Alumni of the School of Journalism are officially weighing in on the proposed merger of their alma mater.
In a recent letter drafted and approved 27-0, the members of the Journalism Alumni Board expressed a number of “deep concerns,” namely about one element of the merger proposal — the idea to move the new merged unit into the College of Arts and Sciences.
In addition to alumni, the resolution has been shared with the Board of Trustees, University President Michael McRobbie and Provost Lauren Robel.
President of the Alumni Board JR Ross said the purpose of the letter is to voice concern, but final judgment will be withheld until more detailed plans are released.
“We want to be critical of things, as we were trained to do, and make sure (questions are) answered in a way to ensure people that journalism will continue to not just survive but thrive for decades to come,” Ross said.
The resolution said the current proposal ends the School of Journalism’s independence, thus hurting its reputation as an award-garnering, nationally recognized school, lessening enrollment and donor support.
Also in the resolution, Ross noted alumni concern about financial independence of journalism, which, under COAS, would likely lose financial resources to other COAS departments, as opposed to the financial independence the school has presently.
Ease of administrative decision-making is another point of concern. New housing in COAS could potentially add bureaucratic layers that would hinder decision-making and inhibit flexibility, the resolution read.
“We still have questions, and I think it’s appropriate,” Ross said. “We can still raise questions about COAS governance structure and question in the best way possible. We’re in a much better position than the faculty are. There’s a position among alumni that if faculty make a ruckus against the COAS, they would be hurt by that and lose the ability to argue for journalism.”
Among the signers are Marjorie Smith Blewett, BA’48 a retired placement director at IU; Ben French, BAJ’98, director of web products at The New York Times; James Polk, BA’64, senior documentary producer at CNN and Carrie Ritchie, BAJ’08, reporter at The Indianapolis Star.
The resolution does note alumni will reassess the proposal as more details are worked out before the Board of Trustees votes on the proposal. The Board will meet in April on the Bloomington campus, though a vote likely isn’t expected at the earliest until the Board meets in June at IU-Purdue Fort Wayne.
“We’re at least happy to see it won’t be happening (in April),” Ross said. “Generally speaking, it would be better if it would be done in the fall when students are on campus and more people are more engaged, but I can’t control that stuff.”
The formal response resolution comes as the next steps in the merger proposal begin to take shape.
As outlined in a discussion between the provost and COAS and journalism administrators on March 4, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Larry Singell and Interim Dean Michael Evans — the only two deans in the mix — will co-author a Memorandum of Understanding for submission to Robel.
Evans asked his faculty and staff to contribute to the memorandum “anything that we feel would be essential for the preservation and enhancement of our program and our national stature.”
Singell said he is still working on a proposal for the administrative structure of the new school, which will be included in the document, and that any plans or recommendations laid out in the memorandum will need to be approved by the provost.
“The Memorandum of Understanding needs to have a clear understanding of how this operation would exist in the College, so I need to be able to determine that,” Singell said. “We need to work out the details and how (the merged school’s administration) will interact in the context of the College.”
Singell said the heads of the telecommunications and communication and culture departments won’t co-write the document, as the point of the letter is to help sort out questions regarding the School of Journalism’s potential new placement in COAS, where the two departments already reside.
Evans said he and Singell should have the letter finished sometime before early April, after which he, Singell and Robel will meet to discuss the document and
“I don’t think anyone is interested in imposing their will on anybody else, because that’s not the way to get a good, harmonious group together,” Evans said. “I’m sure Dean Singell has ideas about how he would like to see the administrative structure, as we do, too, and that will come out through open dialogue.”
Another outcome of the March 4 meeting was the creation of a Franklin Hall Space Planning Committee, which will evaluate the building and assess its ability to deliver on the needs of all three units. It was recommended by Robel in her Feb. 19 State of the Campus address as the optimal space for the new school.
All three units will participate in the committee, which is still being formed. Evans said a number of people have already contacted him and are interested to serve.
The committee will determine what each unit needs to make the school a leader in communications, Evans said, including not only classrooms and offices, but production studios and student media space as well.
“The opportunity of Franklin Hall is deeply exciting,” Evans said. “That, to me, is one of the most exciting pieces of this whole thing.”