Texas A&M cuts journalism program, students protest

TEXAS —Texas A&M University has decided toeliminate its journalism department because administrators said they could notafford to hire the extra professors needed to sustain theprogram.Student editors of the daily newspaper protested the decision byrunning a blank page with the words “THE TEXAS A&MADMINISTRATION’S VISION OF JOURNALISM.” They also gathered 2,000signatures on a petition to save the program. The proposal to cut thedepartment was made in July by Charles Johnson, dean of the college of liberalarts, as a solution to financial and faculty problems that he said have beenplaguing the department for a decade. More than 500 students areenrolled in the department, which has only eight full-time faculty members. Theproposal to eliminate the program is part of a $20.5 million budget cut for theuniversity, Johnson said. The board of regents and the Texas HigherEducation Coordinating Board must approve the proposal. If passed, thejournalism program will be officially eliminated in August 2004. However,journalism classes will still be offered for the remaining students enrolled inthe program.True Brown, editor of the Battalion, started apetition last month to persuade the regents not to pass Johnson’srecommendations. Brown said he hopes to gain 6,000 signatures before he presentsthe petition to the regents during their fall meeting. He also started aletter-writing campaign and created a Web site, savejournalism.com, that isdedicated to preserving the program. “The reasoning behind thisdefies all logic,” Brown said. “I would like to think the board ofregents are going to carefully consider anything like this. Surely they will seethrough the reasoning that Johnson has laid out and realize that this decisionwill not serve students at Texas A&M.”Brown said the dailystudent newspaper will not directly be affected by the cut. The Battalionis separate from the journalism program and will continue publishing, headded.“The lifeblood of the paper has always been people who arein the major, people who are passionate about it and want careers in it,”he said. In 2001, external consultants were called in to makerecommendations for the journalism program. According to the reportissued by the consultants, the three options for the journalism program were tohire more faculty, merge with another department on campus or eliminate theprogram entirely. The report advised the university not to cut the programentirely. “It is simply hard to imagine a major university thatemphasizes the application of knowledge in the service of its state not having aprogram in journalism and mass communication,” the report said.Johnson said it would be too difficult to merge journalism with thedepartment of communications and too expensive to hire more faculty. He said thejournalism program has been over-enrolled and has been without a department headfor four years.“We were being asked about where to make cuts andwhere to focus money,” Johnson said. “The aim is to focus money onprograms that are well managed, have achieved a level of national visibility andteach a lot of students.”The 500 students enrolled in thejournalism department will still obtain their degrees, as will the 55 incomingfreshman this fall. However, Johnson said after the fall class, no more studentswill be admitted to the program. Four hundred students applied to the journalismdepartment for the fall, but only 55 were accepted because of the loomingelimination. Journalism professor Douglas Starr said students can stilltake journalism courses in the future, although they will not be able to majorin it. No tenured faculty will be laid off. Instead, Starr said theywill be relocated to other departments of their choice. He said they will alsocontinue to teach the journalism courses the university offers. Starrsaid he believes students interested in journalism might still attend TexasA&M in the future because the school itself has a tradition and heritage.Starr said he was unhappy about the decision to eliminate the program,but he did not see any way out of it. “There was nothing wrongwith our program, we are accredited,” Starr said. “We lack[faculty]. I think it is a big mistake, but the dean wants it.”Brown remains confident that his petition and letter writing campaigncould save the journalism department. “What keeps me going is thefact that this is the wrong decision,” he said.