March 2 - March 8, 1995

Swatting at Gadflies

Will Real-World Journalism Be Banished From The University Of Arizona?

By Joe Gold

Dear President Pacheco,

I am writing about your decision to close the journalism department. I am twelve years old. My mother is an alumnus who told me what a great education I can get at the University of Arizona.

I have aspired to be a writer. I was hoping to get a degree from the Journalism Department. I fear that I will not be able to achieve my goal, and I am disappointed.

I am asking you to please consider people like me as you make your final decision. I'm sure you already know that what you decide will affect many people for years to come.


Hopeful Student,

Krystal LoPilato

MANUEL T. PACHECO, Paul Sypherd and Holly M. Smith are redesigning a leaner University of Arizona for the 21st century. They speak in platitudes about quality education, student mentoring and minority recruitment. But their actions say something quite different.

In the name of cutting costs, these arrogant academics plan to slice into the muscle of the institution and eliminate a department with a strong tradition of close ties between faculty, students and the community.

The UA Department of Journalism has consistently excelled in teaching real-life news gathering, writing and editing. Decades before it was fashionable, the journalism department maintained an open-door policy with students to discuss assignments, the profession and life in general. The UA Department of Journalism has been a national leader in recruiting minority students, particularly Latinos, to take their place in the nation's newsrooms. They produce newspapers for Southern Arizona communities and spread good will for the university in South America, Mexico and around the United States.

These days, the UA administration marches to the mantra of total quality management, and let the casualties be damned. They take disagreement as disloyalty, and 1,300 impassioned letters pleading for reconsideration as just so much junk mail. They ignore pleas from the editorial pages of the Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Gazette, and Tucson's local newspapers. They scoff at letters from the Arizona Press Club, publishers from around the country and alumni who take enormous pride in the quality of their professional training.

First Dean Smith, then Sypherd and now Pacheco have signed the death warrant for the Department of Journalism. By June 30, 1998, it will be gone.

The Faculty Senate is assembling a committee to hold hearings terminating the department, and will report back to Pacheco with a non-binding recommendation within 90 days. An endorsement from the Faculty Senate would suggest that terminating journalism isn't just the notion of Pacheco, Sypherd and Smith, but a broadly supported campus consensus that journalism just isn't pulling its own weight.

From there, the fate of UA journalism will be in the hands of the Arizona Board of Regents, probably before the end of the current semester.

WHEN THE MATTER first came up last spring, merely threatening to eliminate journalism appeared to be a clever ploy.

The administration had faced an early round of budget cuts a few years back. Then officials announced with a nod and a wink they would have to eliminate the UA marching band. The community rallied to the support the band, and local business people rescued "The Pride of Arizona" half-time shows.

In 1994, upon the altar of re-election, Gov. J. Fife Symington III offered up the state income tax. The almighty dollars he sacrificed are bled from the budgets of Arizona's three state universities. For the sake of his immediate personal political triumph, the governor cuts a handsome slice from Arizona's future.

After all, if God had wanted Arizonans to have educations, he'd have granted each newborn a diploma.

At first it seemed that the perfect motivator for Holly Smith's budget review committee to threaten to amputate journalism from the University of Arizona. What subject but journalism could guarantee the righteous indignation of the press? The media could rally to apply its considerable pressure, and the governor and his legislative cronies would have to relent by restoring money to the university budget. The university would get its money and administrators could shed their crocodile tears for the beleaguered department that almost got the ax.

And Fife could swat at the gadflies that threatened his reelection.

Sure. And on November 8, Eddie Basha was going to come charging into the governor's office to save Arizona for education.

Except it didn't quite work out that way. Instead, UA officials stuck to their guns with a non-academic vindictiveness that has the whole campus puzzled. In the process, they have created a public relations nightmare that could haunt them for years.

IN APRIL, DEAN Smith's recommendations went to Provost Paul Sypherd, who could accept or reject the findings. In May, Sypherd and Smith paid a courtesy call on the journalism department. Faculty members recalled that Sypherd never quite gave a straight answer to direct questions.

As the story unfolded over last spring and summer, his explanations kept shifting ground. Some of Sypherd's stated rationale:

• It's about money. We can't afford the luxury of journalism education.

• Your 1994 accreditation committee said you were too print-oriented. You need to cover broadcasting, public relations and advertising. (More about this shortly.)

• There just aren't enough jobs for journalists in Arizona to justify your existence.

