Plan for new school still unclear

Communication school would reside in Franklin Hall, become part of College of Arts and Sciences


People decorate the Ernie Pyle Lounge in Ernie Pyle Hall, home of the School of Journalism, Aug. 20, 1954. On Tuesday, Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel recommended moving a new communication school including the current School of Journalism out of Ernie Pyle Hall to Franklin Hall. IU Archives Buy Photos

No definite academic or administrative structure is finalized. Nor are the futures of IU Student Media, various units’ distinct honors programs or future financial and infrastructural support clear.

The merger itself is not a done deal, as it must still go before the Board of Trustees and President Michael McRobbie.

Rather, Provost Lauren Robel said, faculty and other leadership from the three units will soon form a committee that will prepare a proposal envisioning the merged school, newly framed in the context of the College of Arts and Sciences and its future home in Franklin Hall.

“The ball is back in the faculty’s court,” Robel said.

The new committee will report to School of Journalism Interim Dean Michael Evans, COAS Dean Larry Singell Jr. and Robel before she addresses the trustees.

“We’re still a team on this,” she said.         

The plan inched closer to reality after Robel’s State of the Campus address Tuesday, in which she announced her intentions to recommend the merger of the School with the departments of Telecommunications and Communication and Culture within COAS — thus dismantling the freestanding School of Journalism — and to relocate all three units to a renovated Franklin Hall. With this recommendation, the prospect of an independent school of merged units seemed less likely.  

“We need a structure to make it move forward. That’s part of it,” Robel said. “We need a structure to have a discussion. Now, you need to bring the faculties together in a serious way.”

That process began Thursday afternoon when Robel met with a crowd of about 50 School of Journalism faculty and staff.

“We’re very happy that happened,” Lesa Hatley Major, journalism senior associate dean, said after the meeting. “She was as forthcoming with us as we were with her.”

Major, who is acting in Interim Dean Evans’ place as he interviews for a job in Vermont, said the meeting helped clarify certain details, such as the role of faculty going forward and possible personnel cuts.

She said Robel assured those in the meeting that through the merger process, mass cuts to administration and faculty would not occur. Rather, attrition, or gradual lessening of personnel through retirements and a freeze on additional hires, will shrink school’s size.

Not specified to the group was a timetable for the proposal or the start of the new school, though Robel later said she hoped to launch the school in fall 2015.

Now, the School of Journalism is soliciting input from alumni, faculty, staff and students to help move forward. Major said she’s open to all input, including that which doesn’t neatly align with the provost’s recommendation.

“Coming at this saying ‘we’re going to do this’ or ‘we’re not going to do this,’ it’s not productive,” Major said. “I don’t know that those opportunities could see their full potential if we are hardened in our position.”

Soon, Singell will speak with journalism faculty, he said. Singell sent an email to journalism faculty Wednesday morning, expressing his willingness to help resolve uncertainties among faculty.

Singell, along with the other three unit heads, was not made aware of the full extent of Robel’s announcement before the address on Tuesday. However, he said he understands why Robel would choose to house the new school within COAS and is ready to work with faculty.

“I think the New Academic Directions reports were saying these small units don’t make economic sense,” Singell said.

The School of Journalism’s spring Bloomington undergraduate enrollment is more than 600 students. It’s not the smallest school on campus, contrary to a statement in a Thursday release from Robel ­­— that distinction belongs to the School of Social Work, according to IU’s official enrollment report.

“There are intellectual reasons why this isn’t a bad idea either, too. The School of Global and International Studies is a model, and that was informative with what happened with journalism, media and communications. They could operate together with a bigger footprint then they could individually.”

He said a main challenge will be striking the right balance between maintaining the nationally accredited, professional journalism school while still providing flexibility for the other, non-professional areas. Overall, he said, the merger creates new, yet unknown possibilities.

“I don’t know where it’s going to go because I’m not a media expert, but I think there’s a lot of exciting things that can come from this,” he said. “But it’s unclear.”

Also to be included in the new building is student media. Robel said she should not make a decision regarding student media operations or independence and will leave that for faculty to decide. She does, however, want to unify the various groups.

“My vision for that, and the one that media at IU started with, is to bring IU student media in,” she said. “Have them brought together in this new facility, so the cross-disciplinary world you guys are entering into actually exists here.”

Barbara Klinger, interim chair of the Department of Communication and Culture, said the merger would be a major development for the campus, though she needs more details before making a more informed judgement.

“Bringing the three of us together, in an ideal scenario, could maximize our strengths, make ourselves more visible not only on the IU campus, but to the larger world of film, media and communication studies,” Klinger said.

A release by the School of Journalism faculty and staff to the journalism community read, “We are committed to supporting students as they confront the challenge of transforming journalism in the 21st century. We consider ourselves stewards of the school’s proud history and international reputation.”

Even with a future in COAS, Major said keeping the 100-year-plus tradition alive can happen with proactive work now, while still in the formative stages.

“It’s realistic,” she said. “Believe me, we will do whatever we can so that happens.”

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