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Journalism faces tough decision

Ryan Johnson
By Ryan Johnson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 10, 2005
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Paul Johnson had no other options. Faced with 12 seniors who would not be able to graduate because they couldn't get a seat in a required course, the senior academic adviser for the department of journalism sent out a desperate plea.

"I am appealing to those of you who don't need the course immediately to give up your seats so others can graduate on time," his e-mail asked.

Predictably, his e-mail only generated three kind souls, and without a drastic event, the journalism department will once again fail to graduate all of its students.

Welcome to the sad state of the UA journalism department. Since 2000, the number of students in the major has gone from 335 to 670, but it still has the same number of faculty and has not received new funding.

But rather than combat rising demand for classes, the department has seemingly ignored the problem, crippling students' hopes of graduating with a degree in journalism.

Tomorrow the faculty and advisers will be getting together to discuss the challenges facing the department, so it's time to carefully assess them and the options it has to solve them, both on a short-term and long-term basis.

How can an explosion in interest for the major be a bad thing? Shouldn't the department be happy that it is once again riding a wave of popularity similar to what the field experienced in the wake of "Deep Throat"?

Not exactly. The main reasons that the department has seen its demand swell are not good.

The first reason is the restrictions faced by students in other areas of the university. Similar majors like communication and media arts have begun restricting students, forcing more to journalism. That journalism gives out a higher average grade point average than communication, according to Johnson, doesn't help the matter.

All of the options are bad, but not as bad as not choosing any one of them.

Also, the journalism minor was eliminated in 2003, causing more would-be minors to declare journalism as a major or second major.

The first option is naturally to restrict enrollment. Other colleges such as the Eller College of Management have effectively done this, for better or for worse.

Why hasn't the journalism department already done this? According to Johnson, it is a long and drawn-out process to receive approval for such a policy. However, every year it waits to begin the process means one more year tacked on to the end.

What about a GPA minimum, forcing students who can't even hold a decent GPA in general education classes to find a different major? This encourages grade inflation in the university, but it's at least something.

What about making classes larger? This simple solution, which is available to so many departments, is not an answer for journalism because the department is accredited through the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, which caps reporting classes at 20 students.

With six out of the nine required courses for journalism majors being reporting courses, it's easy to see why the reporting courses consume what Johnson calls the "vast majority" of department resources.

There are two ways around this problem. The first is to make one of the six reporting courses into a nonreporting course, allowing larger sections. Johnson says this is not an option, and that the faculty will not sacrifice its curriculum.

What then, about forgoing accreditation in the short term? It would allow for reporting classes to have more than 20 students. Johnson readily admits that accreditation has no practical affect on students, other than as a signaling mechanism to graduate schools and employers.

Wouldn't students be better off being able to graduate than to have some trivial accreditation attached to their degree? Indeed, Arizona State University's journalism department lost accreditation this year, with no noticeable effect.

Obviously, all of the options are bad, but not as bad as not choosing any one of them. Simply whining for more funds is not an answer.

The problems are mostly short-term; Johnson says two full-time faculty members will be added for fall 2006 and another one for fall 2007, increasing the faculty by 50 percent.

But students who need to graduate now deserve better. Make a change tomorrow, journalism department.

Ryan Johnson is a senior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at

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