Discourse: The Basic Requisite for Developing Curricular Excellence

In retrospect, Mr. Jobs was a man ahead of his time during his first stint at Apple. Computing’s early years were dominated by technical types. But his emphasis on design and ease of use gave him the edge later on. Elegance, simplicity and an understanding of other fields came to matter in a world in which computers are fashion items, carried by everyone, that can do almost anything. “Technology alone is not enough,” said Mr. Jobs at the end of his speech introducing the iPad 2, in March 2011. “It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” It was an unusual statement for the head of a technology firm, but it was vintage Steve Jobs. His interdisciplinary approach was backed up by an obsessive attention to detail…. “For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” Obituary of Steve Jobs The Economist October 6, 2011

I think it is apparent that we came to this conference to build, maintain and establish the values of quality journalism education for a world of multiple platforms. European practitioners and educators are trying to do some of this with the Tartu Declaration: http://www.ejta.eu/index.php/website/projects/. Douglas Anderson, dean at The Pennsylvania State University, is the chair of a committee that is evaluating the current standards of ACEJMC. Perhaps this effort will result in an initiative similar to the Tartu Declaration. Periodic review has been part of the on-going process of ACEJMC. Thus, in the mid1990s, because of convergence, ACEJMC changed its requirements from 65 hours in liberal arts and 90 hours outside of the unit to 65 and 80. That motion would not have passed at that time if the number of hours in liberal arts had been less than 65 because professionals had more of a voice in that day and educators did not want to offend the professionals who were doing the hiring (and wanted a strong liberal arts base). For years it was professionals on the council who held schools and universities to the liberal arts requirement. However, with the demise of many news organizations, educators now have a significant majority on the council, and I am sure that the standard will be changed dramatically.

One of the real sticking points in the discussion has been what is a liberal arts course. For example, if economics is in the college of liberal arts is it more of a liberal arts course than if it is in the college of business. Ironically, educators are using this opportunity to eliminate or seriously modify the standard in order to better prepare graduates for the professions in one of the most difficult job markets in history. The belief is that by changing the standard, students may be better prepared for many more jobs. For decades, journalism and mass communications programs held great respect on many campuses because of their course requirements. They maintained strict liberal arts requirements: Basic math, two years of modern languages and courses in lab sciences. Many other units on most campuses had abandoned those requirements. However, many faculty in liberal arts colleges (seem over time) to have become less demanding, keeping minimal office hours and doing minimal service – generally with the intention of having better publishing records. Indeed, instruction in liberal arts colleges often was not necessarily rigorous or demanding, and many journalism educators questioned why liberal arts was held in such esteem when the rigorous standards and best teaching, they thought, was going on in JMC programs. Thus, the arguments of critics (of the 65/80 rule) gained traction. Clearly, JMC units on most campuses are known for their quality instruction existed -- particularly in writing and speaking. A Little History Journalism education has its roots in ancient Greece. Collections of ancient documents attracted men who read the scrolls and then talked about what they had read. Young men and boys would gather to hear the discussions, and soon institutions of learning were established. The ancient Greeks defined the original liberal arts, and one of these was rhetoric, written and spoken language. Aristotle and Plato wrote essays and taught young men of ancient Athens in the fine art of presenting information and facts and of persuading, and their students practiced these skills in the mass media of that day in the Amphitheater of that fledgling democracy. Later as universities developed and became places of formal research where grantsmanship became vital for survival, those who taught literature wished to be known as departments of literature – English or German or French, etc. Those who

