John Henningham:
Address to University of Queensland Academic Board, 2000

Background: Journalism education in Australia took a huge backward step when the University of Queensland forced a merger between the Department of Journalism and communication studies as well as public relations. The move was opposed by journalism students, teachers and industry advisers who sought to preserve the integrity and standards of professional journalism education at the university. Foundation Professor of Journalism and the last head of the Journalism Department, Professor John Henningham, spoke against the amalgamation and predicted the decline of journalism at the university. Henningham was the University of Queensland's (and Australia's) first PhD in Journalism and the first person in Australia to be appointed Professor of Journalism. He is credited with the establishment of Journalism as a university department at UQ in 1990: it had previously been a sub-section of the Department of Government.

Subsequently, an outburst of dissent from current students has shown that the concerns of John Henningham and his colleagues and students in 2000 were well-founded: See Students' blogspot 1 and Students' blogspot 2

And plummeting enrolments have resulted in UQ plans to drop journalism education:

Professor John Henningham's address to Academic Board

13 November 2000

On behalf of the Department of Journalism, I oppose the proposal that Journalism be subsumed into the proposed new School of Journalism and Communication. It is the strong view of the majority of journalism staff that our department be established as the School of Journalism — in parallel with the redesignation of other departments in the Social & Behavioral Sciences Faculty and also the Business Economics & Law Faculty. We recognise that there is interest in the university in developing the broad area of communication, but reject the proposal that communication be grafted on to journalism as a means of giving it a profile. As an alternative, we suggest that communication be included in the proposed new School of Social Science, which already teaches and researches in communication areas, and/or that communication be set up as a University Centre.

The dean has conspicuously failed to persuade the Journalism staff of the advantages of the proposed reorganisation. We are deeply concerned that demoting Journalism to the position of a subsection of a communication school would do untold harm to our reputation and our loss of leadership in Australian journalism education.

Our industry advisory board has confirmed these fears. As Australian Journalists' Association president Terry O'Connor wrote: "Whatever other advantages there may be for the university in conflating journalism and communications, there can be no advantage of any kind to the journalism department or to the industry."

Queensland Newspapers executive and former Courier-Mail editor Greg Chamberlin: "It is therefore disconcerting to learn that the university contemplates changes which would serve to undermine the hard-won credibility and professional reputation its journalism educators have achieved."

Channel Seven's News Director Larry Somerton: "I am at a loss to understand why any institution would contemplate changes that could threaten its professional standing in the wider business community."

ABC education journalist Rohan Wenn: "It takes years to build the sort of reputation currently enjoyed by the Department of Journalism. While good reputations are hard won, sadly, they're easily lost."

Members of the Department of Journalism are proud of the reputation we have established. We are the envy of journalism courses at the 20 or so other universities where journalism is taught. We have been described by journalists and media executives as Australia's leading school of journalism, and a great deal of our "clout" comes from our structure as a free-standing journalism department rather than as a section of another department or school. In most other tertiary institutions journalism is a section of a media studies or communication school — and is the poorer for it.

In keeping with the University of Queensland's "world class" aspirations, we point to the reputations of the leading journalism schools in the United States — particularly Columbia School of Journalism and Maryland's College of Journalism, publishers of North America's two most significant professional journals, Columbia Journalism Review and American Journalism Review. These are free-standing journalism schools, as are Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Indiana's School of Journalism and Missouri's School of Journalism. The doyen of journalism education in the U.S., Professor Reese Cleghorn, has in a celebrated article warned the industry about the conceptual confusion and uncertainty which results from communication/journalism mergers (Amer J Rev, 1994). The discipline we teach and the vocation for which we are preparing students, is put at risk if alternative academic goals and paradigms take a dominant place in our school. I do not share Standing Committee's confidence that appropriate processes of consultation have been undertaken.

Indeed, the process has been very unsatisfactory from our point of view. It has been very much a process of haste. Despite an initial proposal of several departmental mergers almost a year ago, most of the intervening time has been marked by no activity. Certainly there has been nothing like the extended and continuous process of consultations and meetings which marked the Arts Faculty restructure.

The Executive Dean made her first visit to the department to discuss her proposal on 17th March 2000. After that meeting I wrote to the Dean, at the request of my staff, to ask her to explain exactly what she meant by communication "and in particular the impact of such a development on current staffing, research and teaching, and the integrity of Journalism as a discipline and department. Questions were raised about the costs and benefits of the proposal, and the need for a cost/benefit analysis to be undertaken." No answer was ever received to that letter. When I raised the matter with the Dean she indicated that further details and development all hinged on the Brown report on faculty reorganisation.

