-School banking on new funding

Chris Hamilton

Editor’s note: This article is the second in a two-part series about the University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and plans for its future.

As the School of Journalism and Mass Communication nimbly balances on a tightrope, 201 legislators will soon decide whether it falls safely into a net or on top of the audience.
After 20 years of steady decline in faculty numbers and funding, the once-prestigious school stands on the verge of collapse — or a $23 million reinvigoration.
This session, the Legislature could allocate more money to the school to shore up its curriculum, rebuild its facilities and invest in new equipment and programs.
Without these funds, Steven Rosenstone, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said he has no “Plan B” for supporting the school.
“Take it as a threat or as a statement of fact,” said Al Tims, interim director of the journalism school. “He can’t dig into his magic pocket and give us funds.”
But the school that produced national television broadcasters Eric Sevareid and Harry Reasoner didn’t find itself in this predicament overnight.

Looking ahead
In 1977, two years after receiving the top ranking in a Carnegie Mellon survey, the school faced its first real economic hardships. Enrollment hit an all-time high. The school’s 854 students, the largest number in CLA, were clogging its effectiveness. The ratio of faculty to student was 28-to-1, also the highest in CLA.
In less than a decade the school lost six faculty, dropping the total to 18. Administrators struggled with finding funds to replace another batch of retiring professors.
And despite a $2 million donation, Robert L. Jones, then-director of the school, told the Daily, “There is little doubt that the School of Journalism is in difficulty matching student needs and resources now available.”
To deal with the deluge of students in 1976, the school began an admissions program. Prospective students needed to declare a pre-major, fill out applications and pass English proficiency tests. They also had to prove typing skills, write a letter of intent and have a 2.5 grade point average. Today’s students average a 3.2 GPA, Tims said.
But the admissions process didn’t significantly reduce the number of students. It only managed to keep student enrollment at the status quo. Even today, there are 750 majors and pre-majors in journalism, along with 70 graduate students. And the number of graduate students shrank by 60 percent in the last two years due to the elimination of the professional journalism master’s degree.
The mass of students, lack of faculty and number of administrative duties affects the school’s ability to properly serve its students, according to a 1976 internal report. And with today’s number of faculty at 13, some professors said this stands true today.
Most professors are proud to point out that their school is the only one in CLA with individualized advising. But when professors are spread thin, something must give. They advise up to 60 students each, conduct and publish research, sit on numerous faculty and student committees and teach several classes.
“There’s just such a wide range of things needed to be done,” said Ken Doyle, an advertising professor. “I need to get my bills paid automatically so the lights don’t get shut off,” he said.

Faculty Fights and Cut Backs
Toward the end of the 1970s, Nils Hasselmo, then-CLA associate dean and future president, said he’d make the school a “top priority.”
Under the leadership of Gerald Kline, then-director of the school, faculty numbers rose to 21 by 1981. Eventually, computers and television broadcast equipment found its way into Murphy Hall, where the school is housed.
But Hasselmo’s efforts didn’t stick. He headed a list of future CLA deans and associate deans who would make promises that were never fully acted upon.
The complacency of administration toward journalism lasted until Rosenstone came along, said Don Gillmor, a 33-year journalism professor. “He’s the first dean in more than a decade to pay any attention to us,” he said.
But CLA also had its own funding problems. The University spent 20 to 25 percent less on liberal arts than other major public universities, according to a 1989 Update article.
In the last 15 years, CLA funding was cut by 22 percent and faculty decreased by 20 percent. The number of journalism professors went down by five.
“If I had to describe my time here in one word, it would be `retrenchment,'” said Nancy Roberts a journalism professor since 1978.
Professor Bill Babcock said he understands the retrenchment, but he doesn’t like administration hesitancy to support the school with the CLA’s highest endowment at $18 million and second-largest enrollment.
“It doesn’t take a genius to realize we are getting bled to death because we’re a cash cow,” he said. “It’s a wonderful financial move if you don’t care about quality.”
Lack of funding, outdated equipment, leadership problems and faculty dissension with gender undercurrents caused accreditation problems for the school in the late 1980s.
MaryAnn Yodelis Smith took over as director of the school in 1986. Three years later she was fired, and the school was put on a one-year provisional accreditation by the Accreditation Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
However, the team applauded the school’s curriculum, scholarships and students. The quality of instructors’ teaching and research was also highlighted.
But problems were found in faculty harmony. Certain faculty votes fell along gender lines and female professors felt like second-class citizens, said Dan Wackman, the professor who took over as director after Smith.
Roberts said the gender issue was blown out of proportion. She said the fights were among all faculty members. How to use what little funding the school had was at the heart of the debates.
“That’s what happens when you throw a piece of cheese in front of a bunch of hungry rats,” Roberts said. She added the dissension in journalism is no different than in any other department.
After Wackman stepped in and procured almost $1 million in CLA funds for faculty and equipment, the school earned back its accreditation. He wouldn’t take the job without the money.
But the celebration didn’t last for long. Officials from CLA demanded the school cut back again after going on another accreditation probation in 1994. The evaluating team cited similar problems and applauded the same strengths. Soon after, Wackman resigned as director.
In 1995, Interim Director Robert Scott, a professor in Speech-Communications, and faculty began slicing up programs. Studio broadcasting, photojournalism and the professional journalism master’s degree were eliminated for cost-effectiveness reasons. Curriculum changes followed, including the reduction of classes.
Later that year, the school regained its full accreditation.

Into the Future
Some journalism professors and University officials downplay the effect the probations had on the school’s national reputation. Instead, many cite the success enjoyed by the doctoral program or Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law.
Despite the problems, the school had more applications than ever this year, Tims said. But many students said they resent the results of the cutbacks on their education.
“I didn’t expect it to be like this at all,” said Lisa Crowell, a junior who came to the school to study television broadcasting. “I expected more than this from a Big Ten school. I had better equipment in my high school.”
That’s why students like sophomore Domenic Cossi advocate the legislative request.
“I think the journalism school is at a crucial point here,” he said. “If they don’t get the money then they don’t have a shot at the future.”
Tims is betting the school’s future on the legislators’ decision. Without the money, “there will be cuts made and we don’t want to be left on the floor,” Tims said. “If we don’t get the funding, then there’s no getting in line for money next year.”
Tims said the strategy for marketing the journalism school to the Legislature is still a difficult undertaking. But University President Mark Yudof emphasizes that the Twin Cities is the country’s fifth-largest media market. The formation of partnerships and promoting the initiative as an economic engine for the state is key to its approval.
Part of the school’s budget request includes a New Media Institute based on New York University’s Center for Advanced Technology. The interdisciplinary research center works with companies such as Disney, Sony and IBM. School and corporate researchers develop media products in unison. The university offers its technology and staff at reduced prices. In exchange for attracting businesses, the state subsidizes the center.
Tims said he hopes the state realizes the potential of new media and what the school can contribute to the state. He’s hard-pressed to identify groups who’d object to the proposal.
“I don’t think there’s a Go Back to the Typewriter Coalition,” he said.

— Chris Hamilton is a senior in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication

— Chris Trejbal, staff librarian, contributed to this report