Pennywise approach at Auburn

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 2, 2000

would hurt quality of journalism

Pennywise and pound-foolish.

That adage, coined in Victorian England, speaks to the foolishness of saving a small amount of money in the short-term only to have it cost great sums in the long-term.

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If Auburn University chooses to merge its Department of Journalism with the Communication Department it will be guilty of being pennywise and pound-foolish.

Earlier this month, John Heilman, who is dean of Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts, told the Department of Journalism to suspend its search for a department head. Heilman then unveiled plans to merge the journalism department into the communications department. The apparent reason is to save $50,000 a year. While we laud any academic institution’s efforts to improve efficiency and save budget dollars, doing so only makes sense if the quality of the programs affected are maintained. In this instance, that’s not likely to happen. It’s also important to note that while $50,000 seems like a large sum, it represents .0001 percent of the school’s present $478 million operating budget. Saving those dollars is not the economic linchpin holding the school’s finances in place.

Auburn’s Department of Journalism has a stellar reputation. It has been described by academic accrediting agencies as a model program. Unlike many universities, Auburn’s focus is on preparing journalists for the working world. It does not offer masters or doctorate degrees.

That is one reason the newspaper industry has such high regard for Auburn’s program. The program has a 100 percent placement rate for graduates. The merger proposal has already damaged the journalism program. In February a team of visiting academics and professionals were at Auburn as part of the journalism department’s reaccredidation for the coming six years.

The department was found in compliance on all 12 criteria used in the accrediting process.

Reaccredidation was virtually assured.

However, the decision to suspend the search for a department head and the announcement that the department may be merged caused the accrediting committee for journalism and mass communications to deny accreditation.

While the committee approved provisional status for the department during its March meeting in Chicago, it is clearly taking a wait-and-see approach. And if the merger goes through it is unlikely that accreditation will come because the group’s own rules state "the council will normally not review a unit with less than department status."

While a merger might in some ways appear a sound decision, it is not. Auburn has something unique and something productive in its journalism program, and a merger would only undermine that.

Auburn should preserve the present organizational structure and allow the journalism program to maintain its independence.

April 1, 2000 10 PM


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