Report expected to call off speech, J-School merger

by Chris Hamilton

and Nancy Ngo

On the eve of a proposed marriage between the speech and journalism departments, the minister called off the wedding — asking the bride and groom to part as just friends.
In a report to be released to the Legislature today, College of Liberal Arts Dean Steve Rosenstone is expected to call off the merger of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Department of Speech-Communication.
The decision goes against the recommendation of a Communications Studies Task Force report issued in December, but agrees with faculty sentiments from both departments.
“Presuming the report comes out and the merger isn’t a part of it, which I think it won’t be — I think it is a wise decision on the dean’s part,” said Edward Schiappa, an associate professor in speech-communication and task force member. “Shotgun weddings in academic programs can be disastrous.”
The report has been confirmed by sources close to the dean.
In a Jan. 12 letter addressed to Rosenstone, faculty members from both departments expressed their disapproval with the merger portion of the task force mission.
“There are lots of issues related to a merger that we don’t like,” said Albert Tims, acting director of the journalism school. “We can’t give close examination because of the time constraint.”
Journalism professor Don Gillmor said that if the two departments combined, students would actually have less access to either program. In CLA, only 25 percent of classes can be taken in a major, he said. That means there would be less room in a speech student’s academic plan to take a related course outside of their major and in journalism.
Task force members agree that the two departments have very different focuses. Speech is more research oriented, while journalism emphasizes professional outreach.
“There was overwhelming support that a merger was not in the best interest of both departments,” said Karlyn Campbell, a professor in the speech-communications department.
Failures to combine programs at other schools, such as Ohio State University and the University of Oregon, also played a factor in the decision, said Linda McDonnell, a task force member who works at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. She said the dean informed her of the decision last Friday.
Rosenstone could not be reached over the weekend for comment.
Without the merger, task force members said their three-month fact-finding mission was still successful. And faculty members approved of the technology and interdisciplinary projects in the proposal.
“The plans are still pretty solid to move ahead with the media initiative,” said Robert Bruininks, executive vice president and provost.
An Institute for New Media Studies, to keep pace with changes in communications technology, will be included in the capital budget request to the Legislature this session. The institute will most likely be used by both departments. Details about the new alliance are unavailable at this time, Bruininks said.
The plan entails a $9 million renovation of Murphy Hall. The institute would include training such as video production. Administrators want movable walls for makeshift classrooms and studio space. A library resource center is also part of the plan.
Rosenstone will make the final decision on how money will be allocated between the two different departments. Journalism professors said they want to see funding go toward the hiring of nine to 11 new full-time faculty members.
Half of the courses in the journalism department are taught by adjunct faculty members and graduate students, Tims said.