To consolidate or not to consolidate: Campus colleges given the choice

The Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications in Tampa and the Department of Journalism and Digital Communication in St. Pete have mutually agreed to not consolidate.

In compliance with the Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018, signed by former governor Rick Scott, USF is required to consolidate all three campuses — Tampa, St. Pete and Sarasota — under a single accredited university by July 1, 2020.

However, some departments have other plans in mind.

One example is the future of the journalism program, currently being administered at both the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications in Tampa and the USF St. Petersburg Department of Journalism and Digital Communication, which has decided not to consolidate its programs and remain as separate departments.

After mutual agreement from both departments and in compliance with state laws, they have decided not to consolidate as a way to preserve and maintain accreditation by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) at St. Pete.

The decision was unveiled in a universitywide email by President Steven Currall on Oct. 17 containing the latest updates on consolidation.

St. Pete’s Department of Journalism and Digital Communication has been accredited since 2004, while Tampa, on the other hand, had previously been accredited in the ‘90s but, with the idea to grow its curriculum, has decided not to further pursue accreditation.

Every six years, the ACEJMC accredits programs in journalism and mass communications at universities in the U.S. and internationally. There are currently 112 journalism programs across the world with full accreditation status, including in St. Pete.

According to the Interim Director of the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications Kim Golombisky, the Tampa campus made the decision to not seek accreditation as it would limit their curriculum due to restrictions from the accrediting body.   

“Not being accredited here allowed us to bring our curriculum into the 21st century,” Golombisky said. “Not being an ACEJMC-accredited program here was not a loss for us, instead, it was a gain because the accreditation was so restrictive on our curriculum.

“We have no interest in that accreditation whatsoever… Our curriculum blossomed over here when we let accreditation go.”

St. Pete administration believes otherwise.

Department Chair of the USF St. Petersburg Department of Journalism and Digital Communication Casey Frechette believes that it’s important and relevant for the university to maintain all of its professional accreditations, including ACEJMC.

“It became a vital part of our identity as a program and it’s kind of a mark of distinction for us,” Frechette said. “The accreditation process has been very helpful to us. Because it requires this self study, it requires this report.

“It’s also very valuable because it kind of forces us to be reflective about what we’re doing and then be accountable for what we are doing to an outside independent body.”

At any public university in the country, each academic program contains a CIP code that works as an identifier for the respective program.

With consolidation going into effect, there could be no duplication in CIP codes across the three campuses, meaning that a department either need to align its curriculums or create a new CIP code for the specific program in order to preserve its existence.

Frechette said that the CIP code duplication between both departments had a significant influence on the department’s decision to consolidate.

“Part of the consolidation process for us in St. Pete was to apply for a new CIP code for our undergraduate program so we wouldn’t have that duplication anymore with the Tampa programs,” Frechette said.

“It made a lot of sense to go for this new CIP code because we were also concerned about the accreditation and the departmental structures. So we figured that we might as well be looking at separate academic units.”

USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said the choice to not consolidate certain departments was to preserve their own elements of distinction and programs that are unique to each specific campus.

“This is probably the most important benefit of consolidation for students because our communities, whether they are in Tampa, St. Pete or Sarasota, they all have been hungry to provide an array of degree programs,” Wilcox said.

Likewise, the USF St. Pete Department of Journalism and Digital Communication and the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications, the College of Marine Science will follow similar standards. 

With consolidation, each major college, including the College of Arts and Sciences and the Muma College of Business, will only have one dean who all three campuses report to.

Wilcox said in addition to the dean, a campus-based leader will be assigned in order to delegate some of the responsibilities consistent with departments, college and university governance policies.

The consolidation plan will be reviewed by the Board of Trustees (BOT) on Dec. 3 and submitted to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in early 2020.

“I think it is a positive decision because it will allow for some of these unique and distinctive programs that, in the past, were limited to students enrolled on one campus only, the potential to be delivered on all three campuses,” Wilcox said.