November 11, 2010

Out with the Old: A Student Perspective on the University of Colorado’s Journalism School. ~ Elana Staroselsky

It’s discomforting when you ask someone if they are looking forward to graduating and their response is one of uncertainty.  The look on their face reveals the hours they have spent contemplating their future and hoping the job market has some mercy for them.  My discomfort has stemmed in only my second year at the University of Colorado.  I can’t help but be concerned when the school I plan on getting my degree from releases a statement stating it is under “critical review.”

The University of Colorado School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) is under an exploratory committee that is to decide its fate by the end of the calendar year.  The school may be closed or it may be restructured to follow a “bolder” media program than the one in effect today.  The term “bold” is one I took straight from CU’s website which was created to answer questions on the changes.  I find the vagueness and evasiveness of the wording on the website absurd.

“The Exploratory Committee will be charged with determining what programs and structure will best suit the needs for us moving into the future so we can be competitive and provide the best value and educational opportunities to our students.”

The statements made resemble a bunch of political rhetoric and represent poor journalism from a journalism school itself.  No specific questions are answered and no precise solutions are provided.

The question I have to ask myself is: How can the value of my experience not decrease when the focus is going to be on improving the school for the next generation of students to go through it?  The FAQs on the SJMC website assure students that everyone will be able to graduate with the skills needed to enter the job market.  My concern is that if the focus of the school turns to the new program then the students who are working to finish the current program are going to be disregarded.  Furthermore, no one knows what kind of specific changes the school wants to implement.

When I rushed to meet with an advisor to gain perspective and hopefully comfort, she looked at me with a straight face and said, “You have nothing to worry about.  The changes that will happen don’t affect you because you’ve already been accepted to the school.”

I was dumbfounded by her answer.  It isn’t possible for the changes to not affect me.  The prestige of my program will drop when a new and supposedly improved program sweeps in to take center stage.  Not to mention, the current dean, Paul Voakes, is leaving after an eight-year term.  How do I know that there aren’t other great professors leaving because of their disagreement with the schools new plans?  I don’t. Because all announcements are made last minute for reasons I can only guess (losing money and students).

The one thing that is clear about the changes in SJMC is that there is a definite line between those of us accepted into the school and future students.  The prospective new curriculum is not aimed for the 647 undergraduates in the current program.  We get to pass through the school just the way it is.  My degree is devalued in these circumstances because there is no focus on improving my experience.

The statements put out by SJMC that are meant to reassure me, but instead I sense a PR-y feel to them.  I get the feeling that CU is scrambling to keep up with its dwindling budgets and the only goal they have regarding my education is keeping my tuition.

The other reason CU believes it needs to restructure the whole journalism school is because they have decided that what they are teaching right now isn’t working.  The changes that the exploratory committee hopes to implement are very likely going to be beneficial in new age of journalism that everyone speaks of.  But my advisor and CU have made it clear that it’s too late for me to benefit from any of these changes.

I am seeing a common message being conveyed between the lines: Don’t leave the journalism school. The changes we are speaking of will improve the curriculum.  More importantly, the changes will also leave CU with more money in its dwindling budgets.  Stay…because we need your tuition.

After having learned about all of the chaos I scurried to CU’s TAM school (Technology, Arts and Media) because that seems to be the closest minor I can declare which could fulfill the technology-focused gap the J-school is being recognized for.  I gathered that minoring in TAM is the closest thing I can do to meet the hopes the exploratory committee has for SJMC.

Attempting to take action, I put my name at the end of a list of a thousand students, all waiting to enroll in the introductory course for the TAM school.  As I stood in line to add my name to the list I was informed that there was no chance for a next semester spot but by being on the list I am guaranteed a spot for fall 2011.

Instead of panicking like the poor man behind me in line, I came to a realization.  The skills I learn for the new age of journalism will probably not come from CU’s school of journalism and mass communication.  They will come from Elephant Journal and other opportunities that I seek out because that’s the mission of a journalist today; to continue soaking in the changing field that no one can catch up to, not even an exploratory committee.

Sources: http://journalism.colorado.edu/2010/09/07/faqs-for-journalism-majors-prejournalism-students-and-prospective-students-2/

Elana Staroselsky is a student at the University of Colorado in the Journalism school and recently started interning with Elephant Journal.  She loves chai tea, escaping to the mountains to snowboard and has a weird laugh.

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