taught speech were to remain in the department of rhetoric. Then they said, “We are really speech. Let’s call ourselves speech.” Soon they realized that this did not open the way for them to pursue grants, and they decided to be called communication studies. They taught organizational communication and other topics that might attract grants. Meanwhile, journalism and integrated marketing communication programs continued to teach writing and speaking and presentation of facts and information. Those students in J/IMC programs also, often majored in other disciplines, and some were named to Phi Beta Kappa. Many were leaders. They excelled on their campuses because they knew/know how to write and speak, and when they went into the job market, they got the jobs (that others did not get) because they knew how to tell a prospective employer who they were. Unfortunately, when JMC education was developed, Wilbur Schramm, director of the School of Journalism at the University of Iowa and Willard Bleyer, director of the School of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin, emphasized the social sciences in journalism graduate education. Other schools followed. As a result, instead of functioning like other disciplines, beginning in a broad base and becoming more specific at the graduate level, journalism education moved from the specifics of journalism education (at the undergraduate level) to studying about mass communication and journalism (at the graduate level). Those who thrived at the graduate level, were not necessarily the best at the skills taught at the undergraduate level. Thus, a gap developed in JMC between quality undergraduate education and quality graduate education. This is significant because the way we should know if someone is qualified to teach is by his or her publications. In other words, our scholarship defines our teaching. Nonetheless, there is little empirical research/scholarship in JMC programs that demonstrates a faculty members’ ability to teach at the undergraduate level. Sure research exists in law, in mass communication and society and in public opinion and in many areas of IMC, but what kind of research is there in writing and editing and graphics, in videography and in techniques of working in audio. Clearly, the scholarship of journalism education must include the practice of the professions at a very high level, and that means that the scholarship of the media educators must include the humanities. We have to be similar to the arts. Great organists and great painters can get tenure for their world-class work. Similarly, top journalists and top IMC professionals should be able to demonstrate their qualifications for teaching by publishing professionally. Nonetheless, in at least some programs the great book manuscripts and fine magazine pieces do not count for tenure because many JMC programs primarily accept

scholarship that is in the social sciences. Many journalists do work very similar to anthropologists, yet their publications are not considered academic enough. This is not true at Columbia University, University of California Berkeley, the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and Medill. I would dare to say that we have not allowed the best of our profession to teach in our programs in many cases because of our policies on tenure and promotion and our (dare I say) shame of quality journalistic and IMC scholarship. Some of this relates to John Dewey’s view that we learn by doing. Some of this relates to a category of university that exists in the United States (that emphasizes practical preparation for making a living). The way was paved for these universities when Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that led to the creation of the Land Grant College and/or University. Places where students learn practical ways of life. Malcolm MacLean, my mentor in the Ph.D. program at the University of Iowa, defined good theory as an abstraction that helped one do something better. It was not to be an abstraction removed from every day living. Clearly, the fact that we are a discipline should be celebrated. Plato and Aristotle certainly celebrated achievement in this area. Observations/ Conclusions  Optimum formal education is education thoughtfully developed by faculty in consultation with professionals. It is not education dictated by an administrator – even one who really knows and understands the field. Thus, faculty should decide what we teach. It should be a curriculum hammered out by faculty members who are consulting with professionals and debating and discussing what is best for students.  Media education has done a poor job of defining the field. We seem to be ashamed of the practice of the field, and we are not thinking in a broad sense about what a quality education should include when we decide that we need to lower the number of liberal arts courses. That should not be an issue. Clearly, the issue should be: What will an educated media practitioner need to know when he graduates and what skills he will need to have to grow in the profession as it changes. What electives should that student be encouraged to have in order to bring diversity to the professions.

 Optimum formal educational experience is broad and deep. Thus, the optimum maybe should include a systematic liberal arts education and one major and two or three minors or two majors.  Graduate education should be professions-oriented and should recognize the scholarship of a high level of practice of the field – without designating the scholars as professors of practice.  Requirements: Let’s start all over. Let’s try to define what skills and knowledge a person should have who is a media practitioner and a person who is not in a media field.  Definition: Let’s distinguish between what should be learned at the graduate level and the undergraduate level so that we truly have undergraduate education and graduate education.  Discourse: Let’s build quality curricula through discourse, and let’s make flexibility a priority. I thought I might remind you again of something Steve Jobs said: A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience the better design we will have. -- Steve Jobs