Nov 182010
Authors: Madeline Novey

Wednesday’s recommendation that CU-Boulder’s journalism school discontinue in its current form came as no surprise to Greg Luft, chair of CSU’s Department of Journalism and Technical Communication.

After CU-Boulder announced in late August that it assigned a committee the task of evaluating the relevancy of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication Luft said it has since been clear the program was at least going to undergo a restructuring, if not close entirely.

“It seemed likely they knew the direction they were headed,” Luft said of Wednesday’s announcement.

The Program Discontinuance Committee, PDC, released Wednesday afternoon a 14-page report that said CU-Boulder should discontinue SJMC in order to permit a “strategic realignment of degree programs, faculty and other resources.”

The report also said the school “is too small to become a truly excellent unit and that resources are not available to support a significant increase in the size of the unit.” It was not because of budgetary concerns that the school was closed.

Luft speculated that in addition to other factors, including tension among the faculty, SJMC was conflicted in its missions.

Like the PDC said in its report, Luft said the school has struggled between providing accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and fulfilling the university’s goals as a Carnegie Foundation-designated Research University institution –– these focus on research and doctoral education.

Luft was not happy that the committee dedicated a section in its report to debate of whether journalism is a trade or a profession. Like biology and mathematics, journalism requires a “deep interpretive skill” set, he said.

He too was upset because the PDC said on page 8 of the report that the only other accredited journalism program in the state is CSU, which “reportedly has a strong public relations program but does not have an advertising or news editorial sequence.” CSU does offer a news-editorial concentration among four others.

Though CSU does not have the capacity to hire any of CU-Boulders’s displaced faculty or students, if the school were to be discontinued, Luft said he hopes CSU’s administration would take this into consideration if the demand were high enough.

Overarchingly, though, Luft was glad to hear the committee strongly recommended continuing journalism at CU-Boulder, even in a different form or under a new school or department umbrella. The report said all of the programs offered through the school will be continued or offered in a “revised form” or within other departments on campus.

“They’re leaving the door open for journalism to continue,” he said.

Joe Champ, an associated professor in CSU’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, said he was saddened to hear Wednesday’s announcement by his doctoral alma mater.

“It was a fabulous program for me,” Champ said, who earned his Ph.D. in media studies from CU-Boulder in 2001. “They instruct you in some ways of thinking about the human experience with media that you don’t find very often in many places in the United States.”

While he would mourn the loss of work for the “high-quality scholars” within SJMC, Champ said closure of the school in its current form would not negatively impact the journalism industry as a whole.

Moving the school under the umbrella of the College of Applied Human Sciences, as the committee suggested in its report, or margining it with other more technologically centric programs would be beneficial, Champ said.

While watching its sister institution go through a bumpy and unclear transition, CSU has not had the ability to experience things as personally as SJMC master’s student Baker Machado.

“It’s definitely been an interesting last couple of months,” said Machado, a former 90.5-KCSU station manager.

After Machado graduated with his bachelor’s degree in speech communication from CSU in 2007, he set out to find a school with a good journalistic reputation. What he found was CU-Boulder’s SJMC.

While he wasn’t surprised by Wednesday’s recommendation to discontinue SJMC, Machado said the entire idea of either closing or revamping the school has been “mindboggling” for students and faculty.

“It’s been phenomenal, absolutely fantastic,” Machado said of his program, which combines studies in broadcast and print journalism.

Graduating in May, Machado said one of the most confusing things about this transition is the question of why the university would risk losing so many talented faculty.

Though the PDC’s report said all tenure and tenure-track faculty would be assigned to other tenure homes, Machado said he has three professors who have already started looking for work.

After the initial announcement of change in August, Machado said there was not as much communication coming down from the administration as he would have liked to see. But now, he said they’re doing a good job of considering student-faculty input and making consistent announcements.

On Wednesday, the SJMC master’s students got an e-mail from Dean Paul Voakes and Assistant Dean Stephen Jones. The message said the PDC’s report does not impact their degrees, adding, “You are guaranteed the courses necessary to complete your Master of Arts degree in journalism.”

Machado said one of the future’s biggest questions is what is going to happen to the school and whether, like rumors going around campus have said, SJMC is only the first of many dominos to fall.

This, however, is not the case for CSU’s journalism program.

Luft said that, under the university’s land-grant mission and President Tony Frank’s leadership, the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication has never come under threat of closure or reassignment. This he credited with the talent of the faculty and quality of their research, and the department’s protection under the umbrella of the College of Liberal Arts.

After considering the Program Discontinuance Committee’s report, CU-Boulder’s Provost Russell Moore will make his recommendation on the PDC’s findings to CU-Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano by Dec. 1. DiStefano then has until Jan. 1 to make a recommendation to CU President Bruce Benson.

Benson then has 30 days before giving his recommendation to the University of Colorado Board of Regents. The board would need to vote to discontinue SJMC or restructure the school, according to the report.

Editor in Chief Madeline Novey can be reached at

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