorado at Boulder can improve the way it educates communicators amid industry shifts that have closed major newspapers, spurred the advent of online citizen journalism and fundamentally changed the way media outlets cover the news.

At the same time, the university's Academic Review and Planning Advisory Committee, or ARPAC, will initiate a process of program discontinuance of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, or SJMC.

Campus administrators today announced a plan to establish the exploratory committee and initiate the program discontinuance process after meeting with SJMC Dean Paul Voakes and faculty members. The plan is based on strategic efforts to streamline budgets, improve efficiency and create interdisciplinary academic programs that meet the needs of students raised in the multimedia digital era, Chancellor Phil DiStefano said.

"We want to strategically realign resources and strengths currently existing on the CU-Boulder campus to ensure that course and degree offerings meet the needs of students, the labor market, our campus mission and the communications needs of a rapidly changing global society," DiStefano said. "News and communications transmission as well as the role of the press and journalism in a democratic society are changing at a tremendous pace. We must change with it."

The exploratory committee is expected to forward its recommendations to the provost by the end of the fall semester. Regardless of what recommendations emerge from the committees, the chancellor said all undergraduate and graduate students who have been admitted to the journalism school will be able to complete their degrees.

Interim Provost Russell Moore said it was necessary to put the SJMC through a formal evaluation process before creating a new program or deciding how the school might change.

"Changes to any academic program with tenured faculty must follow the Regent Policy on Program Discontinuance," Moore said.

Before today's announcement, DiStefano met with Voakes, and Moore met with faculty to explain the campus's vision for a new program that combines information and communication technology. The idea, which has been discussed at CU-Boulder for years, already has been adopted at peer institutions and other universities.

Voakes said journalism professors remained in the meeting for another 40 minutes after the official announcement by Moore and Jeffrey Cox, associate vice chancellor for faculty affairs, and that "the overall sense was not that the sky was falling."

"This is an affirmation of what we've been talking about, easily, for the past year and a half," Voakes said. "Better than that, it is a clear path to implement something that could be truly transformative."

In recent years, Voakes said, much has been made in the media about schools making bold, new, interdisciplinary moves and transformative changes.

"But if you look around the country at journalism and communication programs, you see that everybody is struggling with the inertia of academic bureaucracy," he said. "And it's been lifted for us. We have this looming window of opportunity."

More than 30 schools and colleges across the nation have responded to the changing media and digital communications landscape, including programs at the University of California-Berkeley, Washington, Rutgers, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Michigan and Wisconsin, Moore said.

DiStefano said top journalism schools are acknowledging the critical roles that the press and journalism have played in our democracy while still approaching information and communication technology broadly.

"This visionary work is consistent with who we are as Colorado's flagship university," he said. "This action lives up to the promise of our Flagship 2030 Strategic Plan to give students the tools for success in their careers."

Last year, the College of Information Task Force was charged with examining a new educational model and presented its report to then-Interim Provost Stein Sture on April 15, 2010. The group made several recommendations, but did not address the future of the SJMC.

The program discontinuance process is expected to begin Wednesday, Sept. 1; a report from ARPAC will be due to the provost within 60 days. The provost will review the report and make recommendations to the chancellor 30 days later. The exploratory committee's recommendation and the ARPAC report will be considered by the chancellor for a decision and recommendation to the Board of Regents sometime in early 2011.

Meanwhile, ARPAC will host a series of open forums for faculty, staff and students who have questions on the program-discontinuance process.

Open forums for faculty are set for noon-1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, and Wednesday, Sept. 8, in Room 235 at the University Memorial Center.

Open forums for SJMC students will be 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, and noon-2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15, in UMC 235.

A meeting for staff is set to take place in the Armory, but details are not yet set.