Denise Dowling shares information about J-School’s future


Hello J-School alums and friends,

We are at the midway point of the semester, and after surviving record snow and cold this winter, we’re all looking forward to the big melt and some sunshine! We’ve got some significant changes on the horizon here at UM and I want to fill you in.

If you follow the university, you know we are in a budget reduction after a prolonged drop in overall enrollment at UM – and at the School of Journalism. Last spring, President Seth Bodnar informed the J-School that we must make a reduction in the amount the university pays in salaries. We had a choice: cut approximately 2.5 faculty at the J-School or lose the dean’s position.

This was a gut-wrenching decision to make and we considered it from every angle. As a faculty, we decided it was in the best interest of our students to lose the dean’s position and keep our teachers. Pending approval from the Board of Regents, we will merge into the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the college will be renamed to reflect the change. We will be the School of Journalism in the newly formed College of the Arts & Media, keeping our faculty, our building, our curriculum and our staff.

Here’s the history behind this change. President Bodnar and Provost Jon Harbor suggested last year that we consider joining the College of Humanities and Sciences and work closely with the English and Communication Studies departments. We countered by proposing a new college with journalism at its core, the College of Journalism and Creative/Strategic Communications. Our vision kept our journalistic core, but would add programs like Public Relations, Media Arts, Creative Writing-Non-fiction and others to a college we believe would be a strong draw for students. And while both the president and provost found the idea attractive, they didn’t feel it could happen in the current budget climate.

We then told the administration that if we MUST be moved into a college, we would prefer to join the College of Visual and Performing Arts for several reasons:


We will remain the School of Journalism in Don Anderson Hall and not be demoted to department status;
We have the opportunity to create new courses and programs with existing schools in the college;
We can maintain unit standards (by which faculty are evaluated for promotion and tenure) that recognize the professional and creative nature of the scholarship in journalism, rather than be required to engage in the type of research that does not fit with the school’s professional focus;
We can maintain the strong commitment to teaching that has been a signature of the school since its inception more than 100 years ago;
Our accreditation status and future remain the same.

We’ve already begun talks with other schools in the college about creating courses and programs in graphic art/information graphics, documentary film, sonic arts/podcasting/radio and drone photography. We find that some of these skills are necessary for our students in this changing world of today’s journalism. Faculty in journalism are excited about the opportunities this affords us, as are our students.

In addition, faculty in the current College of Visual and Performing Arts are enthusiastic about working with journalism to strengthen their curricula. They are eager to tap into our writing expertise so their students can learn from our faculty. These faculty members are interested in instilling a journalistic approach to their filmmaking track and their audio production courses. They and we see many opportunities for collaboration.

We’ve also requested the college change its name to recognize the new alliance. We expect the Board of Regents will approve creating the College of the Arts & Media and join journalism into the new college at its meeting in May. The journalism faculty, staff and I agree this course of action is the best path forward.

Journalism students will keep the faculty they now have. We will keep Don Anderson Hall and our valued staff. Our curriculum will not change until we decide it needs changing. And funds we have raised with your help for scholarships, programs, financial aid, faculty and staff development will remain under the control of the J-School. This is primarily an administrative budget move and we don’t think our students will notice any changes as a result, other than enhancements to the curriculum.

I know that many of you will be upset by this change. As an alumna and 20-year employee of the J-School, I have to admit it’s not an easy pill to swallow. We recognize some of you will fear for the future of the school and its independence. But we have the same talented, strong-willed faculty in place and the leadership of the school will fight to remain independent and continue our watchdog role. Indeed, this new structure mirrors what’s in place at most other universities with journalism programs. As we merge into this new college, we still have our eye on our initial suggestion of a College of Journalism and Creative/Strategic Communication and we will lay the foundation and push for that over the next several years.

Now, to change gears with this letter. We want you also to know that we’re having a great year with students once again earning top honors in several national journalism competitions. Through our Legislative News Service, student reporters are producing content for more than 50 radio stations and newspapers around Montana. The Montana Journalism Abroad program will take students to British Columbia to explore the tar sands and trans-Canada pipeline. The Native News Honors project is reporting on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis, and will be inserted in four Montana daily newspapers in May.

High School Journalism Day is set for April 18th and we expect close to 200 high school students from Montana, Idaho and Washington to attend. We’re ready for Dean Stone Night on April 5, when we will award more than $175,000 in scholarships thanks to our donors and alums.

Here’s our big challenge. We must do a better job at recruiting students. Just 10 years ago, we had 500 majors, and today we are under 200. Fewer and fewer middle and high schools are offering journalism courses and extra-curricular activities, so fewer students (and their parents) see it as a viable career option. The J-School is working hard on enrollment with the help of UM’s new Vice President Cathy Cole. You can help. Reach out to your local high schools and offer to give a guest lecture on a journalism topic and plug the UM J-School. (We can send you some swag to hand out!) Write a guest editorial for your local paper about the importance of journalism. Join our Journalism Advisory Council to help us generate ideas and carry them out. Drop me a line with your suggestions.

Thank you for the constant support of your J-School and please continue to support us as we make our way through this change. If you’d like to discuss this with me directly, don’t hesitate to reach out.


Denise Dowling

Interim Dean-School of Journalism

(406) 243-5250