Cal Poly journalism department on the chopping block
August 12, 2010
Note: CalCoastNews editor George Ramos, who is a member of the Journalism faculty at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and a former department chair, elected not to be involved in the reporting and editing of this article to avoid a conflict of interest.
An official at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo has warned journalism staff and faculty during several meetings over the past few weeks that the department will be shut down if they can’t learn to get along.
“The dean said she will give the department till March to get along,” said Michael Pershall, journalism department electronic system specialist. “If this department goes away, I won’t have a job.”
Cal Poly’s Liberal Arts College Dean Linda Halisky warned that if the faculty is not getting along by March the department will be shut down. Numerous faculty and staff members said the plan is to either have the different concentrations absorbed by other departments or to shut down the concentrations.
“We’re here to provide the best possible academic experience for our students and I expect our faculty to share in that vision,” said Robert Koob, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Currently, the department is without a chair, a public relations professor and a tenured tract multi-media teacher. At this time, the university is not advertising for applicants to fill any of the missing positions.
Halisky said she anticipates posting ads for the positions in the fall and denies allegations that she told faculty members that they may not have jobs in the future.
“I have explained to the journalism faculty that they need to work together on a common vision for the department, and begin to move forward,” Halisky said. “I have not told them they may not have jobs in the future.”
During the past decade, the department’s faculty has battled amongst itself with some contending the dean’s friendship with one tenured professor has clouded her judgment.
In just eight years, the department has gotten rid of three journalism chairs. The department, which is currently unaccredited primarily because of faculty difficulties and grievances, is to be left without a chair causing some to question if the dean is setting the department up for failure.
“They got rid of George (Ramos) because he was too liberal and let the faculty run everything,” said Tess Serna, Administrative Systems Coordinator. “Bill (Loving) came in and took charge and they say he is too strict.
“They said the faculty has to come up with a vision they work on together,” Serna added. “They are setting them up for failure.”
While the department will run without a chair during the coming school year, Graphic Communication Department Chair Harvey Levenson will become the department facilitator. He is assigned with putting forward a positive image of the department and assisting the faculty in establishing a unified direction, according to the minutes of the Aug. 9 faculty meeting.
However, according to the minutes, he will not be involved in program changes nor in helping the staff to establish a unified direction for the future.
Current department chair Bill Loving, who the dean terminated last week, said “Halisky ignored the primary advice from the accrediting board, which was to figure out a way to handle faculty difficulties and grievances, by encouraging faculty to circumvent the department and the chair and take their complaints directly to her.”
Others question if university officials, bombarded with a barrage of negative news stories often penned by student reporters, are looking to get rid of a department that teaches its students to push for transparency in government.
Loving said Halisky has asked him to censor the Opinion section of the Mustang Daily.
“I told her no, we don’t censor opinions,” Loving said. “People can say what they want to say and then other people can respond.”
Halsiky denies the allegations saying she has never asked Loving to censor comments.
According to university officials, if the journalism department is closed, the Mustang Daily will continue to be published. In addition, a dean cannot disband a department without university review.
“The process to disband a department requires review of the academic senate,” said Stacia Momburg of Cal Poly public affairs. “This action has not been proposed.”
UPDATE: CalCoastNews updated the story on Aug. 12 to say that in the past two decades three chairs have been asked to step aside. CalCoastNews had mistakenly reported that dean Halisky had asked all three chairs to step down. However, one of the chairs was replaced before she took over as dean.