Will real-world journalism be banished from
the University of Arizona?
by Joe Gold
PRESIDENT MANUEL T. PACHECO, Provost Paul Sypherd and Social
Sciences Dean Holly M. Smith are redesigning a leaner University
of Arizona for the 21st century. They speak in platitudes
about quality education, student mentoring and minority
recruitment. But their actions say something quite different.
In the name of cutting costs, these arrogant academics
plan to slice into the muscle of the institution and eliminate
a department with a strong tradition of close ties between
faculty, students and the community.
The UA Department of Journalism has consistently excelled
in teaching real-life news gathering, writing and editing.
Decades before it was fashionable, the journalism department
maintained an open-door policy with students to discuss
assignments, the profession and life in general. The UA
Department of Journalism has been a national leader in recruiting
minority students, particularly Latinos, to take their places
in the nation's newsrooms. They produce newspapers for Southern
Arizona communities and spread good will for the university
in South America, Mexico and around the United States.
These days, the UA administration marches to the mantra
of total quality management, and let the casualties be damned.
They take disagreement as disloyalty, and 1,300 impassioned
letters pleading for reconsideration as just so much junk
mail. They ignore pleas from the editorial pages of the
Arizona Republic, the Phoenix Gazette,
and Tucson's local newspapers. They scoff at letters from
the Arizona Press Club, publishers from around the country
and alumni who take enormous pride in the quality of their
First Dean Smith, then Provost Sypherd and now President
Pacheco have signed the death warrant for the Department
of Journalism. By June 30, 1998, it will be gone.
The Faculty Senate is assembling a committee to hold hearings
terminating the department, and will report back to Pacheco
with a non-binding recommendation within 90 days. An endorsement
from the Faculty Senate would suggest that terminating journalism
isn't just the notion of Pacheco, Sypherd and Smith, but
a broadly supported campus consensus that journalism just
isn't pulling its own weight.
WHEN THE MATTER first came up last spring, merely threatening
to eliminate journalism appeared to be a clever ploy. The
administration had faced an early round of budget cuts a
few years back. Then officials announced with a nod and
a wink they would have to eliminate the UA marching band.
The community rallied to the support the band, and local
business people rescued "The Pride of Arizona"
In 1994, upon the altar of re-election, Gov. J. Fife Symington
III offered up the state income tax. The almighty dollars
he sacrificed are bled from the budgets of Arizona's three
state universities. For the sake of his immediate personal
political triumph, the governor cuts a handsome slice from
After all, if God had wanted Arizonans to have educations,
he'd have granted each newborn a diploma.
At first, journalism seemed perfect for Holly Smith's budget
review committee to threaten to amputate from the university.
What department but journalism could better inflame the
righteous indignation of the press? The media could rally
to apply its considerable pressure, and force the governor
and his legislative cronies to relent and restore money
to the university budget. The university could get its money
and administrators could shed their crocodile tears for
the beleaguered department that almost got the ax.
And Gov. Fife could swat at the media gadflies that threatened
Except it didn't quite work out that way. Instead, UA officials
stuck to their guns with a non-academic vindictiveness that
has the whole campus puzzled. In the process, they have
created a public relations nightmare that could haunt them
IN APRIL, DEAN Smith's recommendations went to Provost
Paul Sypherd, who could accept or reject the findings. In
May, Sypherd and Smith paid a courtesy call on the journalism
department. Faculty members recalled that Sypherd never
quite gave a straight answer to direct questions.
As the story unfolded over last spring and summer, his
explanations kept shifting ground. Some of Sypherd's stated
- It's about money. We can't afford the luxury of journalism
- Your 1994 accreditation committee said you were too
print-oriented. You need to cover broadcasting, public
relations and advertising.
- There just aren't enough jobs for journalists in Arizona
to justify your existence.
- You need to do more research. Yeah, that's the ticket,
academic research like counting how many times a TV network
can say "OJ."
Sypherd ordered Jim Patten, head of the journalism department,
to meet with representatives of library science and media
arts last summer to discuss a possible combined program.
There were two meetings where nothing happened. Without
the threat of termination, neither library science nor media
arts felt any urgency to participate in the process.
By July, Sypherd forwarded his own recommendation to President
Pacheco: terminate journalism. Student letters popped up
in the Arizona Daily Wildcat decrying the decision
as an arrogant administrative act that never took student
concerns into account.
