It is never easy to take an unpopular stand or to recommend controversial actionÄ even when it's the right thing to do. But at a time when the university must "do more with less and do it better," restructuring the educational experience is the right thing for students at the University of Arizona. Indeed, by taking the step of recommending closing departments, including journalism, we hope to find that closing the door on one world will open it to a new world of possibilities.
Our goal is to design and promote an education for UA students that prepares them for a rapidly changing and complex future. To this end, we are in the process of making a number of changes that are intended to improve the undergraduate experience by providing a foundation of knowledge that prepares the graduate for life-long learning that will be needed through several career changes. Change also describes the past two years at the UA. During this period of time, several committees made recommendations about changes we must make.
It is important to know the background for my decision to support the recommendation to close the journalism department among others, and to seek new educational experiences for UA students. The UA Department of Journalism boasts numerous graduates of remarkable accomplishmentÄ including three graduates who were honored with the Pulitzer Prize for their work. The Department of Journalism established programs to serve the state's minority population well before these efforts became widespread. In the past six months, I have received more than 1,000 letters from proud journalism alumni, employers and others.
I take no pleasure in supporting the recommendation that the Department of Journalism in its present form be closed. But it must be done. It would be easy to say that this decision was solely budget-driven. For example, the university has had its state budget reduced by $40 million in the past four years, has laid off more than 300 staff members, lost approximately 200 faculty positions and accumulated a debt of $85 million in deferred maintenance. We are committed to reallocating our resources, restructuring campus administration, eliminating duplication and are in the process of evaluating all of our programs. During the process we have managed to maintain high-quality education, enriched our student experience and have competed more effectively than ever before for scarce federal research and education dollars. But there's more to this situation than budgetary constraints.
As we move into the next century, the university intends to be at the forefront of education research and serviceÄ and our responsibility is to prepare our students for the world in which they will work and live. Many of our programs already claim this distinction. However, according to a recent review by an external accreditation group, the journalism curriculum was criticized for being too focused on print journalism to the exclusion of broadcast journalism. (This, in an age when newspapers are a primary news source for only an estimated 12 percent of the American public.) The journalism faculty was criticized for being too focused on newspaper production at the expense of discovering new knowledge. Finally, the department was criticized for not paying enough attention to exposing students to technological innovations, such as computer-assisted reporting, for gathering and analysis of the news. An internal review, and numerous consultations with professionals knowledgeable in the field, were similarly critical.
These reports don't mean that we throw out the honorable traditions and sound foundation of the past. Indeed, this tradition makes it all the more imperative for the university to open the door and explore the world of information sciences and technology.
The issues surrounding journalism suggest a course of future action for the university. A part of my recommendations to the president is that we appoint a commission to study current UA strengths in information and communication science and to make recommendations for future development by assessing the directions and needs of this area into the next century.
I have made this recommendation recognizing that the university cannot at this time begin a major build-out in this area but with the belief that we currently have foundations in place. In making this recommendation, I would urge the commission to make recommendations that position the university, and our graduates, for a rapidly changing future. Certainly the best opportunities will come to those graduates with broad educational foundations that will allow for professional growth.
The University of Arizona is a great university and I am proud to be an alumnus. As one who grew up in this state and was educated here through two university degrees, I am grateful to the taxpayers who have seen to it that Arizona has fine institutions of higher education. But the good times of bountiful budgets are over. The American public now demands more quality for less money. Those of us dedicated to public education will respond to this need, as we have responded to other national needs in the past. These responses will involve complex issues requiring our collective experience and judgment. We have an exciting and challenging opportunity to create a new model that incorporates the education of future journalists into a broad-based information sciences program that will serve our students more effectively as they pursue their chosen professions.
Paul Sypherd is Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of the University of Arizona.
Read Next Article