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.

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I think you have to believe that there is some truth to the accusations being directed at Dean Linda Halisky. Personally, from what I see, she does what she is told.

Let’s just say — that in my humble opinion — she has never demonstrated her support for either freedom of the press or free speech. A little bird ,not long ago, told me that she had even objected to F.I.R.E. coming to speak on campus (they are a ‘free speech’ group) because they had caused Cal Poly troubles in the past. If this is true it is most disturbing. Gosh, constitutional rights are such pesky things!

Let’s take a look back at the contributions of the Mustang Daily over the years. They have chosen much of their own course and demonstated a surprisingly great deal of independance. Some administrators however might say “too much independence.” It was the Mustang Daily that broke a number of good stories and demonstrated a degree of integrity seldom found in local media outlets. For example, the Mustang Daily questioned the ‘business’ venture with Saudi Arabia and sponsored columnists who dared to take positions contrary to the administrative official line. I seem to remember the Cal Poly syndicated columnist Brendan Pringle was ‘fired’ not too long ago for daring to ask questions that — in part– probably lead to none of the Cal Poly presidential candidates accepting the position. It seems clear that Pringle’s firing was only the first step in a ‘house cleaning.’

I ‘hear’ we will have a new president in a few monthes, why is their no discussion?…. or is that part of the plan?

A group of us Cal Poly Journalism Department alums have started an online campaign using social media dedicated to the preservation of the department. — — Journalism Alumni Defense Initiative

That department has been a disaster for years. I doubt it would be missed much.

As long as Teresa Allen and Dean Halisky are working together this problem will never be solved. Allen is a self serving manipulator and needs to work under a professional that can manage her personality disorder. Halisky is not mature enough to fill the role that she has been designated. Here in lies the problem. Fix that and the rest will correct itself.

From all I’ve read, Cindy, sounds like you’ve nailed it. As a Cal Poly J grad and former Mustang Daily editor, I am dismayed. Seems like this all starts with the dean.

Cal Poly dean asks another journalism chair to resign (story republished by the Poynter Institute)

I’m really glad to see that this department is finally getting some pressure to stop acting like children and start working together in the best interests of the students. I would hope that that is why all of these people became educators- to be able to provide a safe and enriched learning environment for the students, and to help fosters their ideas and education to provide for their futures. If the kids are aware that their teachers and department heads are acting like a bunch of spoiled, self-righteous brats, what kind of message is that going to send to them? I also believe that that Loving had it right to insist that he could freely express ideas in the opinion section of the paper. That is what freedom of speech is all about. People get incensed over what is written in the comment section of this news site, yet this is a place for us to express ideas and opinions without fear of censorship or repurcussions. I’m glad to hear that people are standing up for what is right, and that they will finally take drastic steps to fix a failing department for the good of the students.

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