Staff, students of CU School of Journalism ready for ‘transformation’

BOULDER – The University of Colorado announced plans Wednesday to reorder the School of Journalism, perhaps closing it, while developing new interdisciplinary curricula. The plan may well see the school merged with the digital Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society (ATLAS) program. Administrators said the move would better prepare graduating journalists to thrive in the new-media era.

“We want to strategically realign resources and strengths currently existing on the CU-Boulder campus to ensure that course and degree offerings meet the needs of students, the labor market, our campus mission and the communications needs of a rapidly changing global society,” said Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano in an email to faculty and students.

Although unsettled, CU students and members of faculty expressed excitement for the potential new opportunities and growth for future the journalism program.

“This is the result that I have been hoping for,” said the Dean of the School of Journalism Paul Voakes. “It’s exciting, we’re finally beginning a real opportunity to redefine our journalism program for the 21st century.”

Although the sudden announcement created a stir, the idea has been bouncing around among faculty and students since April last year, when a CU task force began examining options to expand and merge its journalism curriculum with other disciplines to create a broader school of information.

“The faculty have been coming to me with talking about a merger with ATLAS for at least a year,” said Voakes.

The process is still in the preliminary stages and a new program will not be deployed until 2012 at the earliest, according to Interim Provost Russell Moore, who is setting up the committee charged with developing recommendations for the new program.

Changes will not affect current journalism students as the university is obligated to allow all students admitted into the school the opportunity to finish their degrees.

Editor-in-Chief of the CU Independent and a Kate Spencer explained that while many students are shocked by the news, the move is “basically facing the reality out there… it’s a good change although it won’t be easy.”

President of the CU Journalism Board Michelle Davenport says that many journalism students have already taken it upon themselves personally to ensure that they are ready for practicing media in a multimedia age.

“Everyone has been doing the best they can but the school is too divided into separate mediums like broadcast and print,” said Davenport. “They should be more integrated.”

Last December the school implemented a new curriculum with multimedia focus but Dean Voakes says the school requires more fundamental change.

Dean Voakes says that future graduates should be “flexible, agile, and able to adapt quickly to change. The mobile-digital journalists of tomorrow need to be business thinkers, computational thinkers, creative thinkers and critical thinkers all at once.”

Across the country universities have been responding to the fundamental shift in media during the previous years with 30 schools already having created new colleges and schools for media student.

However, Dean Voakes says CU plans to develop a unique program that places greater emphasis on entrepreneurship so that graduating journalists are better prepared to work in the smaller start-up environment of journalism and media today. “We have the opportunity to do what nobody is doing.”

Questions surrounding which courses and faculty positions might be trimmed were left dangling Wednesday.

Asked about cuts, Voakes paused. “Honestly, I don’t know,” he said.

Members of the faculty expressed disappointment with the use of the term “discontinuance” in the announcement from the university.

The required term was used since the School of Journalism must go through a formal process to evaluate how the school must be modified and changes to any academic program with tenured faculty must follow the Regent Policy on Program Discontinuance.

“Program discontinuance is an unfortunate term. You just can’t say we are moving the school because it breaks the law of the regents,” said Dean Voakes. “But if I could I would change it to program transformation instead.”

Internship Director Alan Kirkpatrick shared Dean Voakes’ disappointment with the term ‘discontinuance’.

“Discontinuance is not elimination. This transformation will create opportunities through the roof for students,” said Kirkpatrick. “From a career development perspective, I am nothing but excited to give students this opportunity for future success.”

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