Michigan State J-Student Reacts to J-School Drama

The latest chapter in the ongoing Michigan State journalism school saga: Pamela Whitten, dean of the College of Communication Arts & Sciences, has staged a behind-closed-doors “pep talk” with j-faculty and requested suggestions on possible replacements for current j-school chair Jane Briggs-Bunting, who Whitten recently asked to resign.  Whitten has also promised to meet with students to discuss the school’s future on Friday, July 24th, a gesture students view as a positive, although coming a bit later than desired.

In the meantime, Whitten and other admins. have been uber-silent about the situation, including declining repeated requests for comment by The State News. MSU j-student Jayna Silk: “I think that Dean Whitten is definitely making small strides to communicate better with people, but I still kind of think there’s a lot to be done.  The feeling I’ve been getting from people around the J-School is that she really does have the best interest of the J-School in mind.”

Kristen Daum, an MSU j-student who jumpstarted the “Save MSU Journalism” blog along with Silk and Aaron Olson in response to Briggs-Bunting’s recent abrupt dismissal, chatted exclusively with CMM last week about her ties to the school, her thoughts about its future, and her efforts to save it.

Save MSU Journalism

1) What originally led you to enroll in MSU’s j-school?

I’m an out-of-state student originally from North Dakota, so I came to MSU’s j-school solely on reputation. After I was accepted, I wasn’t sold on coming to MSU until I came for a visit. Jane [Briggs-Bunting] was originally going to show me (a little prospective freshman) around, but she had a meeting- so she arranged for another j-school professor to show me around and tell me about the school. She didn’t have to do that, and the professor who showed me around didn’t have to do that, but they did, because that’s the kind of community the j-School is. They care for their own, and they watch out for their own. That hospitality and community feel of the j-school faculty convinced me that this was the right place to be.

2) Why do you feel the current situation has placed the school in a position in which it needs saving?

I don’t think the j-school is in danger of disappearing, but I am very concerned about the direction the school could take if Dean Whitten doesn’t like the track that it’s on.

This May, the faculty approved a brand new curriculum and proposed it to the dean’s office for approval (after which it would then work its way through the university system for approval). Right now, the proposal is held up in the dean’s office, and its future is uncertain. To me, this is a dangerous turn of events for MSU’s journalism education. The new curriculum would have overhauled what is already taught at the j-School and truly prepare students for a digital news era in a way that the current curriculum can’t.

The j-school was on a successful path. But we don’t know what “new direction” Whitten wants the J-School to take- and that is the most disturbing. The silence and the lack of transparency is very troubling- especially coming from a communications college.

3) How effective has the blog been thus far in getting the word out and fighting for your cause?

[F]rom what I’ve seen, Twitter and Facebook have done us a great help. After all, this whole cause started on Twitter through word-of-mouth among students. And the membership to the Facebook group continues to grow each day. It’s very encouraging to see the comments made by influential alumni and former faculty in support of this cause.

4) What advice do you have for future students considering starting an impromptu activism/journalism blog?

Utilize your resources. This whole event has shown me the power of social media in communicating information. Web sites like Twitter and Facebook are still highly under-utilized, but they are incredibly valuable in spreading a message.

5) Beyond an explanation and dialogue that is hopefully coming, what needs to be said or done in the longer term to restore your faith in the future of the j-school?

It’s not my faith in the Journalism School that’s been shattered- it’s my faith in the College of Communication Arts & Sciences. This past year, I served as the undergraduate student representative to the college’s advisory council, so I worked with faculty from across the college (including Dean Whitten). During that time, I gained a new respect for how the college operates, because I was able to see the behind-the-scenes view of how policy was established and what issues the college was facing.

The [recent] events have completely shattered that respect. What I saw before was a college that acknowledged the voices of its faculty and students, a college that was rooted in transparency and communication. The college under Dean Whitten’s leadership so far appears to be the exact opposite. I have never seen anyone treated with such callous disrespect as Whitten has exhibited toward Jane Briggs-Bunting. It’s a travesty and not what I thought the MSU community was about.

As for how to remedy that, I’m not sure that can be done in the short term. I hate to leave MSU and the college on such a bitter note, because I care deeply for this university but I don’t know if these hurt feelings can be fixed so quickly. If anything, I hope this teaches MSU a huge lesson in being a more transparent institution that respects its constituents. After all, the administrators don’t make a college, the faculty and- most importantly- the students do.

6) You are named chair of the j-school tomorrow: What’s your first major initiative or action?

Ensure the school gets the answers it deserves about this whole horrible ordeal, and then advocate for the dean’s approval of the proposed curriculum, so that it can be moved forward into the university system.

2 Responses to “Michigan State J-Student Reacts to J-School Drama”
  1. Dan Houseman says:

    Please make the Facebook cause a link here and highly visible so that we may join their cause.

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