Eisenberg announces changes for School of Mass Communications
Published: Monday, March 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 18, 2013 01:03
Students in the School of Mass Communications received an email during spring break from the College of Arts and Sciences Dean Eric Eisenberg saying “exciting new changes” were coming their way.
The changes will include severing ties with the accrediting agency that placed the school on two years of probation after a site team visited in January and found deficiencies in “governance” and “assessment,” and replacing the interim director of the school with the current director of the School of Information, Jim Andrews, who will maintain both positions.
In his email, Eisenberg said the changes have come about because the field of mass communications is no longer what it once was.
“I’ve been thinking for a long, long time about the changes to the industry and I’ve been trying to figure out whether we’re doing everything we can for our mass comm students to be prepared for the industry in which they’ll apply when they graduate,” Eisenberg said in an interview with The Oracle. “It just seems like it’s changing so fast ... you blink, and like two years later, all the things you thought are going to be useful, aren’t anymore. I’ve been trying to think about how to embrace that change. When the accreditors came out, they asked a number of questions. “It really got me thinking ‘You know what? There might be another path for us at USF.’ ... I thought about USF’s DNA and what we’re known for. It seems like interdisciplinary innovation is our thing.”
Eisenberg said he met with the provost and the president who supported the idea of abandoning the pursuit of accreditation.
Gil Thelen, the former interim director of the school who had been appointed to an 18-month term after former director Fred Pearce resigned a month before the accreditation site team was to visit, said he wasn’t privy to the plans to create a different path.
Thelen, who has formerly served as Executive Editor, Publisher and President of the Tampa Tribune and has held several leading editor positions at other newspapers in the past 35 years, said Eisenberg had asked him his thoughts about the pros and cons of accreditation a week earlier, but Thelen said he was unaware of the changes until Eisenberg sent him an email the same day the email was sent to students and faculty, announcing his intentions to pursue a different path and dismissing him as director of the school effective last Friday.
“I don’t know how it came up,” Thelen said. “I took this job with priority one as securing accreditation, and it wasn’t until Dean Eisenberg’s email that I knew there was significant planning already underway to go in a different direction.”
Thelen, USF’s Clendenin professor, said he is currently considering whether he will continue to teach, and said he hoped some of the findings of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC), the accrediting body, will continue to be taken into account.
“I don’t believe that accreditation and rethinking of structure of communication at the university are incompatible,” Thelen said. “I know for a fact that the ACEJMC is strongly in favor of innovation. The benefits of accreditation are in terms of rigor that accreditation imposes upon the institution in terms of class sizes, faculty teaching loads, technology and equipment, support, curriculum and governance. Those are all important things, and I would hope those will not be lost sight of as this process goes forward.”
According to a 2011 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which argued that the accreditation of journalism schools was “an exercise in external validation,” only one-fourth of about college journalism programs pursue accreditation from the ACEJMC. Eisenberg’s email mentioned the statistic and stated that USF would “follow the lead of many of our top university peers— such as Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia and Rutgers.”
But Will Norton, dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi who led the ACEJMC’s site team visit to USF, said the schools in the email did not provide appropriate context.
“Wisconsin has not been accredited since something like 1987, Ohio State hasn’t been accredited in more than a decade, I don’t think Rutgers has ever been accredited and I don’t think Virginia has ever had a journalism program,” Norton said. “Accreditation standards are set by academicians and leading professionals and are voted on by each of the schools that are accredited. Those standards are basically standards that the profession endorses. It shows you’re going to an institution that has repute by academicians as well as professionals.”