The arrival in second semester of that report did not, unfortunately, stimulate the development of any kind of detailed proposal or rationale for the integration of communication and Journalism, nor any further consultation with staff of the department. All we have ever had is a skimpy few lines of text, waffling about communication convergence, "synergies" and the like. A task force on communication was belatedly established, but we are yet to see any meaningful results from its deliberations.

The Dean made her second visit to the Journalism Department on 1st November — less than two weeks ago — after she had submitted her reorganisation proposal to Standing Committee. At that meeting the staff were given no more enlightenment about the pressing financial and academic issues which surround such a proposal. Students, meanwhile, were entirely kept in the dark throughout the process. The Dean's first consultation with students on this vital issue was on the last day of second semester. Our industry advisers were similarly ignored. The Dean has not consulted with the department's industry advisory board nor our adjunct professors, all of whom are strongly opposed to her proposal.

Students are understandably concerned that Journalism's reputation will be diminished, affecting their job prospects. The Dean has claimed that our teaching programs would not be affected by the merger, but has contradicted this assertion by speaking of possible joint courses with a forthcoming communication program.

In September the Journalism staff signed a detailed submission to the hastily-called working party on the reorganisation, expressing their strong preference for establishment of a School of Journalism, and reiterating their concerns about the unresolved academic and financial questions in the dean's proposal. Most members of the industry advisory board addressed individual statements to that committee, supporting the department and rejecting the communication/journalism proposal. Journalism students were told nothing about the proposal, and were not invited to make submissions. No one from Journalism, either staff or student, was a member of the working party.

The consultation process, was, in summary, flawed, and unworthy of the best practice standards we would expect of the University of Queensland. The Academic Board would be most unwise to endorse proposals arising from such a process.

Is Journalism eligible to be a School?

According to the Brown report, schools should be one of two general types, one of which is "those having a strong disciplinary focus and responsibility for particular degree programs and for interaction with external professional groups". Journalism fits perfectly into this definition:

  • It has a strong disciplinary focus, with an emphasis on the study of journalism and the preparation of students for careers in journalism.
  • It has responsibility for particular degree programs: the department manages four awards — the Bachelor of Journalism, the Master of Journalism, the Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism and the Graduate Certificate in Journalism. (This is in addition to its considerable input into the Bachelor of Arts and into other degrees.)
  • It is responsible for interaction with external professional groups: through its vocational focus, Journalism is connected formally and informally with the practice of journalism. Leading professionals in the field are integrally involved in the Journalism program. Journalism's industry advisory board which includes membership of all major news media groups in Queensland, including Queensland Newspapers, the ABC, commercial television, Australian Provincial Newspapers, Australian Associated Press and the Media Alliance (Australian Journalists' Association). In addition, Journalism has three adjunct professors who are among the country's most distinguished journalists.

Is Journalism financially viable? It is.

Journalism's $1.5 million budget is in healthy surplus, and its share of non-government sources of income is rapidly increasing. (The faculty suggests we will be running an operating deficit next year, but this is the case for all but one school in the faculty, and does not satisfactorily take account of our increasing international enrolments or our capacity to reduce expenditure.)

Our overseas fee-paying income has increased in leaps and bounds. Almost 25 percent of our income is external — we have the highest proportion of external income of any school in the faculty — and it is rapidly growing. Under a pioneering twinning arrangement we recently began with Bjorknes College in Oslo, we will be taking in 40 fee-paying Norwegian students a year. The first students started their studies in Oslo this semester. In two years the scheme will be providing the university with income of more than $1 million. We are exploring similar schemes with Sweden and with countries in Asia. Of interest with the Oslo twinning arrangement is that the Norwegian government has recently decided to drop funding of media studies education. It wishes to concentrate on vocational journalism. Bjorknes College chose UQ's Journalism Department because of the reputation of our journalism program and its understanding of our separate departmental status. Overseas students are attracted to reputable, viable journalism programs.

Members of the Board should be aware that Journalism's financial position would be considerably stronger — by somewhere between $100,00 and $200,000 a year — were it not for a punitive funding formula within the faculty which uses income generated by our undergraduate enrolments to subsidise certain other departments. We currently have EFTSUs approaching 400, not much below that of the next smallest school in our faculty, and larger than some other schools in the University — for example, the School of Music in the Arts Faculty and the School of Tourism & Leisure Management in the Business, Economics & Law faculty. Our staff numbers are comparable with staff numbers in those two schools. Both make a fitting comparison, as their perpetuation as schools results from their clear professional and vocational orientation.

