Provisional accreditation ruling concerns for j-school students

School of Journalism and Graphic Communication students during “Grads are Back,” which took place in Fall 2017.
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It looked as though the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication was in the clear after the accreditation site team’s visit in February. But the program received a provisional status when the American Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication met in late April, an unexpected development that faculty, students and staff are still coming to grips with.

The site team previously recommended full accreditation upon meeting SJGC students and faculty.

The recommendation was denied, as the school was found non-compliant in two of the nine standards required to receive full accreditation.

According to the ACEJMC website, the nine standards are: Mission, Governance and Administration; Curriculum and Instruction; Diversity and Inclusiveness; Full-time and Part-time faculty; Scholarship: Research, Creative and Professional Activity; Student Services; Resources, Facilities and Equipment; Professional and Public Service; and Assessment of Learning Outcomes.

While the school is still accredited, the program must remedy those issues in the areas of Scholarship and Assessment of Learning Outcomes. The accreditation cycle, which is typically set in six years, will be sped up and takes place in two for FAMU. If the program is not in full compliance at that point, it will lose its accreditation.

SJGC Interim Dean Dhyana Ziegler is optimistic that the school can regain full accreditation status.

 “All in all, while I am disappointed, I have to ascertain that it’s fair,” Ziegler said. “I believe our site team chair put up a good argument, that our assessment wasn’t the same as other institutions because we had some sporadic periods of assessment that was conducted.”

Zeigler said the SJGC faculty ran a hard race in a short period of time getting all of the proper documents together.

Some things on the interim dean’s plate included taking the lead in getting necessary data in order, getting faculty prepared, meeting with the Strategic Planning and Assessment offices, and putting some of her experience to work.

Given her number of years in administration, in many capacities, Zeigler was more than equipped to spearhead this accreditation period.  Ziegler was also involved in the accreditation process at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

 “We have to engage our faculty in more research and scholarly activity,” Ziegler said.  “When you go and do research and scholarship you bring that back and transfer that knowledge to students as well as your faculty.”

SJGC leaders were not the only ones hit hard with the news of provisional accreditation, as students weighed in on what that status meant to them and the program.

Nathan Vinson, junior broadcast journalism major, said that he was flabbergasted by the statement made about the writing deficiencies in the students who are matriculating through the program. That was an area of concern brought up by faculty during the site visit.

“I believe the foundation of journalism is writing. It is storytelling,” Vinson said. “When a report says that we have a writing deficiency, I feel like the general point of our program is not being met. If we’re not pushing out students who know how to write, then we are not doing our job as a journalism program.”

Vinson said overall the standards that were out of compliance seemed like a fair call. He said that it was interesting to find out that the program lacked research and scholarship by faculty.

“When you do research, you’re able to identify current trends and you’re also able to identify trends that are forthcoming,” Vinson said. “That’s why research is important with anything that you do. It’s either preparation or foresight. (Faculty) not doing research is ultimately hurting the student – not just in the now but also in the future.”

Joanne Cherisma, senior broadcast journalism major, said the verdict was disheartening, especially after her being a part of the site team’s visit. She said that she wanted to provide a testimonial, showing the site team what the faculty produce in what is affectionately referred to as “J-School.”

“We put in the hard work and I’m pretty sure that (the accreditation council) is aware of that. Students are still excelling, students are still passing and working hard and resources are still being made available to us,” Cherisma said. “I don’t see why they’re pushing the issue to make us provisional.”

Cherisma noted that the two things the program was out of compliance with are sectors that would need more than two years to remedy.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s fair, but if you’re basing that decision on other journalism divisions in different schools, then OK. But I do think that our professors do what they need to do.”

Brandon Jones, senior broadcast journalism major, said when looking around SJGC, people can see the talent and drive of the students and faculty.

“It’s unfortunate to have any restrictions as a program,” Jones said. “I’m not stressing it too much because I’ll be out of here around the time they come back, but this is my school. I don’t want them to possibly be unaccredited.”

Jones said the site team appeared to be genuinely impressed by the school following their visit, so he was shocked to hear SJGC go to provisional status.  

FAMU was the first of all historically black colleges and universities to receive national accreditation for its journalism program.