FAMU Journalism Ph.D. Controversy

By St. John, Eric | Black Issues in Higher Education, May 27, 1999 | Go to article overview

FAMU Journalism Ph.D. Controversy


St. John, Eric, Black Issues in Higher Education


The friction between the Florida A&M University Journalism school and the university's President, Dr. Frederick S. Humphries, over the Issue of tenure has been going on for more than a year.

Humphries has refused to grant tenure to faculty Members who lack doctoral degrees in journalism. Many professors in the school--including the dean, Dr. Robert Ruggles, and the holder of university's Knight Foundation chair in journalism, Joe Ritchie -- believe there is too much emphasis on terminal degrees for journalism instructor. Ritchie's wife, Dr. Louisse Ritchie is one of the two journalism professors recently denied tenure at FAMU. Though she has a doctorate in psychology, the reason she was denied tenure, she says, was "a lack of scholarly articles and research".

"Everybody has told me that journalism schools must have professionals," Humphries says. "That is true and we accept that. The question is, do you pick up everybody off the street who is a professional and put them on your tenure track?

"There are some criteria in which professionals are put on the tenure track," he explains. "We will accept professionals, but what we want the school to do is design set of Ph.D. equivalencies for these professionals.... If they are going to be put on tenure track, they must be meritorious individuals who have distinguished themselves in that profession--a Pulitzer Prize for writing a book would be an equivalent to a [doctorate], for example".

Some journalism school faculty members worry that Humphries' policy will also cost the school both its accreditation and a pending $500,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

Standard VI of the Accrediting Council on Education Journalism and Mass Communication (ACEJMC) states that journalism schools should seek a balance between academic faculty and faculty with a substantial professional experience. The Knight Foundation uses similar wording In its list of conditions to prospective grantees.

Although Humphries acknowledge there is a possibility of rejecting the Knight Foundation award because of these conditions , he says, "Once we get all this worked out in the school, our problem with accepting grant [will dissipate]. But the appropriate language needs to be in there.... I will not sacrifice the university's standards for language that does not adequately define the measures of equivalency".

But Joe Ritchie says, "It was languages similar to [ACEJMC's Standard VI] that caused President Humphries to say he was rejecting the ... Knight Foundation [money], which does not bode well for re-accreditation, since Standard VI is considered a bedrock. Humphries position also will hurt us on two other key [ACEJMC] standards--`governance' and `administration'". …

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