IU trustees approve new Media School

  • Oct. 21, 2013

By Jon Blau

As the Indiana University Board of Trustees went about approving a plan for a new media school Friday, everyone at the table made some admission that the merger of the IU School of Journalism and the departments of communication and culture and telecommunications was a sensitive topic.

Provost Lauren Robel prefaced her presentation by saying she would “carefully” go over the details of her proposal. Trustee Pat Shoulders, the chair of the meeting, needled his counterparts on different conversation points, repeatedly saying he wanted a “full and fair hearing,” going as far to suspend the rules and allow the public more time to raise objections or concerns about the merger. MaryEllen Kiley Bishop wasn’t a trustee during the adventures of Bob Knight, she said, but she has never received so much feedback on a single issue during her tenure as a trustee.

For the range of issues that were involved in selling the merger -- whether it’s the importance of the name of Ernie Pyle on the journalism school’s building or a possible loss of journalism’s prestige without a school -- Robel received a laugh from the gallery when she seemingly understated the history of the merger discussion, calling it “robust.”

It was a moment of “big change,” Shoulders said, a move that will take journalism into Franklin Hall with other media-focused programs. Robel has said the merger, unanimously approved Friday, will open up opportunities for students to learn storytelling methods across multiple platforms; she continued to point to the struggles of journalism as a profession and the resources it will demand in a changing world.

“It would be silly to begin from the (discussion) point of we have the desire to make any of these schools worse,” Shoulders said to the skeptics who have opposed the merger.

To allay some fears, a few assurances were made at the meeting. President Michael McRobbie promised Bloomington Faculty President Herb Terry that faculty who don’t want to transfer over to the new Media School will have the freedom to move within or outside of the College of Arts and Sciences. McRobbie also promised the school would be “properly funded,” regardless of future constraints on the college as a whole.

The president then paid particular attention to the legacy of Pyle, a World War II correspondent who died in combat, and said IU could do much more to recognize the legacy of Pyle and other distinguished alumni.

“IU has not done enough to honor iconic figures of the university,” McRobbie said. “Ernie Pyle could be the start.”

The next step for the university will be overseeing the transition of journalism, communication and culture and telecommunications into the new school. Before the meeting and the vote, College of Arts and Sciences Dean Larry Singell announced he would appoint interim Journalism Dean Lesa Major as an associate dean of the “MSchool,” helping journalism students in their transition as the school gears up. Nevertheless, current students will matriculate through their current programs, but they will have the opportunity to take new classes offered through the media school.

A task force has also been set up, Singell said, to go about creating courses and allocating space in Franklin Hall. He is also searching for a new dean for the new school, with some concern coming from faculty and alumni that a “dean under a dean” in the College of Arts and Sciences might not have standing in the university community.

Craig Klugman, a 1967 journalism graduate of IU and a member of the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, answered assurances from Singell, who said IU has received an impressive group of applicants for the “MSchool” dean position, by asking “off-the-record” for the name of the dean. Of course, the recording equipment at the trustees meeting continued to roll. Singell laughed, before emphatically saying “No.”

There are concerns that remain about the leadership of the school, as well as its name. Del Brinkman, a former dean of journalism schools at the universities of Kansas and Colorado and an instructor at IU until 2000, argued journalism needed to be in the title of the school, because it’s an “activity” performed on many different types of “media.” Again, that premise was shot down, because McRobbie said trying to add one “activity” to the name quickly adds three or four others, and all the units want theirs to appear first.

Through all of the concerns of faculty and alumni, however, Robel tried to emphasize that the merger was a “student-focused” idea, focused on equipping students with the tools to be literate and savvy in a changing media environment. She shared the example of how she received news about the Boston Marathon bombing -- with her Mac laptop on one web site, her iPad streaming something else and her television in “picture-in-picture mode.”

“The challenges people were facing at that point,” Robel said, “let you know fairly quickly why we need to focus on this as a part of general education.”

Editor's note: This story from The Bloomington Herald-Times is being published here as a courtesy for readers of IU in the News.