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Another Higher Education Expose

May 21, 2012

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

I not only direct a journalism school; I practice journalism. Doing so I work with top editors in higher education and trade publications, tweeting only when I am crowdsourcing or sharing news about an investigative report. I still believe in the power of well-written, fact-based exposes, and that is what I have just finished working on today.

On January 9, 2012, on the ASJMC blog, in this post, I wrote about an earlier expose on student debt. A day later, it appeared in Inside Higher Ed as the lead story and was picked up as the front-page commentary in the Des Moines Register. Up until then, not much had been said about student debt until the expose, which helped generate dozens of follow-up stories  … to the extent that debt eventually was mentioned in President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech.

My expose didn't go viral as a YouTube video or Facebook entry. Investigative journalism spawns follow-up after follow-up, with each reporter garnering additional facts to affirm or challenge the initial report.

That's what journalism does. That's what we are forgetting as academics and as organizations.

In my aforementioned January 2012 ASJMC post, I warned that student debt would harm journalism more than any other profession in as much as our graduates with $30,000 debt will likely earn entry-level salaries less than $25,000.

This latest expose, scheduled May 30 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is titled “Stamping Out Rubber-Stamp Collegiality: We have only ourselves to blame for the unchecked proliferation of courses and degree programs in academe.

The article quotes two professors and two administrators at four research extensive public institutions. When it appears, you will want to read carefully the insightful quotation of Shirley Staples Carter, professor and past director of the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of South Carolina.

Dr. Carter is cited in a section on Responsibility Centered Management budget models and what it has done to the quality of journalism and mass communication programs, inspiring curricular proliferation at the expense of more traditional courses emphasizing "good writing, ethics and professional responsibility, analytical and critical thinking, and creativity."

She is not only right, but prescient.

Despite those who proclaim "discontinuance" as blessing in disguise, what happened to journalism at the University of Colorado can happen at any public institution with (a) high student debt, (b) decreased legislative support, (c) RCM budget models and (d) media course duplication in English, Communication Studies, Design, Agricultural Communication, Marketing and even Hospitality Management.

I hope that ASJMC, AEJMC and ACEJMC wake up to the reality that we operate too often as organizations in sync with the status quo. We shy from exposes about our field because of the perceived notion that anything controversial is bad for either our organizations or careers or both.

I asked eight leaders in our organizations for comments on my latest forthcoming story in the Chronicle. Two whom I consider lifelong friends and leaders in our organizations did not even respond to my request. Two others turned down my request for an interview. Two more asked for anonymity.

Thankfully, Drs. Carter and Beth Barnes, director of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky—two stars in our collective constellation—contributed thoughtful, proactive comments. I encourage everyone reading this post to pay careful attention to their recommendations.

In closing, readers of this blog may note that in the forthcoming Chronicle piece, my bio note references that I am the chair of the Contemporary Leadership Committee of ASJMC, a position that requires I speak out on the controversial issues that matter to our organization. I worry about this organization’s future if we continue to operate as academics rather than as journalists and practitioners.

In a word, we must confront rising student debt and unchecked duplication in our disciplines and the long-term effect of curricular expansion at the expense of basic journalism.

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