Indiana University

Indiana University School of Journalism

Journalism Alumni Board letter to IU Trustees, Oct. 14, 2013

A letter from Alumni Board members to the trustees
Oct. 14, 2013

The following letter was sent to members of the Board of Trustees on Monday on the proposed merger.

Dear Trustee,
We, the members of the Indiana University School of Journalism Alumni Board, would like to offer our conditional support for the proposal now before you to merge the School of Journalism with the Department of Telecommunications and a portion of Communication and Culture.

We offer this conditional support in part because the academic proposal released last month offers a superior vision for the merger than the original discussion late last year and this spring. We were also heartened by the Memorandum of Understanding reached between the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Journalism that will guarantee the preservation of key programs through the formative years of the new school.

Writing and editing have long been the backbone of the School of Journalism as evidenced by its unprecedented run in the Hearst Awards, including Charlie Scudder’s win this summer in the national writing competition.

Still, we recognize the School of Journalism has several areas in need of improvement, and the merger offers exciting new opportunities for collaboration that would augment current offerings.

For example, the proposed merger with Telecommunications, combined with new collaborative outreach to the School of Informatics and Computing, could bolster the school’s digital and visual offerings, and the vision outlined in the academic proposal suggests a revamped curriculum to better attune students to the rapidly changing technology in our fields. What’s more, the units each have strengths that could benefit a merged program, and some of the high scholarly producers in the other units would be a clear asset.

The academic proposal envisions a more flexible education for students, including online opportunities, as well as new possibilities such as documentary filmmaking with the addition of the Film Studies program.

The School of Journalism has seen significant faculty turnover in recent years through retirements, and the proposal advocates the addition of 15 tenure track faculty and nine professors of practice over the three academic years beginning in 2014-15. This is an important opportunity to hire top scholars and practitioners into the new school.

Journalism has also outgrown Ernie Pyle Hall, and a renovated Franklin Hall could offer a significant upgrade to the facilities the program now enjoys. Some alumni have expressed concern leaving its current home means Journalism will lose its connection to Pyle. But we’ve also been promised he will be honored in a significant manner with the new school, which many of us consider a symbolic and yet critical link to the foundation on which our program was built: reporting, writing, editing and storytelling.

The proposed school could also create a new focus on entrepreneurial thinking that could help address many of the issues now facing our industries.

Though the academic proposal outlined some exciting developments, many of us were disappointed it failed to place more of an emphasis on continuing to stress those core skills that reporters and communicators need regardless of the medium used to deliver that content, things like reporting, accuracy and ethics.

But in our meeting with Provost Lauren Robel, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Larry Singell and Interim Journalism Dean Lesa Hatley Major, we were promised those skills would still be the foundation of the new school.

We were also promised the dean of the new school will have significant autonomy and will sit at the table with other deans as an equal. We consider the new dean to be key in ensuring the school’s success and believe that autonomy will be significant in attracting the best candidates possible.

We were promised “tough” discussions are ongoing to determine which pieces of the three disciplines will be included in the new school. We believe the school needs to maintain a balance of professional and academic pursuits, and only those willing to embrace that approach should be included.

We were promised the associate dean will have a Journalism background, a key decision that we believe will ensure the program’s place in the new school. Many of us have had deep concerns Journalism would be swallowed up by the other two programs from the College. But pulling in only the pieces of Communication and Culture that fit in the new school and selecting an associate dean from Journalism will help maintain its prominence.

Our support is contingent upon these promises being kept because we continue to have concerns about the proposal now before you. The academic proposal offers a vision for the new school. But it does not lay out specifics on how the university will live up to its promises, and our conditional support is a sign of faith those pledges will be kept.

We are not unanimous in our view of the proposed name, The Media School. While some believe it captures a forward-looking program, others see it as a de-emphasis of Journalism and believe the school must embrace an alternative such as The School of Journalism and Media to maintain the identity the program has had for more than 100 years.

We continue to have questions about the finances of the new school. The academic proposal projects revenue of $23 million in year three, but an initial base budget of $18.6 million. The disparity between the two numbers remains unclear and the financial commitment in the formative years of the school undefined.

