To the Editor: Decision to Eliminate Journalism Program is Baffling

To the Editor:

As recent Emory University alumni, we could not be more baffled by Emory’s recent decision to eliminate its Journalism Program. In addition to the profound impact that the program had on our educational experience, the University’s removal of journalism is a move that should be of concern to anyone who cares about supporting the future of in-depth reporting in the Atlanta community.

Robin Forman, the dean of Emory’s liberal arts college, has primarily cited two reasons in defense of his decision to cut journalism. The first is his claim that journalism is “not an easy fit” in a liberal arts college because it could be labeled as a “pre-professional” program. Of course, Dean Forman has neglected to point out that every student in Emory’s journalism program – by requirement – has at least one other major, and about two-thirds of the 160 students enrolled in journalism classes are not even majors or minors in journalism. The fact is that journalism, like any other department in the College of Arts and Sciences, teaches students how to think critically and ask questions about real-world problems related to their academic areas of interests, which is consistent with what it traditionally means to study the liberal arts.

But the other reason the dean has cited for his decision is even more troubling to us. Insisting that finances did not play a role in his decision, Forman wrote in a letter to students that the purpose of Emory’s recent department cuts is to assist the University in its pursuit of “academic eminence.” If Forman’s definition of eminence includes “educational distinction” in “emerging areas of inquiry“ as he says it does, then we are confused as to how the work of students in the department does not qualify.

Although only one of us was a journalism co-major, both of us recently published high-impact stories of public interest based on our research within the journalism program. One was a front-page Atlanta Journal-Constitution story that uncovered several executive branch officials who accepted lobbyist gifts in violation of an executive order signed by Governor Nathan Deal in January 2011. Co-published with an AJC reporter, the findings resulted in a commitment by the governor to review the state policy on lobbyist gifts and led to several of the responsible officials paying back the lobbyists for gifts received. One of the department heads exposed in the story later resigned.

The other story was a series of articles published on the investigative website Atlanta Unfiltered that uncovered State Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers’ ties to the offshore gambling industry and his previous career as a sports tout. Additionally, our peers investigated issues of similar importance to the community. One of our classmates even contributed research to the Atlanta Unfiltered report that led to an ethics violation complaint against State Senator Don Balfour. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has launched a criminal investigation into the matter.

Does this work conducted by journalism students qualify as eminent? Emory’s public relations department seemed to think so; we were interviewed and photographed for a story that was supposed to be featured in the summer issue of Emory Magazine, but has yet to appear in the publication.

Emory’s administration never fully embraced the investigative journalism that its students were producing. Prior to the start of fall semester last year, the administration had given the department’s investigative reporting initiative an Emory-affiliated website where it could publish all of its student work, allowing the program to boost its own credibility before our stories were picked up by outside media outlets.

Not long after our class began contacting story subjects in the legislature regarding the document-based findings of our investigations, we were told by University administrators that we would not be able to publish our stories on an Emory platform. In response to a letter we wrote to Forman pleading for the University to allow us to publish our work, the dean said that it was the administration’s job to “understand that role fully before taking it on.”

Roughly one month later, we were given permission to publish stories with outside media outlets under an Emory affiliated byline, but were not permitted to reestablish the class website. The administration also told us that our work was not covered by the University’s liability insurance, although we were not allowed to see the policy. Over the summer, weeks after we had already published our work with outside media outlets, the University changed its tune again and agreed that an Emory website could be set up to link to our stories.

But the excitement of that development was short-lived, as the news of the department’s elimination came just two weeks into the following semester. We left Emory believing that our work would be a foundation for further student work produced through the University’s journalism program and expected that legacy to serve as proof that even students can produce eye-opening journalism that has a positive impact on the greater community. We are disheartened to learn that the administration does not see things the same way.

 

 

David Michaels

Emory University Class of 2012

B.A. in Political Science and Journalism

 

Aaron Gregg

Emory University Class of 2012

B.A. in Music and Political Science