On November 17th, University of Montana President Royce Engstrom named the School of Journalism as one of the programs essential to the University’s “mission and identity” but targeted for budgeting cuts given a campus wide drop in enrollment.
“The journalism school is a part of this campus and the campus is hurting financially, so we’re going to take a hit,” Journalism Dean Larry Abramson said, in an interview two days later.
While some departments will be able to escape adjustments, the School of Journalism was one of those that have seen what Engstrom called a substantial enrollment reduction. However, Abramson pointed out that Journalism is the smallest school on campus, which means smaller changes in the numbers of enrolled students manifests itself as a bigger percentage drop. A 13.9 percent drop between 2014 and 2015 means 44 less students in the School of Journalism.
Abramson said that while it is still unclear what form an adjustment would take, he and the rest of the faculty are marshaling arguments to avoid a harmful budget cut and maintain the School of Journalism’s high rank, at 9th in the nation.
“As much as we want to be good citizens of the University and help solve this problem, we also want to protect our program,” Abramson said. The biggest challenge, he said, will be to avoid losing a faculty position in order to keep the school as a competitive destination for those who want to pursue careers in digital journalism.
Capstone journalism classes, such as the Native News Project and the Montana Journalism Review, are student produced publications that run to wide exposure each year. Native News runs as a special edition in several Montana newspapers and the Montana Journalism Review is distributed widely to media professionals across the region, as well as nationally and internationally. Both publications have begun to push more effectively into digital productions to match their print editions. Abramson pointed out that Assistant Professor Jule Banville is pushing increased attention to audio podcasts as well.
“It’s not just about enrollment numbers, and I think the President and the Provost are open to that,” Abramson said. “Reputation and role in society is important and I think we have a really outsized role in comparison to many of the other departments on campus.”
Abramson said that while he wished he could say more specifically what may happen, at the moment he remains in the fact finding phase. Being open with students and faculty is important to him, and Abramson said he will share any information he feels the school needs to know.
Meanwhile, he remains committed to innovating in the journalism school, streamlining programs and pushing the school towards the digital age skills that are defining today’s market. “Our people are placed in newsrooms and startups and in their own entrepreneurial efforts all over the world,” Abramson said.
He believes that tradition, and a high ranking among the nation’s journalism schools, is well worth protecting. “It’s taken a hundred and one years to build that reputation, and we don’t want to see it eaten away at by more cuts.”
By Andrew Graham