• You need to do more research. Yeah, that's the ticket, research. Research how many times a TV network can say "O.J." and speculate on the deeper meaning of too much or too little O.J. coverage.

• Journalism is also available at Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, and the state can't afford the duplication.

Sypherd ordered Jim Patten, head of the journalism department, to meet with representatives of library science and media arts last summer to discuss a possible combined program. There was one sparsely attended 45-minute meeting where nothing happened. Without the threat of termination, neither library science nor media arts felt any urgency to participate in the process.

By July, Sypherd forwarded his own recommendation to President Pacheco: Terminate journalism. Student letters popped up in the Arizona Daily Wildcat decrying the decision as an arrogant administrative act that never took student concerns into account.

To placate public opinion, Sypherd wrote a column published on The Arizona Daily Star editorial pages, declaring that the 1994 journalism accreditation report faulted the department for focusing too narrowly on print journalism.

A week later, the Star published another column by Trevor Brown, the head of the journalism department at Indiana University, who headed the 1994 UA journalism accreditation committee. Brown scolded Sypherd for deliberately misrepresenting the report, which had much praise for the journalism department and a few suggestions for improvement.

Sypherd declined an interview, and forwarded my request to Vice-Provost Kenneth R. Smith, the former dean of the College of Business. Smith (no relation to Holly Smith) didn't want to discuss journalism, but the general philosophy behind cutting a department.

"We've been in an environment of enormous support for higher education for the past 30 years," said Kenneth Smith. "That's changed now, and we have to respond with it. It's like the federal government cutting back on bases. Everybody agrees that it has to be done, as long as it happens somewhere else."

Smith uses the popular management metaphors of reinventing the organization to say that change is inevitable, and that some difficult choices have to be made.

The administrators document their recommendations with all the reasons for taking so drastic a step as eliminating a department with 275 undergraduate majors and 35 graduate majors. They cite statistics, official reports and consensus from hand-picked committees. They express their sadness at being forced to terminate faculty for the sake of a few hundred thousand bucks.

They cry crocodile tears for a department they see as vulnerable because much of its seven-member faculty is nearing retirement age. Speculation on what they're really up to has run rampant on campus. Some thoughts from people who prefer to not be quoted:

• They're setting up a test case to bust the tenure system protecting academic freedom and faculty jobs.

• They're striking back at the department that dared to object to a major donation from Kemper Marley, who was implicated in the murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles.

• They're taking aim at the academic mother of all reporters, and thereby swatting at the gadflies who buzz around state and local government, looking for the truth behind official explanations.

• The issue, originally over journalism, is now a fight over who's really in charge, and Pacheco, Sypherd and Smith refuse to bow to public pressure as a matter of arrogant pride.

Journalists aren't a rich lot, but they have access to people in power. So they usually make lousy ass-kissers. In fact, the Department of Journalism's ineptitude at the art of sucking up may indeed be the hidden crime for which they are executed.

More of the crime may be that journalism just isn't academic enough. The real world that journalists cover is an ugly intrusion on ivy towers. Apparently mere professional training is beneath the dignity of what Pacheco would like to be called "The Harvard of the West."

On January 19, the same day Pacheco issued his recommendation, Holly Smith and several other deans signed a letter published in the Star editorial pages declaring wholehearted support the evaluation process that led to what was still Sypherd's recommendation. They were reminding the faculty their bosses are on the side of the administration on this one, and it would be politic to get in line.

JOURNALISM COURSES FIRST appeared at the University of Arizona in 1926 as English department offerings. In 1951, the university established the state's first independent journalism department, headed by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Douglas D. Martin.

Early on, journalism was different from other academic departments. The teachers were not required to have a Ph.D., but rather 10 years of experience as a working journalist. Even lower-level courses were taught not by graduate students or junior faculty, but by tenure-track professors who made up the backbone of the faculty.

Stranger still, journalism professors maintain an open-door policy to students. Sure, there were official office hours. But the rule was that professors were in their office much of the time they were not in the classroom, and j-majors were welcome to drop in at any time, whether to discuss vital matters of academic concern, ask questions about an assignment, get a glimpse into the world of professional journalism, or just chew the fat.

Beyond the policy was the practice. Journalism teachers as a group are deeply devoted to teaching, both in the classroom and in the broader sense of bringing their students along in preparation for the rough-and-tumble of the newsroom.

The journalism faculty takes teaching as deadly serious business. Misspell a name and you flunk the exam. Fail to keep up with the news and you'll blow the regular current events quiz. And when you have your degree, you have learned not just the how-to of gathering and reporting news, but also a sense of responsibility to the reading public and a mission to maintain the integrity of the media. That's not just print-oriented journalism. That's what the entire news business is about.