Most important, many of us believe this new school would be best positioned to succeed if it were independent of the College of Arts and Sciences. While we understand the provost’s rationale for putting the new school under the College’s umbrella, some of us fear it could be an impediment to the school meeting its potential. We hope that a successful school will prove itself worthy of independence in the future.

Some of us have already attended national conferences in which colleagues from other institutions have expressed disappointment in what they see as a de-emphasis of Journalism at Indiana University and an attempt to dismantle a program with a long tradition of excellence. Many of us hear from alumni who are waiting to be brought back on board to a school that they loved and hope will move in a positive direction with this new merger.

The university needs to aggressively combat the perception that Journalism is dying at IU and work to win back those alumni whose support we lost or are in the process of losing. Alumni and friends of the School of Journalism need something to rally behind and assurances the merged school will be distinctive and well-run. We believe recruiting a strong dean with a journalism background and quickly determining specifics on the new school’s direction could provide them the assurances they need to return to the fold.

The university also needs to ensure all parties embrace this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape Journalism at IU. If successful, the new school could serve as a model for other universities grappling with the future of journalism education.

Thus, we encourage your conditional approval of the proposed merger before you with caveats. We believe you should set benchmarks for the university to ensure the new school is truly groundbreaking. We also believe you should require the university to report back in six months for a final review to make sure the new school meets its full potential.

We believe those benchmarks should include:
  • a clear financial plan for the first five years of the school.
  • parameters of the autonomy that will be afforded to new dean.
  • an outline of the curriculum that will match the vision for a school that marries teaching the latest technology with the needed core skills.
  • an overview of the remodel for Franklin Hall, including a plan to house student media in the building in an environment that creates the opportunity for collaboration.
Considering the $21 million investment the state of Indiana is prepared to make in the remodel of Franklin Hall, the millions slated for the new school’s budget and the future of journalism education in Indiana, we believe such a review would meet your due diligence as trustees.

We also have faith that university officials will live up to the promises they have made to us and would easily meet any standards you would set. We remain excited, hopeful and, as good journalists, cautious and waiting for the details.

Respectfully,
  • President JR Ross BAJ’96, editor, WisPolitics.com
  • Treasurer Andy Hall BA’82, executive director and reporter, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
  • Secretary Millie Martin Emery BAJ’00, special content editor, The (Richmond, Ind.) Palladium-Item
  • Past President Sherri (Burrell) Monteith BA’79, public policy manager, American Electric Power
  • Brooke Barnett MA’95, PhD’01, interim associate provost Inclusive Community and School of Communications professor, Elon University
  • Marjorie (Smith) Blewett BA’48, retired placement director, Indiana University
  • Del Brinkman MA’63, PhD’71, retired journalism dean, universities of Kansas and Colorado
  • Larry Buchanan BAJ ‘11, graphics editor, New York Times
  • Shawn Chen BAJ’99, multimedia editor, The Associated Press
  • Gary Doyle BA’84, vice president and group creative director, Cramer-Krasselt
  • Adrienne (Ward) Fawcett BA’85, editor, Gazebonews.com
  • Ben French BAJ ’98, executive director of New Products, New York Times
  • Michelle M. Hipskind, BAJ ’86, associate planner, Shelton Financial Group
  • Sarah (Baker) Illingworth BAJ’04
  • Jim Lang BAJ’93, MA ’99, English and journalism teacher, Floyd Central High School
  • Charles Lichtman BA’77, attorney and partner, Berger Singerman
  • James Polk BA’64, senior documentary producer, CNN
  • Howard Riefs BAJ’93, director of corporate communications, Sears Holdings Corp.
  • Carrie Ritchie BAJ’08, reporter, The Indianapolis Star
  • Amy Wimmer Schwarb BAJ ’96, editor, NCAA Champion magazine
  • Marty Steffens BA’78, professor and SABEW chair in Business and Financial Journalism, University of Missouri School of Journalism
  • Jeff Vrabel BAJ ’97, writer/editor Nickelodeon