Thursday, September 24, 2009

American Spectator: Death of A&M J-school 'sensible clean-up'

In an article today about "BS degrees," or fields of study which don't prepare you for anything in particular but just mill out students who have illustrated they can jump through academic hoops, the American Spectator's Alec Mouhibian writes about the death of the journalism department at Texas A&M.

His actual facts are pretty straight, though like most people, Mouhibian does not mention that tightening requirements and expanding faculty were recommended as viable, even preferred, alternatives to closing it. It wouldn't have been a "BS degree" if they'd done so. Instead, the stigma of the department being shut down is a huge problem for the current program.

Here's Mouhibian:

A typical symptom of the (BS degree) problem rose to the surface at Texas A&M in 2003, when a budget cut prompted scrutiny of its journalism department. Over 1,000 students were enrolled in the booming program. Yet the student newspaper couldn't recruit. No more than a tenth of those students, it turned out, had any interest in journalism. The rest were rejects from business.

"It was perceived as an easy degree," learned Charles Johnson, A&M's dean of Letters and Science. "The students were not too strong."

Whiff thusly caught, Johnson swung for the spray. He closed the department, relocated the faculty, and converted the program to an interdisciplinary minor to go along with study in a prospective beat. Enrollment dropped to 50, all of them committed. The sensible clean-up job ended up dooming Mr. Johnson's candidacy last year for the provost opening at American University, home to a robust journalism program on which its journalism professors pride themselves. They thought it reflected an out-of-touch, fuddy-duddy view of journalism as mere craft -- as opposed to a "way of thinking," defined by "strategic communications" -- and therefore a direct threat to its survival as a specialized academic discipline.


Unknown said...

If anyone remotely familiar with death of the A&M Journalism Department bothers to read the rest of Mr. Mouhibian's American Spectator article, they will quickly realize that he only talked to Dean Charles Johnson and didn't bother with the facts. Journalism didn't die because of budget cuts. It died from years of inattention to its problems and failure to properly control its enrollment and fund its programs. The desire to put the money in pet programs spelled doom for Journalism. Is there a need to re-establish a quality journalism department at Texas A&M? Definitely! All anyone needs to do is look at articles in papers all across this country to see that accuracy and objectivity have been sacrificed to the Gods of speed and brevity. I may have still needed a good bit of OJT when I finished in the mid-1960s, but I had the basics down pat. These included covering all the information available in an unbiased manner and giving the reader enough information on which to base an informed decision.
Jerry Cooper
A&M Journalism '63

Edwin Simmons said...

Johnson is a lying weasel. The department fell into disarray on his watch. Glad to see he's already getting payback for his actions.