IBHE, university officials target journalism program

By Jerry Lawrence

IU’s journalism department is on the business end of a serious double-punch.

The journalism master’s program is under fire from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) while university officials consider merging the entire journalism program into the communications department.

The master’s in journalism is one of 19 NIU programs recommended for elimination or consolidation by the IBHE’s Priority, Quality and Productivity (PQP) initiative. The PQP initiative is the IBHE’s attempt to streamline the operations of all state universities.

James Norris, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has suggested combining the departments of journalism and communication studies into a school of communication. Norris made the suggestion at an academic planning committee meeting last semester.

PQP has been criticized on many fronts, especially in its use of statistical data. Norris said the IBHE has used data that doesn’t accurately represent the journalism department’s graduate program. The fact that the master’s program in journalism at NIU was suspended in March of 1987 has affected the type of historical data the IBHE used in evaluating the program, Norris said.

Admission to the master’s in journalism was suspended in 1987 by the Board of Regents for a three-year probationary period and then reinstated in 1990. The Board of Regents suspended admission in order to evaluate the program and force NIU to make improvements to it.

“The department now has an outstanding—but young—faculty,” Norris said. He also said that he was not surprised by the IBHE’s recommendation.

Daniel Riffe, chairman of the journalism department, said the graduate program in journalism is valuable to the region the IBHE has assigned NIU. NIU’s region includes the entire Chicagoland and Northern Illinois area.

“The greatest market for (journalism) professionals is in our region, not in the regions of who we were compared to,” Riffe said. The IBHE compared NIU’s graduate journalism program to programs at Sangamon State University in Springfield, Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, Riffe said.

Riffe said in many other academic fields undergraduate students go right on to do their graduate work. Many journalism students, however, work in their field for a while before returning to graduate study, Riffe said.

According to Riffe, to lose the journalism graduate program would force the many professionals in our region to have to consider unrealistic possibilities either out of their region, such as other state schools, or out of their price range, such as Northwestern University.

Riffe also said the recommendation is unfair to a good program that has not been in existence for long.

“Most of the newer faculty came here with the hope of helping a graduate program that was on the ropes. They said we have to recruit new faculty and we did. Just as we’re getting into the starting blocks, they’re pulling them out from us,” Riffe said.

Riffe also said he had mixed feelings about the proposed consolidation of the journalism department with the communications department.

“Some good things could come out of it, but if journalism is going to be swallowed up by communications and lose its national accreditation, then no, that can’t be good,” Riffe said.

Another source in the journalism department, who wished not to be identified, said the merger between communications and journalism seemed to be the first planned step by university officials toward total elimination of NIU’s journalism department.

Norris said he has recommended the consolidation of the two departments in the past. “We can combine journalism and communications as I’ve urged before. We can have a communications graduate program with a journalism emphasis, but not a free-standing graduate program in journalism,” Norris said.

Norris said it will be hard to retain a free standing journalism graduate program while under fire from the IBHE.

Norris also said NIU needs to be more honest with prospective journalism students about low demand in that field.