Journalism victory could be costly

By Peter Schuh

A proposal to merge NIU’s department of journalism with communications studies has been nixed, but the journalism department’s problems aren’t over.

James Norris, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said the proposal has been downed by faculty opposition.

However, the victory could come at a price.

“I asked the department if they were prepared to remain whole and lose their master’s program and they said ‘yes,'” Norris said. “I’ve been in this business too long to try to force faculty into places they don’t want to be.”

The merger has been considered as one alternative to program cuts recommended by the Illinois Board of Higher Education’s Priorities, Quality and Productivity initiative.

The decision against the merger does not automatically sentence the master’s degree program in journalism, which has been cited by the IBHE’s hit list for elimination.

However, Norris said, “I am not willing to name somebody else’s master’s program to save the one in journalism when that program could be saved by this merger and have its quality improved.”

In regard to the decision against the merger, Journalism Department Chair Daniel Riffe said, “It is a good thing for both departments that the merger is off.

“I think it is a decision which is consistent with the view of both the faculty and the students.”

Just last week, several journalism student organizations began circulating a petition against the merger.

In regard to the MA in journalism, Riffe said he was unsure if a merger with communications studies would be the salvation for the degree.

“I’m not sure that it really would have been saving it,” he said. “If we merge with communications studies do we really still have a journalism master’s degree?”

In addition, Riffe said the journalism department was not recommending that its master’s program be eliminated.

“We don’t want to be the ones to take down the program because we believe in it,” he said. “We’ve all along tried to treat the two issues (the merger and the master’s program) as separate because they came from separate quarters. People seem to think the merger came as a response to the IBHE, but it didn’t happen that way.”

Regardless of where the proposals originated, Norris said he did not think the master’s program would survive NIU’s budget ax “unless the IBHE backs off.”

In addition, Norris disputed the journalism department’s need for program accreditation, which has been the main reason for departmental opposition to the merger.

“What we’re coming into here is a special interest which has nothing to do with the quality of the program,” he said.

Norris explained that although he does not see the accreditation system as a bad idea on the whole, there are aspects of it which he does not agree with.

“Where accreditation standards deal with the quality of the program you have my support, but where accreditation deals with the autonomy of a department—I think that’s ludicrous,” he said.