Long before it became fashionable, the mostly white guys on the journalism faculty started recruiting minority students, particularly Latinos, as a means of getting more diverse voices into the media, to the extent that 19.9 per cent of last fall semester's journalism majors were members of minority groups. They were accorded special recognition for their minority efforts from the National Conference of Editorial Writers, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Institute for Journalism Education and the California Chicano News Media Association.

The department runs the Editing Program for Minority Journalists every summer. One three-unit course produces a bilingual newspaper for South Tucson, El Independiente.

Another class publishes the Tombstone Epitaph on alternate weeks for a community that would likely have no newspaper otherwise. In fact, one graduate who went on to set up the journalism department at the University of Wyoming took the idea with him, so those students now publish the Medicine Bow Post.

Every year, the j-department gives the nationally recognized John Peter Zenger Award to a journalist who has made a substantial contribution to freedom of the press. In the name of murdered Arizona Republic reporter Donald F. Bolles, the department provides a spring-semester fellowship for a student to cover state government.

Their Community News Service provides stories year round to some 70 newspapers around the state, many of which cannot afford to cover state government on their own. Their links to Central and South America--including a student exchange program with the Autonomous University of Guadalajara--have made the UA name popular in that region.

The University of Arizona journalism program is considered one of the top 20 in the nation, and certainly the flagship journalism program in Arizona. In 44 years, this department has become an institution, with a loyal following that is the product of students who admired the devotion of their mentors.

HOLLY SMITH, DEAN of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, came to the UA as an assistant professor of philosophy in 1983, became department head in 1985, vice-provost of the university in 1989, and took her current position as dean of SBS in May of 1993.

"I need to cut at least $200,000," she says. "When I look at my departments and compare their size with peer departments at other peer universities, they're smaller.

"I've got to cut, but I also have to reallocate. Due to the state that the legislature is in, it doesn't seem like more money is going to come to the university. I have to figure out how to run as high-quality an operation as I can, given the fact that I don't have enough money. In that circumstance, the best thing to do is to do fewer things, but to see that each is done in a quality way. From that point of view it makes sense to me to eliminate some of our programs and activities."

The journalism faculty insists they are state-assisted rather than state-supported. The six full-time faculty members get a total of $229,227. Temporary and adjunct faculty cost $96,809, office staff is $69,121 and the operations budget for paper clips and the like is $25,000.

Compare that to nearly half a million dollars in scholarships, an annual grant from Scripps League profits that amounted to $48,484 this year, the Editing Program for Minority Journalists contributing $9,127 to staff. The department also benefits from alumni contributions that consistently rank second or third for departments in the college of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and financed the computers the department installed a few years ago to avoid technological obsolescence.

But Smith also argues:

"Journalism is preparing people, and preparing them competently, to go into a profession in which many more people are being trained than there are jobs available. The national figures show that about eight per cent of the people with journalism degrees get a journalism job."

This sudden new administrative concern for how students fare in the workplace would be touching if it weren't such obvious hogwash. Never mind that the statistics are narrowly drawn and wildly inaccurate. Just consider the 225 undergraduate and 25 graduate psychologists this university annually tosses out onto the mean streets. Or scan the classifieds for even one job in Holly Smith's own discipline of philosophy.

"There are people who wrote in who said you're right," Smith says, "the real jobs out there are in media relations, public relations and advertising, and you have to start up a new department. The trouble is, to do justice to that demand, we would have to find money from somewhere else, and we don't have the money to do that. The question is whether we should maintain them as they are now, because that's the best we can do."

Smith seems prefer training media manipulators, who are paid to shape the truth for corporate ends through carefully worded non-information and misleading TV commercials. It's odd that she appears to have no academic qualms about fueling an exploitative disinformation industry while killing the one discipline designed to turn out competent generalists who pursue information and who are trained to render it fairly, accurately and comprehensibly to the public.

Of course she can always find praise to eulogize the department:

"They are really devoted to their teaching. They have heavier teaching loads than a lot of faculty, and they're very devoted to their students. Everything that I hear is that the students that come out of that department are very well prepared to go into traditional print journalism kind of jobs.

And Smith finds it relatively easy to hold out some hope for journalism supporters:

"Provost Sypherd thinks it's important that students come to the university and to have some sort of preparation for a journalism degree. We're looking at creating a small interdisciplinary program that would enable students to get a range of courses, perhaps media arts, perhaps writing courses from English, perhaps political science, maybe courses in marketing and a few core courses in journalism that would give them some kind of background to go out into the world.

