In a nontraditional move, officials at Northwestern University‘s prestigious journalism and communications school have decided not to renew the program’s accreditation, letting the designation lapse.
The dean of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications said Monday that school officials chose not to pursue renewed accreditation, which provides outside approval of academic programs, because the process is “flawed” and not useful.
Medill dean Bradley Hamm’s strong rebuke is in contrast to what traditionally is viewed as a necessary process that gives students assurance that they will be attending quality programs that have undergone review. After Tribune inquiries, Northwestern officials confirmed the decision not to renew the accreditation beyond this school year.
“Our goal is always to be the best in the world, and this process doesn’t get us there,” Hamm said in an interview Monday afternoon. “We just don’t find that the review provides us with anything beyond what we already know today. It’s relatively superficial, extremely time-consuming and doesn’t lead us to a goal of significant improvement. It’s sort of a low bar.”
The accrediting agency defended the review process, saying it provides quality control and serves as a stamp of approval for parents, students and prospective employers. It also can help the public vet the qualifications of journalists.
“To a public concerned about the performance of the media, accreditation offers an assurance that those entering journalism and mass communications are appropriately educated,” according to the website of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, which accredits most other journalism programs.
While typically routine, obtaining accreditation is a voluntary process. Medill had been accredited off and on since 1948, Hamm said, and continuously accredited since 1987.
Susanne Shaw, executive director of the communications accreditation group, said Medill did not participate in the process to renew its accreditation and she has not been contacted by anyone at the Medill program since the previous dean, John Lavine, left the post in 2012.
“They have withdrawn. They effectively are no longer accredited. I am absolutely clueless as to why,” Shaw said. She declined to comment on Hamm’s criticisms of the process.
Agency officials met Friday to issue final accreditation decisions for 24 schools. The Medill school was scheduled for a review this year, but since it had not participated in the process, its accreditation lapsed, Shaw said.
Northwestern University as a whole is still accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Hamm contended that Medill not being additionally accredited through the communications-specific agency will have no adverse effect on academic credits or the curriculum.
But as long as Medill is not accredited, its students no longer will be able to participate in the prestigious Hearst Journalism Awards Program, dubbed the “Pulitzer Prize of College Journalism.” Medill students have placed first in the writing contest 12 times and have won about $600,000 in scholarship and grant money through the contest since 1989, according to Medill’s website.
Hamm said the decision not to pursue reaccreditation partly was influenced by the agency limiting the curriculum Medill could offer and restricting the ability of students to take courses in different schools. He said Medill is creating its own review process that will start this summer and bring in outside journalism experts.
“I’m not saying we don’t want program review or accreditation. I’m saying we want a far better one,” Hamm said. “The students will be involved. Over the past year or two, I’ve talked to a number of groups about how we want better ways to manage ourselves.”
The accreditation agency certifies more than 100 journalism, media and communications programs throughout the country. Eastern Illinois University, the University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University are accredited through the group, according to its website. Renowned programs at Columbia University in New York and the University of Missouri are also accredited.
Schools must initiate the accreditation process by reaching out to agency leaders and inviting them to do a review. Reviews usually are conducted every six years, according to the agency website.
As part of the review, schools are required to conduct a self-study and an outside team conducts a multiday site visit. The team typically interviews faculty, administrators and students; visits classes; reviews student records; analyzes budgets; and inspects buildings and equipment.
The agency’s council, comprised of journalism professors, deans and professionals across the country, ultimately issues final decisions on whether to approve accreditation around May every year.
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May 1, 2017 at 12:48PM