The Journalism Department is dynamic and forward-looking. We welcome participation in interdisciplinary activities for the benefit of the university as a whole. We have already entered a range of valuable arrangements with other departments and faculties to work together for educational ends. These include:

  • establishment of a postgraduate diploma in medical journalism (with the Health Sciences Faculty);
  • establishment of a diploma in sports journalism (with Human Movement Studies);
  • involvement in the Arts Faculty's interdisciplinary media studies major;
  • participation with the School of English & Media Studies in the development of a diploma of book editing;
  • participation with various biological and physical science departments in field visits for our course in science journalism;
  • lectures to agricultural extension students on aspects of rural journalism; and
  • the bringing together of academics from most UQ faculties to participate in our popular course and related text, Institutions in Australian Society.

In our teaching we are innovative and ahead of the field. We are at the forefront of teaching of multimedia journalism: the multimedia extension of our newspaper helped it win the most recent national award for student journalism. We are the only journalism school to publish a regular newspaper throughout the whole year, and our weekly radio current affairs service aired on Brisbane public radio was runner-up in the national student journalism competition. We were among the first departments in the University to become involved in externally-delivered courses via the internet, and our entire Master of Journalism program is now available by this means, with students across Australia and around the world. We publish a widely regarded academic journal, Australian Studies in Journalism, and recently launched the innovative monograph series, Australian Journalism Monographs.

Our staff are making an increasing research contribution. In common with other vocational/professional schools, we have traditionally had a high proportion of staff without PhDs, which has affected total research output. This has been turned around in the last year. We have now reached a situation where two-thirds of our staff at Lecturer B level and above have PhDs, and are now free to increase their publishing activity. Already, our staff are making a significant contribution to the news media and journalism literature in this country. We have an active postgraduate program, with increasing numbers of coursework and PhD students, including more overseas students.

Our graduates are employed nationally and internationally — they can be found in all the major dailies and broadcasting organisations in Australia, some in positions of editorship or other executive rank. Many from this large and widely spread body of journalists keep in contact with our department and indicate their pride in having been University of Queensland journalism students.

We have extensively researched our graduate outcomes, and find that UQ's journalism graduates have been overwhelmingly successful in finding employment in journalism or elsewhere in the media (AJR 1999). An important point is that the students' journalism degrees and their practical experience are valued for many careers beyond journalism. The success of the department is indicated in the popularity of our courses: once we lagged behind QUT in the number of first preferences for journalism places: we now have three times as many students seeking to enrol in our Bachelor of Journalism course than in QUT's equivalent program.

We have attracted to our department three of Australia's leading and most senior journalists as adjunct professors — Michelle Grattan of the Sydney Morning Herald, Paul Kelly of the Australian and Jack Waterford of the Canberra Times. All of them have expressed their considerable concern at the reorganisation proposal.

A little more evidence of our growing reputation is as follows:

Last month I was contacted out of the blue by the Dow Jones organisation, publisher of the Wall Street Journal and the Far East Economic Review, asking us to nominate students for an internship program. I thanked Dow Jones and asked why they had chosen us. I was told that industry contacts internationally had recommended us because of the reputation of our journalism program. Similarly, the international news agency Reuters has selected us as one of only two journalism schools in Australia to receive a Reuters prize for international journalism. Reuters also joined in partnership with our department's Centre for International Journalism to offer the world's first course for East Timorese journalists post-Indonesian withdrawal, to assist in building a free news media. Meanwhile the Centre for Democratic Institutions in Canberra has joined with us to sponsor a professional development course for journalists from Pacific Island nations this year. The Commonwealth Press Union recently approached us for assistance in mounting a major international gathering of leading editors and publishers prior to next year's CHOGM conference.

Again, the point must be stressed: as a dedicated, stand-alone Journalism Department we have earned considerable professional respect. This will all be put at risk if we lose our independent identity.

Several important comments need to be made about the proposed development of communication within the Social Science faculty.

A point we have reiterated to the Dean is the lack of clarity about what aspects of communication are supposed to be covered in this proposed new school. While some U.S. journalism schools are combined with mass communication departments to form Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication, the current proposal encompasses a vast range of communication areas which are more at home in psychology or sociology than in our vocationally-oriented journalism department. We have nothing in common with such areas.

