Mosaic of Scholarship, Professional Experience Needed

Mosaic of Scholarship, Professional Experience Needed

Izard, Ralph

Journalists and academics must work together, but for this to occur, it is important that promotion and tenure evaluation be based on criteria that go beyond emphasis on peer-reviewed scholarly work.

Pardon the cliche, but mass communication educators and professionals are in the same boat, and a hole in either end poses problems for all.

That’s why many stress-although others ignore-the need to work together, for example, on important sponsorship of training programs, special opportunities for students and young professionals, visits to media offices and classrooms, cooperative research projects on issues of practical importance, jointly written articles and projects that lend double-barrelled expertise-both academic and professional-to the common good.

The goal is to harness the strengths of both sides of the equation. Academics have time to study, analyze and experiment with new approaches. Professionals have the day-to-day practical and professional experience that guides analysis of their own industry. How can we do without both of these?

But, however valuable and important such cooperation is, the process is hindered by a deep-rooted problem in that on some campuses faculty receive no rewards when they direct their teaching, research and service to professional ends. Evaluation that is based on a restrictive diet of publication in peerreviewed journals creates an atmosphere that is inhospitable to efforts of those who want to join forces with their professional colleagues.

Professionals must not assume that this is an academic problem that doesn’t affect them. It hinders meaningful cooperation on common issues and, in fact, nourishes the very ivory-tower atmosphere of which many are critical. It can force an other-directedness that influences what goes on in the classroom and, ultimately, the kind of graduates who seek employment in the industry.

Scholarly and professional excellence must be the accepted goals. It seems common sense that, in the words of Bob Mong, president and editor of The Dallas Morning News:

The goal (in a professional school) is to blend scholars and professionals-to create a mosaic, with each piece contributing a coherent part of the whole.

One case of “Constructive Dialogue”

Mong speaks from experience as a leader in a recent case at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. As chair of the school’s Board of Visitors, he was among those who worked with the school and university administrators to forge an evaluative atmosphere that accommodates both scholarly and professional excellence by faculty members.

The situation occurred when the board, a national body of 25 successful professionals and educators in a variety of disciplines, took note that the university’s Graduate Council, without warning, demoted or removed five mass communication faculty members from graduate faculty status. One of these was the occupant of an endowed chair who, as founder of the Washington Post Writers Group, supervised eight projects that won Pulitzer Prizes.

The board criticized the fact that the action was taken without acknowledgment of such professional credentials, and it challenged what it perceived to be an unwise and unproductive system that focused almost exclusively on the number of peer-reviewed journal articles submitted by faculty members.

With the school’s guidance, a board subcommittee prepared a “white paper” stressing that faculty evaluation must be based on both academic and professional criteria. Board members met with top university administrators, accepted some suggestions and then prepared a summary memorandum of understanding that was signed by Chancellor Mark Emtnert and then-Provost Dan Fogel, now president of the University of Vermont.

This document now is distributed to those outside the Manship School who participate in the evaluation process. The intent is to inform evaluators who are not familiar with expectations placed on professional program faculty and to propose that their evaluations be based on those requirements rather than those of the evaluators’ own disciplines. The first test of this document-a promotion and tenure decision of a faculty member who offered strong professional service as well as important, but not numerous, research articles-was successful.

In forging this agreement, the board made two important statements: first, that an outside professional advisory body may contribute to the success of a journalism/mass communication program; second, that faculty work must achieve scholarly excellence and, at the same time, contribute to problemsolving for the media and media-related industries.

Mong said:

We jumped into the middle of this case because it seemed an honest misunderstanding between academic values versus practical journalistic training. The board of visitors knows that its expertise-which is extensive-can influence policy at the school. This interactive and constructive relationship goes both ways. The school asks a lot of us, and we, in turn, have very high expectations for the school. From my experience, that is an exceptionally rare and positive quality for a board of visitors to enjoy.

Importantly, Manship Dean John Maxwell Hamilton expressed full agreement and said he welcomed advice and such constructive activism.

A key in making this a success is that the board did not disdain the academic process or the need to achieve excellence. Instead, it argued forcefully for excellence that will reflect well on the university and at the same time meet professional needs.

The Imperative of External Criteria

Part of the importance of strengthening a professional focus relates to the undeniable fact that the public, prospective students, the media and even potential donors evaluate academic programs in the wider world on the basis of professional, perhaps even more than academic, criteria. A reputation of success among the non-academic publics beyond our campuses will focus on the breadth of our contributions to various constituencies.

In developing its argument, the LSU board cited work by Ernest Boyer and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching-more than a decade old but still of contemporary importance-that questions an evaluation system that pushes faculty toward traditional research and publication and away from teaching and other forms of professional scholarship.

Further, the board pointed to requirements of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, another group that is a leader in professional-academic cooperation. The council stresses the importance of traditional scholarship, but does not encourage journalism/mass communication educators to build programs exclusively on traditional academic expectations.

It’s Not an Isolated Issue

The debate on the LSU campus is not unusual in mass communication education, although programs have differing versions of how it arises and is handled. Significantly, some programs are involved in give-and-take that has evolved into acceptance of at least mildly redefined criteria for faculty evaluation-including professional contributions and research that focuses on professional problems.

