Journalism faculty members stress relevancy before advisory committee

First forum launches conversation about SJMC's future at CU-Boulder

Professors from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder spoke passionately Tuesday, Sept. 7, about their educational and research mission to a committee of five faculty members who will help determine the fate of the school.

Members of the Academic Review and Planning Advisory Committee (ARPAC), who are beginning the process of program discontinuance, heard professors defend the school and their positions as relevant to the region, students and businesses despite market forces that have shaken the journalism industry.

On Aug. 24, CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano called for the discontinuance process to begin based on strategic and budgetary criteria. He also called for an exploratory committee to study a new program "for information and communication technology (ICT) that would enhance the quality of education that we offer to our undergraduate and graduate students."

About 35 people attended the first in a series of public forums ARPAC .... In October, the group will deliberate and prepare recommendations for the chancellor, who will then have 30 days to review the documents and make a recommendation to CU President Bruce D. Benson.

Several speakers, including Andrew Calabrese, professor and associate dean of graduate studies, said he understood the administrative decision to begin discontinuance. (The university must make the move as a part of the policy of program discontinuance before it can revamp the school or move tenured faculty to another department or school on campus.)

But he and others argued that the traditional journalism school was important in the local, national and global arenas. He acknowledged that the school is "not as well-integrated with other areas of the campus."

SJMC Dean Paul Voakes said last week that the changing media landscape has exposed the inertia that happens at universities.

"We live in silos right now and it's hurting our students to not be able to take as much business or applied technology as they need. There are so many things that go into the skill set of journalists now. In (SJMC) now, you are pretty much limited in curricular offerings," Voakes said. "We can do the best we can to integrate technology in the courses we teach, but you would be so much more empowering to the students if they have coursework in those parts of computer science that make sense for media people, for example."

Michael Tracey, a professor at the school since 1988, said faculty argued for a revamp of the school in 1989, but nothing came of it.

"You are pushing an open door," he told the committee. "We agree (with the process) if it is done in a positive manner."

A year ago, the College of Information Task Force was formed to consider options concerning the school. Thereport focused on technological advances and the production of information and focused little on traditional journalism, which has caused concern among the faculty.

During his 22 years with the school, Tracey said, the faculty has maintained its mission of research and preparing graduates with skill sets to obtain jobs. Throughout the years, he said, those skill sets have changed and the school has provided classes to accommodate undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students.

Professor Stewart Hoover, whose research focuses on media audiences, said he has partnered with professors in sister disciplines and is convinced of the importance of scholarship on the media. Focusing only on new media aspects of communications would be akin to the university in 1905 saying there needed to be "a department of the typewriter," he said.

ARPAC must focus on nine required issues for consideration of discontinuance, including the "uniqueness of the program to the state, CU system and the relevant geographic area."

Mindy Cheval, a senior instructor in the advertising sequence, said the school's program is the largest in the region and one of the strongest in the nation. It continually places graduates in good jobs and develops innovative entities, including Boulder Digital Works, which is self-funding and brings about $60,000 each year to the university.

Educators also cited other contributions of the school, including the Center for Environmental Journalism, which has received national and world renown; the strength of the internship program, which provides hires to numerous media outlets throughout the state; and the Ph.D. program, which is one of only two in the region.

Tracey said teaching values of journalism, ethics and critical thinking is imperative to a free and open democratic society. "It should not be about the bottom line. Edward R. Murrow could not be able to survive today," given the market forces.

One member of the committee told the group: "You had to know this was coming. How did you find yourself in this position?"

"We have a perfect storm here," said Professor Meg Moritz, adding that schools across the country are facing the same struggles.

She also believes other factors have played into the decision to initiate discontinuance. She said CU is under budget constraints and the faculty has heard the mantra "cut narrow and deep" over and over. "As a small entity, we knew we were vulnerable."

At the same time the College of Information Task Force report was released in April, DiStefano received a letter from the external Advisory Committee of SJMC suggesting that change was needed and that the school be closed. Doug Looney, a CU alumnus and chairman of the board, called the school and its faculty and staff "dysfunctional" and, essentially, out of date. He has criticized the school for decisions concerning the CU Independent student news website and other faculty issues.

Calabrese said the impression put forth in the media was incorrect and said the comments were made with "singular ignorance and malice toward the school."

Faculty members at SJMC are preparing a document addressing ARPAC's issues for consideration. Another faculty forum was set to be held today; students will have a chance to speak to the committee Sept. 14 and 15. Additional comments may be sent to


What's being considered

The Academic Review and Planning Advisory Committee (ARPAC) has begun the process of program discontinuance for CU-Boulder's School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC). Members of the committee must deliberate these issues as required by university policy:

1. Centrality of the program to the campus mission;
2. Role of the program in the campus or college strategic plan (academic master plan);
3. Ability of the program to enhance the campus's reputation in the state and nation;
4. Excellence of the program or its promise for future excellence in teaching, research or both;
5. Cost of investing in the program to achieve and maintain excellence;
6. Uniqueness of the program to the state, CU system and the relevant geographic area;
7. Marketplace demand for the program;
8. The program's contribution to campus diversity, and;
9. Program's role in supporting other key programs at the campus.