Texas A&M cuts journalism program, students protest

Dean says program was too costly to maintain

TEXAS —Texas A&M University has decided to eliminate its journalism department because administrators said they could not afford to hire the extra professors needed to sustain the program.Student editors of the daily newspaper protested the decision by running a blank page with the words “THE TEXAS A&M ADMINISTRATION’S VISION OF JOURNALISM.” They also gathered 2,000 signatures on a petition to save the program. The proposal to cut the department was made in July by Charles Johnson, dean of the college of liberal arts, as a solution to financial and faculty problems that he said have been plaguing the department for a decade. More than 500 students are enrolled in the department, which has only eight full-time faculty members. The proposal to eliminate the program is part of a $20.5 million budget cut for the university, Johnson said. The board of regents and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board must approve the proposal. If passed, the journalism program will be officially eliminated in August 2004. However, journalism classes will still be offered for the remaining students enrolled in the program.True Brown, editor of the Battalion, started a petition last month to persuade the regents not to pass Johnson’s recommendations. Brown said he hopes to gain 6,000 signatures before he presents the petition to the regents during their fall meeting. He also started a letter-writing campaign and created a Web site, savejournalism.com, that is dedicated to preserving the program. “The reasoning behind this defies all logic,” Brown said. “I would like to think the board of regents are going to carefully consider anything like this. Surely they will see through the reasoning that Johnson has laid out and realize that this decision will not serve students at Texas A&M.”Brown said the daily student newspaper will not directly be affected by the cut. The Battalion is separate from the journalism program and will continue publishing, he added.“The lifeblood of the paper has always been people who are in the major, people who are passionate about it and want careers in it,” he said. In 2001, external consultants were called in to make recommendations for the journalism program. According to the report issued by the consultants, the three options for the journalism program were to hire more faculty, merge with another department on campus or eliminate the program entirely. The report advised the university not to cut the program entirely. “It is simply hard to imagine a major university that emphasizes the application of knowledge in the service of its state not having a program in journalism and mass communication,” the report said. Johnson said it would be too difficult to merge journalism with the department of communications and too expensive to hire more faculty. He said the journalism program has been over-enrolled and has been without a department head for four years.“We were being asked about where to make cuts and where to focus money,” Johnson said. “The aim is to focus money on programs that are well managed, have achieved a level of national visibility and teach a lot of students.”The 500 students enrolled in the journalism department will still obtain their degrees, as will the 55 incoming freshman this fall. However, Johnson said after the fall class, no more students will be admitted to the program. Four hundred students applied to the journalism department for the fall, but only 55 were accepted because of the looming elimination. Journalism professor Douglas Starr said students can still take journalism courses in the future, although they will not be able to major in it. No tenured faculty will be laid off. Instead, Starr said they will be relocated to other departments of their choice. He said they will also continue to teach the journalism courses the university offers. Starr said he believes students interested in journalism might still attend Texas A&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 wrong with 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 campaign could save the journalism department. “What keeps me going is the fact that this is the wrong decision,” he said.