Deans of Change: Keeping Their Schools Current with the Digital Revolution, Raising Enough Money to Make That Happen and Putting Together Diverse Staffs Are among the Challenges Facing the People Who Run the Nation's Journalism and Mass Communication Schools

By Sheehan, Matthew C.; Mihailidis, Paul | American Journalism Review, October-November 2007 | Go to article overview

Deans of Change: Keeping Their Schools Current with the Digital Revolution, Raising Enough Money to Make That Happen and Putting Together Diverse Staffs Are among the Challenges Facing the People Who Run the Nation's Journalism and Mass Communication Schools


Sheehan, Matthew C., Mihailidis, Paul, American Journalism Review


Atop the high hill from which Syracuse University keeps watch on its hard-working hometown, the building known as Newhouse III has been going up for the past two years. A soaring construct full of glass and high technology, this 74,000-square-foot addition to the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications is replete with spaces for research and learning on a formal and informal basis. Designed by the New York architectural firm of Polshek Partnership, it joins Newhouse I (created by I.M. Pei and completed in 1964) and Newhouse II (finished in 1974) to finalize benefactor S.I. Newhouse's longtime vision for his namesake school.

The school took possession of the new building in August, just in time for fall classes, and dedicated it in September. By October--maybe--Newhouse Dean David Rubin can catch his breath.

One of longest-serving journalism deans in office, Rubin used the springboard of the Newhouse family's $15 million gift to raise the remainder of the new building's $31.6 million price tag. As the high-tech equipment attests, Rubin enters his 18th year riding a remarkable wave of change.

Certainly it's a far cry from the school he inherited.

"When I got here in 1990, we had one laboratory that had computers," Rubin recalls. "The machines in there--only two members of the faculty knew what to do with them, even to fix them or make them work." There was no such thing as an IT department. "We've come from that to a school that is all digital, with 300 machines."

Indeed, much of the technology and many methods of news-gathering represented in Newhouse III didn't even exist five years ago, when it was being conceived. Rubin points out that the faculty, while acknowledging the digital revolution, remains as committed as ever to a core curriculum that embraces writing, reporting, editing, ethics and history. "A lot of the basics have not changed at all," he says. "What's really changed is the new amazing delivery system."

Keeping up with sweeping technological change is just one of many demands confronting Rubin and his fellow journalism and mass communication (JMC) leaders these days. That fact was underlined in a recent survey of the top administrators of the member institutions of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication (ASJMC). It was conducted by Thomas Kunkel, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland (and president of AJR). The online survey was distributed to 165 ASJMC administrators; 89 of them responded.

The purpose of the survey, underwritten by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, was to take a snapshot of the nation's JMC deans, directors and department heads, and learn more about some of the key issues and pressures they face. What it found was ample evidence of growing expectations to raise private funds, struggles to adapt their schools' curricula in a digital world and faculty hiring challenges.

Mike McQueen is quite familiar with the pressures facing JMC leaders. Now the Associated Press bureau chief for Louisiana and Mississippi, McQueen has toggled between the profession and academia several times. Most recently, he was chair of Florida International University's journalism and broadcasting department from 1999 to 2004.

One of the biggest problems that journalism education faces, McQueen says, is the lack of diversity in its leadership ranks. He recalls sitting around the hotel bar one night not too many years ago with colleagues at an educators' conference, "and going around the country we counted five minority department chairs at schools that were not HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities]." And only one of those, he says, was a dean.

Alas, the survey suggests not a lot has changed. Nearly 90 percent of the respondents are white, and nearly two-thirds are male. They are, on average, 55 years of age. As Kunkel, who is president of ASJMC, said in his report on the survey's findings, "Collectively, the people running our journalism and mass-com programs don't look much like America, and they don't even look a lot like their own student bodies, which are now pretty much two-to-one female. …

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