"This would not involve the continuation of the department of journalism. It would involve at most maintaining two faculty members who would be transferred to another department. It might be organized as an interdisciplinary major. It might be organized as a track within another major, just as English has a creative writing track, they could have a specialized track in journalism. We have a committee now working on what such a program might look like or whether it makes any sense.

One jaded faculty member calls this "the miniature golf approach to journalism."

Smith says that for the long term, "Provost Sypherd is also talking about a school of communications arts. I think he views that as an enterprise that would do research and teach the way information is used in the 21st century and how it impacts on society. It would be a very academically oriented enterprise that would be doing research on the side. I believe he thinks the faculty we have in journalism, media arts, communications and library science-their interests lie in other directions. The current faculty doesn't work into that. So he's pursuing that, but I think it's over a fairly long time line."

WHILE THE UNIVERSITY community was waiting to see if Pacheco would back off a clearly unpopular position or support his provost's recommendation, Holly Smith had asked the Department of Journalism to put together a plan to phase itself out.

The Department of Journalism had other ideas. On December 1, they presented an alternative plan to establish a new School of Journalism and Media Studies that would include studies in mass communications, broadcast production, advertising, public relations, media law and information management.

"Our plan is for the University of Arizona to take the lead in communications studies in the 21st century," Patten said. "In an age of information, the School of Journalism and Media Studies would prepare citizens to understand and take part in decision-making in a democracy. It would expand what we teach now to include news in such electronic media as broadcasting and computer networks.

"Our mission would be to continue training future media professionals, and to prepare students in science, engineering and business to effectively use mass media to inform and educate the public."

The Save Journalism Committee is organizing support for the new school. The committee is composed of journalism alumni, faculty and students; it's co-chaired by Hugh Harelson, publisher of Arizona Highways magazine, and Edith Sayre Auslander, head of human resources for Tucson Newspapers Inc. and a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents.

The Save Journalism Committee asked Pacheco to:

• Restore the Department of Journalism to good standing by removing it from the list of programs scheduled for termination;

• Create a presidential committee to design a School of Journalism and Media Studies, composed of students, faculty, Arizona professionals and alumni from journalism, media arts, marketing, management information systems and other related areas;

• Appoint an off-campus mediator to chair the committee, report monthly to the administration and prepare a final report after one year;

• Remove the Department of Journalism from the Social and Behavioral Sciences and place it under Humanities or Fine Arts until a new structure can be established; and,

• Direct administrators to bring the Department of Journalism faculty from its current six members up to its authorized strength of 11.5 full-time teachers.

IF YOU LOOK at Journalism's proposed new school and the administration plan for an eventual School of Communications, you'll see that they're not all that far apart. The only real differences are on timing and on the wisdom of shutting down one journalism faculty before starting up another. Those not caught up in the urgency of closing journalism--including a member of the Arizona Board of Regents speaking off the record--consider such a shut-down/start-up plan as wasteful, expensive and downright impractical.

Wes Marshall is a media arts professor with a journalism degree from Ohio University. He says, "Rather than growing apart, print and electronic media are probably growing together. The way society receives its information is changing. I made a suggestion that the department and dean should sketch out an approach where journalism and media arts could be put together. I find it unconscionable that a land grant university of this stature would not have a journalism program."

Marshall, too, is concerned about the vindictive tone of the debate. "There is a sense on campus of extreme frustration. We have no sense of where the university is going, kind of like a huge lumbering boat without direction. I suspect the reason that journalism and not media arts was targeted is that getting elected now is more dependent on electronic media."

As the battle moves to the Faculty Senate, they will consider Pacheco's recommendation:

The Faculty Senate may deal as well with the issues of allowing a crack in the long-established tenure system that provides professional security for faculty members. They may look into the rumors that if the administration can succeed in dismantling this small but respected department, how long will it be before they act on the rumored dismantling of the College of Law and the College of Architecture?

Beyond that, what department in political disfavor might face the ax under the growing power of administrators with the unhappy task of chopping into a budget that continues shrinking?

The final say about the Department of Journalism is up to the Arizona Board of Regents, perhaps by the end of the spring semester. As Tucson's weather heats up, so will the battle.

Meanwhile, the school kids who have been looking forward to journalism at the UA can watch and wonder.

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March 2 - March 8, 1995

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