Media Watch


With full-time professors almost as scarce as Linotype machines, the UA's journalism department has been in danger of losing its academic accreditation. Or so predicted department head Jacquelyn Sharkey, who recently emerged from more than a month of negotiations with UA administrators with assurances that her program would be bulked up enough to pass muster by the time the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications evaluates it in a year and a half.

The talks began with a dramatic challenge. Her ultimatum, according to a memo she wrote to her program's advisory committee: "If the UA administration did not provide the department with a written agreement stating that Journalism could hire two faculty per year during the next four years, I would resign as department head on January 15."

Sharkey extended that deadline to Feb. 7, then let it pass once serious talks were underway with provost George Davis and Edward Donnerstein, dean of the UA's College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Now, Sharkey is settled back into her chair with assurances that she can not only fill some long-open faculty positions, but also begin folding her department and others into an ambitious new college.

"The dean has agreed that the journalism department should be re-built and get the resources it needs to build on its excellent teaching record and develop it research record," Sharkey told me March 6, the day after negotiations ended.

"The problem we've had in the last five years is that our enrollment has grown more than 50 percent at the same time we've had to absorb dramatic budget cuts," said Sharkey. "We ended up this year with a full-time student-to-faculty ratio that was 90 to 1." Specifically, that's five faculty members serving nearly 500 majors and 100 minors. The overwhelmed department had to cap enrollment in the minor last November.

Before negotiations began, Donnerstein had expressed sympathy for the department's plight, but noted that many of the 23 departments under his supervision were in similarly dire straits.

"Our college had to hand back $2.1 million from the budget last year," he said, "primarily by not replacing people who left or retired. Journalism lost lots of faculty, but that's the case across the board."

Acccording to Donnerstein, he and Sharkey had already doubled the salaries of the adjunct instructors, to about $4,000 per course. The adjuncts, who teach more than half the department's classes, are mostly local journalists--including the Tucson Weekly's Jim Nintzel--who do "free-lance" teaching, not joining the UA's full-time staff.

That's much cheaper than paying tenure-track professors, but not what it takes to maintain standing with the accrediting agency, which requires that the majority of courses be taught by faculty. So the new push is to hire full-fledged academics with strong research backgrounds.

Already on the payroll is Alan Weisman, who has reported on Latin America and environmental and political issues for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio. He's one of two half-time faculty members with federal funding to work with students on international journalism. Right now, he and 10 grad students should be in Chile, working on stories on that country's copper, logging and fishing industries.

A half-timer with a Middle Eastern specialty, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting's Maggy Zanger (who contributed to the Weekly in its early years) is slated to teach here in spring 2005.

Sharkey hopes this will be the first step toward joint master's programs with the Latin American and Near Eastern Studies departments in journalism and regional studies and languages.

"The need for international journalists who understand the regions they're covering and can speak the languages of those regions is crucial," she said.

When the federal funding for these positions runs out, a three-year grant from the Department of Education will keep things going, after which the UA will have to pick up the costs.

Right now, the department is in the process of hiring a tenure-track assistant professor, as well as a full-time lecturer on a multiyear contract whose only job is to teach, not to conduct academic research.


Walt Nett, a reporter and online editor at the Arizona Daily Star in the 1980s and '90s, had this to add on last week's harangue about corrections:

"I thought it rather poignant that you suggested the Star and Citizen learn from the mistake of the (Los Angeles) Times. Actually, in the Star's case, it's really a matter of "those who forget the past ...

"Back about '86 or early '87, there was substantial discontent in the newsroom. ... Among the reporters' beefs was that the copy desk was editing errors into stories, not calling reporters back to check changes, and reporters were being dinged for the copy desk's errors. (Top editor Steve) Auslander ultimately agreed to look into the situation, found the complaints had merit and a policy was put in place that the Star corrections identified the error--source, reporter, editor. That policy was still in place at least until Leo Della Betta's retirement from the ombudsman's job (in the mid '90s)."

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