Losing accreditation could lower journalistic standards

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 12, 2000

There is uncertainty at Auburn University.

It has nothing to do with the football team. Neither does it concern the Tiger basketball team. It involves a matter that, to me, is far more important – the Department of Journalism. One of only two fully accredited journalism departments in the State – the other is the University of Alabama – is at risk of losing that accreditation.

The risk of losing the school's accreditation stems from a recent review in which the Auburn Board set about to save money by reducing the number of smaller programs on campus. The Department of Journalism failed to meet two of the criteria set forth by the board – the minimum number of faculty and the number of credit hours produced.

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As a result, officials are pondering the thought of combining the journalism and communication departments. One of the requirements of being an accredited department is to be a stand-alone department. Any merging of departments virtually assures the loss of accreditation. Based on the state of flux in the department, Auburn has been given provisional accreditation.

That will be reviewed once a decision is made as to the direction of the program.

The board needs to look deeper. First, the Auburn department of journalism puts 100 percent of its graduates to work in the real world following their graduation. That's unmatched. One way they do that is by not wasting the time of underqualified students which also wastes the university's resources. The program weeds out students who don't pass an introductory course on spelling,

punctuation and other writing elements. Lowering these standards would easily let the department meet the Board's cookie-cutter criteria that 16 programs fail to meet.

Recent college graduates are the life-blood of a newspaper like The Advocate, and we need the Auburn Department of Journalism to remain top-notch. The Plainsman, the student-produced Auburn newspaper is repeatedly honored as one of the top college newspapers in the nation.

I wrote the following letter to Dr. William V. Muse, Auburn University President and Dr. William F. Walker, Auburn University Provost:

I understand Auburn University is considering the merger of the journalism and communication departments, and hope you do not choose that course. As you consider the pros and cons as to what can be gained by such a marriage, I hope you'll be mindful of what might be lost.

Your university's journalism department is one of two accredited departments in Alabama. That's a credit to a university with the vision to have a department with a department head and professors with backgrounds in journalism. I believe merging the department with another jeopardizes that credibility.

What you are doing now is working. Your faculty and students have an active and positive relationship with the press and press association of Alabama.

Through a curriculum and culture designed to prepare students to serve their profession, you send graduates to the workplace with realistic expectations as to compensation and work schedules. You have a fine reputation for doing so.

I hope Auburn continues to serve its students and the journalism profession under the present departmental structure.

Thanks for your consideration.

If you are interested in the future of Auburn University's journalism department and would like to let the University leaders know, please e-mail me at eric.bishop@greenvilleadvocate.com or call me at 382-3111 and I'll supply you the addressed. The matter will be considered at the April 7 trustee meeting.

Eric Bishop is publisher of the Greenville Advocate. His column appears on Saturday.