Archive for Sunday, August 15, 1999


August 15, 1999


The KU journalism school is revamping its curriculum to prepare students for media convergence.

When Jimmy Gentry came on as dean of the journalism school at Kansas University two years ago, one of his first tasks was to gear up for reaccreditation.

Putting together a committee to help guide the school's goals, Gentry asked the faculty in Stauffer-Flint Hall to take a close look at themselves.

First faculty devised a value statement, deciding that the journalism school relished:

  • A diverse, collaborative and dynamic student-centered environment.
  • Excellence in learning, teaching and mentoring.
  • Free expression and conscientious, ethical journalism as cornerstones of a democratic society.
  • Critical and creative thinking.
  • Meaningful research and creative activity.
  • Imaginative outreach and collaboration on campus, in Kansas and the profession of journalism,

The faculty adopted the value statement unanimously on Nov. 7, 1997.

It sounded great, but not all was well.

Dissension and turmoil plagued the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, the dean said.

"We had problems," Gentry said. "There was a low level of trust among staff."

In the next step, faculty took a hard look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the journalism school. They cited lack of trust as the school's foremost weakness.

"The physical separation between sequences in Dole and Stauffer-Flint, competition among sequences and an erosion of communication and cooperation have all contributed to a serious lack of trust among faculty," the report said.

"I wanted to try to get everyone focused," Gentry said.

By the end, "we felt we had really looked at ourselves," the dean said.

Another problem faculty cited was a core curriculum that hadn't changed in many years.

"Under the old curriculum, students were rigidly pigeon-holed into sequences and had very few opportunities to get out of those sequences," he said. "It was the elevator model. Once you got into the elevator, the door closed."

The core curriculum was not meeting students' needs, Gentry said. Given that a significant percentage of journalism graduates change focus in the first five years of their career -- a print journalism exploring broadcast, for example -- the school decided it was time to give students more choice.

In spring 1998, the school revised its core curriculum. It will go into effect in fall 2000.

The school's sequences, or areas of study, will be more flexible than ever before, Gentry said. The journalism program offers sequences in advertising, business communication, news-editorial, magazine and radio/TV.

Some students already are experiencing the move toward cross-training. Senior news-editorial majors did some TV work, and broadcast students wrote for the University Daily Kansan, the KU student newspaper.

It just makes sense when the face of journalism is changing so much, Gentry said, citing newspapers and television stations that are joining forces and pooling resources.

"We had to deal with what we saw on the horizon," he said of media convergence.

The school can't be confined to print journalism, he said. So the school launched Digital Jayhawk, where the school's print, television and radio content meet in cyberspace.

The reaccreditation team apparently liked what direction the journalism school had taken. The Accrediting Council for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications formally granted reaccreditation in April.

The team touted KU's journalism school for "pioneering curricular efforts to prepare students for media convergence."

Gentry stresses that the school is a professional school at KU, which means the focus is on training students.

"We're a professional school, and that's one thing we'll always be," he said. "We don't want to be a technical school. We want to be an ideas school."

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is


The reaccrediting team identified these strengths of the school:

A demanding yet caring faculty culture that fosters loyal and proud graduates.

Diligent, demanding instruction and a firm commitment to students.

Campuswide respect for the faculty's dedication to teaching and student development along with its leadership and participatory roles in university governance and activities.

A talented, hard-working student body that captures far more than its share of regional and national contest awards and earns praise from faculty across campus and from central administrators.

Forward-looking leadership that has created a new atmosphere of trust and optimism among faculty.

An enviable record of student placement in jobs and internships.

A must-stop hub for recruiters from some of the country's major newspapers and parent corporations.

An impressive collection of on-campus media opportunities for students.

Pioneering curricular efforts to prepare students for media convergence.

Laudable school and faculty public service.

Impressive private financial support.


The reaccrediting team identified the following weaknesses of the school:

Steps should be taken to bring faculty scholarship and creative activity to the level expected from a strong program at a Research 1 university.

Heavy faculty teaching loads should be adjusted when appropriate, in response to enhanced scholarly expectations.

Efforts should be made to enhance the graduate program's identity, rigor and processes.

Teaching resources allocated across sequences should be re-examined to determine if student enrollment shifts are being appropriately accommodated.

More aggressive steps should be taken to further diversify the student body.

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