CU journalism school to close June 30: Read critics' take on why it's a bad idea

Last August, CU journalism school dean Paul Voakes insisted that reports about the impending death of the J-school were hysterical and premature. Not anymore. Yesterday, at the urging of CU prez Bruce Benson, regents voted for a shutdown by a 5-4 vote -- one closer than anticipated, but no less conclusive. This edict will be effective June 30 -- the same day Voakes's resignation, announced last November, becomes official.

CU officials insist that their implementation of what they're referring to as a "Journalism-plus" program -- nice spin, guys -- shouldn't be interpreted as a dismissal of the vocation's importance or relevance. However, students will no longer be able to get a journalism degree unless they double major.

This shift won't upset Westword alum Jared Jacang Maher, a former CU student who responded to the prospect of the journalism school going away by declaring, "Good riddance." But it upset plenty of other folks, including regents Joe Neguse, Monisha Merchant and Sue Sharkey, who issued an open letter explaining the reason they turned their thumbs down, and the Society of Professional Journalist's Colorado branch. Check out their arguments below.

Dissenting regents' open letter:

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The regents this afternoon voted 5-4 to close the school, effective June 30.

We chose not to support the recommendation from President Benson, because we felt strongly that a formal "program discontinuance" or structural change was not required to meet the changing dynamics of the journalism profession.

According to the School's website, journalism instruction has existed on the Boulder campus for over 100 years, beginning in 1908. In 1962, decades before many of its countless future students were born, the Board of Regents authorized the creation of the School of Journalism.

For 49 years-nearly half a century-the School has provided a quality and first-rate education to generations of journalists across the State of Colorado and our great Nation. Simply put, it has stood the test of time, and though it may be ripe for improvement, closing the School itself for "strategic alignment" purposes was undoubtedly a drastic option.

Discontinuing an academic program of the School's stature is a serious matter. We laud the efforts of Chancellor DiStefano and the volunteers who served on the Journalism Task Force. The open meetings provided an opportunity for the public to express their diverse viewpoints on what they expect from the field of journalism. However, after careful deliberation, we concluded that while the School has room for improvement, it should not be closed.

Make no mistake, "discontinuance" means closure. The Board of Regents was not being asked to authorize a new school that would presumably "align" journalism education with other important disciplines. We were not being asked to create a new "School of Information, Communication, and Media Technology" as described by Provost Moore's ICT committee, nor were we being asked to effectuate the recommendation of the Journalism School's Advisory Board to consolidate the School's curriculum with ATLAS as a "College of News, Information, and Technology." Both proposals were good ones-and had they been before the Board of Regents, perhaps we'd have voted differently.

Unfortunately, they were not. We were instead asked to close the School. As a result of today's vote, the journalism program will no longer be a stand-alone school, but rather, will be housed in the Graduate School on an impermanent basis for an unknown period of time. Thus, the future of CU-Boulder's journalism education, beyond the President's promise that it will continue, is unclear. We commend Chancellor DiStefano, Provost Moore, and the advisory committee for their hard work and commitment to an open, transparent process. However, we simply could not support a road-map that does not tell us (or the students at CU) where we're all going.

Many cited other reasons to close the School of Journalism beyond so-called "strategic realignment." For example, we were told that journalism education should be more practical and involve more experienced professionals in the journalism world. Yet the School's website reveals more than 30 adjunct professors, including editors, reporters, and photographers at some of the Nation's leading publications. Likewise, some told us that journalism education needs to be more rigorous. Hence, the proposed Journalism Plus program will now require students to obtain a dual degree in another field. Whether the idea made sense or not, there is little doubt that few other degrees on the Boulder campus have such a requirement. And while requiring a dual degree and increasing the credit hour requirement were ideas worth pursuing, they were not reason enough to completely shut down the School of Journalism.

In short, we agreed that increasing the credit hour requirement would make the journalism education a more rigorous one. We agreed that requiring students to obtain a dual degree in another major would do the same.

What we did not understand, however, is why we needed to close the School of Journalism to do so.

And for that reason, we voted no.


CU Regent Joe Neguse (2nd Congressional District)

CU Regent Monisha Merchant (7th Congressional District)

CU Regent Sue Sharkey (4th Congressional District)

Society of Professional Journalists Colorado release:

The board of the Colorado Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists responded with disappointment in the University of Colorado Board of Regents' 5-4 vote today to close the university's School of Journalism and Mass Communications. The board previously urged the university to consider strengthening its journalism program, rather than discontinuing it.

"Our position has been that university officials need to ensure their commitment to teaching the basics of reporting, photography and storytelling," said SPJ Colorado President Cara DeGette. "Today we reiterate: The need has never been greater for a vibrant and vigilant press. As journalism programs evolve with new delivery methods and online and other technologies, it's critical that they continue to emphasize reporting skills and ethical standards. The principles of fairness and objectivity, and the journalist's role as a watchdog of government and industry, remain integral to a well-informed electorate and a thriving democracy."

The Society of Professional Journalists is the oldest organization in the nation designed to protect and support journalists and their roles advancing the First Amendment, serving as watchdogs over government and business, and championing justice.

The School of Journalism and Mass Communications at CU has roots dating back 101 years and has turned out some of the best and brightest journalists in the country. It is currently one of 113 in the nation that holds an accredited journalism program. That accreditation is in jeopardy with the current plan to make journalism only a minor, or to be coupled with another degree.

As stated on the School of Journalism's own website: "The importance of the media and their messages is growing at an unprecedented rate."

"Journalists often are the only watchdog at all levels of government to guarantee that the public's business is done in public," said Doug Bell, an SPJ Colorado board member. "Now more than ever we need journalism graduates who are well-schooled in open meetings and open records laws to ensure that citizens have continued access to the people who make decisions that affect their lives."

Noted board secretary Dennis Huspeni, a CU J-school graduate: "I'm saddened that future CU students will not have an opportunity to earn a journalism degree from this institution of higher learning. That degree on my resume has gotten me jobs at several Colorado newspapers and opened the door of opportunity to sustain a 21-year career as a working journalist."

The board urges citizens to let their voices be heard about the regents' decision. A link to their contact information is here: www.cu.edu/regents/RgntsPUB0101.html.

To urge the CU administration to encourage university programs to remain highly committed to teaching the basic tenets of reporting and storytelling, contact them here: www.colorado.edu/administration.

More from our Media archive: "Campus Press Documents, Part 2: The Voakes Report."

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