School’s Out, Forever, in the Heart of Texas

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Turning aside pleas from students, alumni and newspaper professionals in the Lone Star State, Texas A&M University is preparing to shut down its journalism department.

In a memo distributed at a journalism faculty and staff meeting earlier this month, liberal arts Dean Charles A. Johnson portrayed a long-troubled department that would cost too much money to save. Johnson said getting the program back on track would cost $250,000 to $500,000, funds the Texas legislature is unlikely to advance. Instead, the memo sketches out a plan to keep offering j-classes only long enough to permit current journalism majors to complete their degree requirements. The plan still needs approval of the university president — former CIA chief Robert Gates — and the state Board of Regents.

Loren Steffy, Dallas bureau chief for Bloomberg News and president of the Texas A&M Former Journalism Students Association (FJSA), was one of several newspaper and wire service executives who met with Johnson to urge him to reverse his recommendation: “We asked him if he’d talked to any working journalists, and he said no … He clearly understood very little about how journalism works.”

The journalism program known affectionately by alumni as “Uncle Charlie” has had long-standing administrative and faculty problems. It hasn’t had a permanent head in three years, and Johnson said two head-hunting searches turned up a very small pool of candidates. “When you have just an interim head and no full time department chair, you are basically just blood in the water for the budget cutters,” said Paul McGrath, page one editor of the Houston Chronicle and a past FSJA president.

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