To placate public opinion, Sypherd wrote a column published
on the Arizona Daily Star op-ed page citing a 1994
journalism accreditation report that faulted the department
for focusing too narrowly on print journalism.
A week later, the Star published another column
by Trevor Brown, the dean of the journalism school at Indiana
University, who headed the 1994 UA journalism accreditation
committee. Brown scolded Sypherd for deliberately misrepresenting
the report, which had much praise for the journalism department
and a few suggestions for improvement.
Sypherd declined an interview, and forwarded my request
to Vice-Provost Kenneth R. Smith, the former dean of the
College of Business. Smith (no relation to Holly Smith)
didn't want to discuss journalism, but the general philosophy
behind cutting a department.
"We've been in an environment of enormous support
for higher education for the past 30 years," said Kenneth
Smith. "That's changed now, and we have to respond.
It's like the federal government cutting back on bases.
Everybody agrees that it has to be done, as long as it happens
The administration cries crocodile tears for a department
they see as vulnerable because much of its six-member faculty
is nearing retirement age. Speculation on what they're really
up to has run rampant on campus.
Some thoughts from people who prefer to not be quoted:
They're setting up a test case to bust the tenure system
protecting academic freedom and faculty jobs.
They're striking back at the department that dared to object
to a major donation from Kemper Marley, who was implicated
in the murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don
They're taking aim at the academic mother of all reporters,
and thereby swatting at the gadflies who buzz around state
and local government, looking for the truth behind official
The issue, originally over journalism, is now a fight over
who's really in charge, and Pacheco, Sypherd and Smith refuse
to bow to public pressure as a matter of arrogant pride.
Journalists aren't a rich lot, but they do have access
to people in power. So they usually make lousy ass-kissers.
In fact, the Department of Journalism's ineptitude at the
art of sucking up may indeed be the hidden crime for which
they are executed.
More of the crime may be that journalism just isn't academic
enough. The real world that journalists cover is an ugly
intrusion on ivy towers. Apparently mere professional training
is beneath the dignity of what President Pacheco would like
to be called "The Harvard of the West."
HOLLY SMITH, DEAN of the College of Social and Behavioral
Sciences, argues, "Journalism is preparing people,
and preparing them competently, to go into a profession
in which many more people are being trained than there are
jobs available. The national figures show that about eight
per cent of the people with journalism degrees get a journalism
This sudden new administrative concern for how students
fare in the workplace would be touching if it weren't such
obvious hogwash. Never mind that the statistics are narrowly
drawn and wildly inaccurate and that about 88 percent of
j-grads get employed, more than half of them in the media.
Just consider the 225 undergraduate and 25 graduate psychologists
this university annually tosses out onto the mean streets.
Or scan the classifieds for even one job in Holly Smith's
own discipline of philosophy.
"There are people who wrote in who said you're right."
Smith says "the real jobs out there are in media relations,
public relations and advertising, and you have to start
up a new department. The trouble is, to do justice to that
demand, we would have to find money from somewhere else,
and we don't have the money to do that. The question is
whether we should maintain them as they are now, because
that's the best we can do."
Smith seems to prefer training media manipulators, who
are paid to shape the truth for corporate ends through carefully
worded non-information and misleading TV commercials. It
appears odd that she has no academic qualms an exploitative
disinformation industry while killing the one discipline
turning out competent generalists who pursue information
and who are trained to render it fairly, accurately and
comphensibly to the public.
The battle moves now to the Faculty Senate, who will consider
Pacheco's recommendation. The Faculty Senate may deal as
well with the issues of allowing a crack in the long-established
tenure system that provides professional security for faculty
members. They will consider that if the administration can
succeed in dismantling this small but respected department,
how long will it be before they go after bigger prey act.
Rumors are they might consider dismantling of the College
of Law and the College of Architecture.
What department in political disfavor might next face the
ax under the growing power of administrators with the unhappy
task of chopping into a shrinking budget?
The final say about the Department of Journalism is up
to the Arizona Board of Regents, perhaps by the end of the
spring semester. As Tucson's weather heats up, so will the
Meanwhile, the school kids who have been looking forward
to journalism at the UA can watch and wonder.
Author's postscript: Two months
after this Tucson Weekly
cover story, the Arizona Board of Regents voted to retain
the Department of Journalism. Within the year, Manuel T.
Pacheco resigned as president of the University of Arizona.
His sucessor, Peter Likens, dropped in on the Journalism
Department's annual banquet to personally deliver a formal