Moreover there is no indication about how many staff would be assigned to our department or of exactly who they are. At her November meeting with staff the Dean for the first time mentioned some possible staff, but said it was quite uncertain who would end up being in the proposed school. Of particular importance is the absence of any information about how such additional staff would be funded. One can have no confidence that the small enrolments in the Ipswich subjects some of them teach would generate the income to cover their costs.

It is quite extraordinary that a viable, hard-working department should be expected to add to its establishment an unknown number of people generating unknown total additional costs, and with no indication about how they should be funded. This is quite apart from concerns about the lack of meaningful academic synergy between the journalism staff and the communication staff. Moreover many of the key people involved in communication research in the faculty will not, as we understand, be part of the new school. These staff will remain in their present departments (primarily Government and Sociology).

Journalism does not wish to be used as a platform for the establishment of communication. But by contrast, other departments in the faculty are interested in the area and are already teaching theoretical communication subjects and undertaking considerable communication research. In particular the departments of Government and Sociology have involvement in communication, and have indicated an interest in hosting the development of further communication areas. Indeed, in the alternative reorganisation option raised by the Dean this year, communication was to be included as a department in the new School of Social Science. There is no reason why that option should not be pursued.

Furthermore, the attempt to develop a communication school causes additional confusion in terms of the University of Queensland's disciplinary offerings. Next year the Arts Faculty will have a School involving the name Media Studies, indicating the strength that has been developed in this area within the English Department in recent years. It would be the cause of endless confusion to our identity in the broad area of communication and media for there to be rival schools in different faculties engaging in similar activities. We must also note the existence of a strong Business Communication course in the BEL faculty. Indeed, a far better direction for this university to take, recognising the interdisciplinary nature of communication studies, would be to develop a cross-faculty University Centre to facilitate the teaching and research of communication and media areas.

To conclude, therefore, the Department of Journalism strongly opposes the proposal of a School of Journalism & Communication. We believe that the appropriate way forward for our discipline, bearing in mind the interests of our students and staff and of the profession we serve, is to establish our department as the School of Journalism. We meet the criteria for establishment as a school in terms of the Brown Report's criteria, we are academically and financially viable, and we can continue this university's reputation as the leading provider of journalism education in the country.

I therefore move an amendment to Standing Committee's proposal, namely, that the words "and Communication" be deleted from the name of the proposed School of Journalism and Communication.


[ Amendment defeated, 55-31 ]

Letter to university senators

27th November, 2000

Dear Senator,

Staff, students and industry advisers of the Department of Journalism are deeply concerned at a proposal to downgrade our department by creating a new "School of Journalism & Communication".

We do not accept assurances from our dean that the integrity of our academic programs and our clear focus on vocational journalism will be unaffected by the change.

The experience of other journalism schools in Australia which are part of communication or media studies schools is that Journalism is the poorer for the amalgamation.

The University of Queensland's Department of Journalism is the leader of journalism education and is widely admired internationally. Our strength has flowed from our free-standing status, as conferred by the Senate in 1990, following seventy years of journalism teaching at this university. We are the envy of all other journalism programs in Australia.

There is considerable inequity in the fact that all other professional schools and departments within our faculty are remaining as independent schools, while it is proposed that Journalism be amalgamated into a larger unit. This sends a negative message to our industry and students about the importance of Journalism at this University. In effect, Journalism is being used as a platform for the establishment of an academic communication program.

We are concerned at the confusion created by establishing a Communication school in our faculty, while Media Studies has already been established as part of the name of one of the schools in the Arts Faculty. The whole issue of how communication and media studies should be organised within the University of Queensland is in need of review.

We ask you to consider our case when deciding whether to accept the proposed reorganisation of our faculty's schools and departments.

Enclosures: John Henningham address to Academic Board; letters of support from students and industry.

See also:

Where journalism education went wrong (A seminal paper by leading Columbia University journalism educator James Carey warning against the dangers of locating journalism education programs in communication schools.)

Can J-school be saved? (Slate magazine editor-at-large Jack Shafer's advice on journalism education.)

The closing of the journalistic mind (A classic Columbia Journalism Review article by Howard M. Ziff and Doug Underwood on why journalism should not be mixed up with public relations and communication studies.)

Snob journalism (A punchy critique of university journalism education by Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson.)