Wednesday, October 04, 2006

More Mass Comm Dirt

Someone sent me the going away letter from Tom Johnson, Professor in Journalism when he left in May 2006. After reading it I realized he lived just around the corner from me. Here is what he had to say -

Exit Interview for Tom Johnson, Professor School of Journalism

I have chosen to provide a written exit interview before I leave for Texas Tech to become the Marshall and Sharleen Formby Regent’s Professor in their College of Mass Communication. Colleagues who have had exit interviews with the Dean recently indicated he had little interest in finding out why they were leaving in order to create a better atmosphere for the college. The dean has characterized me as one of a small group of disgruntled faculty opposed to change, although I have supported combining the broadcast and journalism news programs since the time of Joe Foote’s deanship and served as a co-chair on one of the undergraduate curriculum committees. Also, my reasons for leaving have been misrepresented by the Dean’s Office and the director of the School of Journalism. I wanted to take an opportunity to present my side.

Certainly an endowed chair position at Texas Tech is a wonderful opportunity I am lucky to receive. But I have been in Carbondale for 18 years and my roots in the community run deep. I would have not have even been looking for a position if I weren’t profoundly unhappy with how I have been treated as well as the direction the college and the School of Journalism has taken.

I have been subjected to a hostile work environment during my last years as Director of Graduate Studies and as a journalism faculty member. I dreaded meeting with the dean, fearing that the meeting would turn into a closed-door session where he would yell at me, sometimes with others present, including the director of the School of Journalism. For instance in May 2005 after I sent an e-mail to the senior faculty and the Director of the School of Journalism advocating that Dr. Jaehnig rewrite the annual performance review of a junior faculty member, I was called into a closed-door meeting with the dean and the director and yelled at for inciting the senior faculty and for not serving as an effective mentor for this faculty member because I failed to keep her under control. That faculty member had seven publications in 2005. After a Nov. 14, 2005 meeting in which the dean yelled at me and questioned my integrity in front of the associate and assistant dean by erroneously claiming I had divulged confidential information from a Management Council meeting, I said that I would no longer meet with the dean unless he gave me assurances that he would not raise his voice or belittle me. He denied yelling or belittling me, so we have not met since.

The dean has also made belittling comments in public at my expense. For instance, at the first Graduate Committee meeting of the 2005-2006 academic year, the dean belittled me for how I pronounced an Indian colleague’s name and said I had “no clue” about the MFA program. The dean said these comments were meant as a joke, not to belittle me. But jokes are said in a light tone. These comments were made in anger. My secretary Lucille Lasley did not take them as a joke. After the meeting she went to a senior colleague and cried about how I was mistreated by the dean. She later told me that as a result of the comments made at this meeting and comments made earlier, she decided she would retire if she had accumulated enough time.

I also decided to leave SIUC because I could no longer tolerate the dean’s efforts to micromanage the graduate program and because I do not agree with the direction the college is taking.

The College Operating Papers clearly spell out the duties of the DGS and the Faculty Graduate Committee. The dean has chosen to ignore those operating papers by trying to wrest authority away from the DGS and the Graduate Committee and vest it in himself and the Management Council that he controls. For instance, he has tried to take away the authority of the DGS to recommend to the chairs and directors who should teach graduate courses by saying the DGS only had authority to recommend what courses would be offered. The Management Council would make the decisions on staffing those courses. When I followed the Operating Papers and recommended to the chairs and directors who should teach graduate courses, the dean began to yell and threaten me at a Nov. 7, 2005 staff meeting. While the Operating Papers and our Assistantship Policy, which was approved by both the Graduate Committee and the Management Council, indicates that admission committees meet and recommend to the DGS who should be admitted to the various programs, the Dean insisted that he review the files and approve admission decisions. These efforts to micromanage the graduate program extended to issues such as insisting that he approve all student committees, to selecting the student representative on the Graduate Committee to even whether a student would be allowed a course substitution.

The College of Mass Communication and Media Arts has been rightly recognized in the past for preparing undergraduate and graduate students for career success through a combination of theoretical and hands-on training. The dean has systematically dismantled the commercially oriented professional programs in the college, most notably advertising and broadcast news, and has pushed a critical/cultural media studies agenda. I want to note that I am not opposed to students learning a Marxist perspective. Indeed, when I entered the office of DGS, the doctoral program was primarily a social science, law and history program. I believe that students should be exposed to a diversity of theoretical and methodological approaches and I pushed for doctoral students to be required to take qualitative as well as quantitative methods and have offered political economy and cultural studies courses alongside traditional mass communication theory courses. Students who have been admitted to the graduate program reflect this support for diversity. I do not believe the dean shares my concern for intellectual diversity. Indeed, this fall, a member of the Graduate Committee, who works closely with the dean, questioned why we were promoting our current doctoral program, which provides students with a diversity of perspectives, when the doctoral program is moving toward a film studies perspective. I fear that indeed the doctoral program is moving from a program that celebrates intellectual diversity to one narrowly focused on one medium and one approach. If I didn’t receive the position at Texas Tech, I would have stepped down from the DGS position not only because of my treatment by the dean but because I would have felt marginalized in the program I direct.

The dean’s systematic efforts to destroy the commercially oriented professional programs in the college has also had a profound effect on the graduate program. We established an innovative interactive multimedia graduate program under Dean Joe Foote. That program was killed in spring 2003. We admitted two students for that fall and have not accepted applications since then. The new Master of Science in Professional Media and Media Management Studies, developed by the dean and which begins this fall, has replaced the portfolio with the GRE as a main entrance requirement, making it more difficult to attract students with a commercial professional orientation. Earlier this year the dean indicated that when the M.S. was created, the document creating it did not provide assistantship support for this professional program, even though it has always been the professional students who teach most of our journalism and radio/television labs. We are struggling to staff those labs for this fall.

As accomplished faculty with advertising, media management and commercial production backgrounds are being driven out of the college, our professional media practice and media management students are struggling to find courses to take and faculty to chair and serve on their committees. The graduate programs in the college have been known for training professionals, artists and scholars for meaningful careers in academia and the media industries. I fear that the professional aspect of the graduate program is falling by the wayside and that artists and scholars will only be trained in a narrow critical/cultural perspective.

I am leaving Carbondale June 30th with a heavy heart, not only for all the friends, colleagues and graduate students who I will be leaving behind, but because the graduate and undergraduate programs I have been a part of for 18 years are being replaced to the detriment of our graduate and undergraduate students alike.


Anonymous said...

I'm told 100 of the 600 lost students this year (on campus) were from MCMA. No peace, no students.

Fraydog said...

There's no way they can keep that Dean if that's true.

Anonymous said...

I'm not faculty but I've been in MCMA for more than eight years and I cant' substantiate everything Tom says but it's _VERY_ close to true.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I don't know if this letter is true, but I know the fellow who wrote the letter. I'm sure he thought it was true when he wrote it. Clearly the truth in conflicts like this is very difficult to find.

One of the problems when your leader has no people skills is this kind of thing never is mediated. So it grows and grows. Now it has a life of its own and fixing it is going to be hard.