Various department heads list, for example, an increasing acceptance by their universities of professionally oriented “creative scholarship,” of publication in the trade press and of excellence as professional practitioners, in addition to outstanding scholarship and publication in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Ted Pease, head of the Department of Journalism and Communication at Utah State University, said that journalism/mass communication programs, in fact, might have created some of their own problems in the past by not recognizing that they are, after all, parts of universities that do have expectations. He cited an evolution from times when many journalism/mass communication programs sought to ignore the research leg of the three-part academic system. He said:

We (Utah State) expect our new faculty to be able to walk and talk like professionals and with authority, but also to be able to do the kind of original work, whether scholarship or professional production, that expands our aggregate knowledge base. That’s not only so they will have a shot at surviving the promotion and tenure process, but also because that’s what we’re all about.

An increasingly important prospect is comprised of opportunities for faculty members to present for promotion-and-tenure consideration articles in journals that are geared more toward professionals.

To this end, the School of Journalism at the University of Oregon, like others, has developed an evaluation document that reflects the nature of the program itself or what Dean Tim Gleason calls “the enterprise in which faculty members are most involved.” He said:

We recognize that range of creative activity that goes beyond academic publishing. We believe, however, that there has to be a difference between professional schools’ faculty and liberal arts faculty. The situation is not unique to mass communication schools’ faculties. The same applies in, say, architecture or accountancy.

One circumstance that helps facilitate the ability of journalism/mass communication programs to effect such criteria, says David M. Rubin, dean of the Newhouse School for Public Communication at Syracuse University, is found in the university’s organization. Rubin acknowledges that his program’s “freestanding” status contributes to the fact that it has what he calls “a broad definition of scholarly work “to specifically differentiate it from the arts and sciences.”

We encourage and accept publishing in peer-reviewed journals, but we have professors who write in publications like Columbia Journalism Review and American Journalism Review or in mass magazines or those who do Web-based work or make documentary films and even present advertising work as their creative work, and all this counts for a lot at the time of their promotion and tenure.

Rubin said that at his school “what matters are the quality and impact in the field in which the work is done. In our view, peer-reviewed journals have poor impact.”

Likewise, Tom Kunkel, dean of the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, noted an improvement at his university in meeting the requirements of a professional school.

“Yes, we’ve had a couple of cases in (which) unorthodox tenure packages did not pass muster at the university level,” he said. “But in recent years we’ve also gained approval of some promotions with more professionally oriented approaches. So things gradually are getting more flexible here, I’d say.”

As is the case at Maryland, some journalism/mass communication programs have established two categories of faculty-academic and professional. He said:

For new tenure-track assistant professors coming from more of an academic track, the general requirements are about what they are at most research universities-substantive research and publication in peer-reviewed journals, a book and reasonable professional and/or university service. For those coming from more of a professional track, the requirements are pretty much the same, although outside research and publications might be in more conventional industry publications. For the most part, however, our full-time professionals tend to be contract hires, not tenure-track positions, so tenure and research is not really an issue for them.

Kunkel added that his school has on occasion hired people with outstanding professional credentials-nationally prominent journalists Hodding Carter, Gene Roberts, David Broder, for example-who have been brought in as full professors on the strength of their professional accomplishments.

Even at universities where administrators say their journalism/mass communication programs have accommodated and to a degree accepted the traditional research expectations, some redefinition often appears.

For example, Ellen A. Wartella, dean of the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, said her program has no problem with promotion and.tenure because journalism professors are expected to do nothing more than teaching and research. But Wartella added a caveat.

“What is important to stress now,” she said, “is that you don’t have to be doing research-based scholarship. Creative scholarship is good enough.”

Such creative scholarship often is defined as work that is professional in nature or publication that deals with professional issues.

Scott Robert Olson, former dean of the College of Communication, Information and Media at Ball State University, noted as well that his program has incorporated a broad range of professional activities into its process, although teaching is stressed in tenure decisions, and research is emphasized for promotion to full professor. Olson said:

It’s important to note that our documents make clear that creative activity is a kind of research and is most welcome. Art, video, creative writing, etc., are all creditable toward promotion and tenure. They would need to be peer-reviewed, however. Publishing in trade or mainstream publications is appropriate in some of our disciplines and are creditable so long as they have been peerreviewed, but in this case the ‘peer’ is a peer industry rather than academia.

The Howard University department of journalism’s appointment, promotion and tenure philosophy takes a broad perspective, but allows faculty members some flexibility in determining the contributions they make to the program. A principal consideration, the document says, is teaching. But among scholarly contributions that are rewarded are both traditional research and creative activities that include performance as journalists or as other professionals in mass communications.

Conclusion

Perhaps The Dallas Morning News’ Bob Mong, in the LSU case, put the matter into its proper perspective:

The board felt, correctly as it turned out, that if we built the case clearly and in good faith, the administration would respond with integrity. The administration recognized that practical training was just a part of what was at stake and that we were not advocating any abandonment of academic research and theory. Just the opposite. But for the administration to eschew practical training, research and service would have been a grave disservice to students and to the professionals they eventually will serve.

This attitude, if commonly shared and practiced, will go a long way in helping journalism/mass communication education and the professional industries to further strengthen the progress both have made in recent years. It will contribute to continued redefinition of ourselves in our home settings toward the kind of excellence certainly visualized by thoughtful academics and professionals and by all whom they serve.

Izard is a former editor of Newspaper Research Journal and the Sig Mickelson/CBS Professor and associate dean for graduate studies in the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. Morgan is assistant dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Copyright Newspaper Research Journal, Department of Journalism, University of Memphis Fall 2004

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