J-School Accreditation Debate: Ithaca’s Park School Opts Out, and Flourishes

by Diane Gayeski
May 25, 2017
Photo courtesy Ithaca College.

Editor’s note: This op-ed is part of a series on accreditation. You can read the counterpoint to this piece by Charles N. Davis, the dean of the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, here.

The Roy H. Park School of Communications has, throughout its almost 50 year history, never sought accreditation from ACEJMC. Many of our faculty are active members of AEJMC, received their own degrees from accredited programs, and previously taught in accredited programs. Furthermore, we agree philosophically with most of the principles outlined in the accreditation standards such as diversity and inclusion, institutional uniqueness, appropriate degrees and experience of faculty, and professional competencies. We have at several points in the past few years re-opened a discussion about seeking accreditation for one or more of our degrees.

We do not seek accreditation for two reasons:

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1) We firmly believe that our current practices of self-study and quality control by our regional accrediting agency (Middle States Commission on Higher Education) and our college’s regular degree program review process serve to assure the quality of our degree programs. The self-study and external review processes of ACEJMC would simply be redundant.

2) While ACEJMC states that it “recognizes that each institution has its unique situation, mission, and resources, and this uniqueness is an asset to be safeguarded,” several of our distinctive curricular features are at odds with ACEJMC requirements, and unforeseen and arbitrary new requirements could emerge. Remaining independent and nimble is something we value highly.

Narrow View of Liberal Arts

The Council currently requires that students take a minimum of 72 semester hours outside of journalism and mass communications. Most of our 10 undergraduate degree programs require 60 credits outside of communications and 60 credits that are designated as liberal arts. Our students begin taking a mix of courses in their major and in liberal arts from their very first semester and this pattern continues for all four years. Our core mission and vision centers on the fact that we do not merely provide technical or professional education and leave the liberal arts portion of a degree to other departments. Rather, we integrate both liberal arts and professional skills within our own school, offering courses that at many other universities would be taught outside of communications, and include topics like systems thinking & design and e-learning. A number of our students take minors within our school, broadening their perspectives and skills – such as pairing a major in television-radio with a minor in integrated marketing communications. Thus, we feel that students being limited to taking 48 credits within communications is not in their best interest.

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More Internship Credit, Not Less

The Council also limits academic credit for internships to six credits; we have a limit of twelve. We encourage our students to undertake several internships over the course of four years, and to take advantage of our semester-long programs in New York City and Los Angeles which revolve around full-time 6-credit internships. Rather than making our students more career-focused, we have found that these early and frequent internship experiences satisfy the “itch” to get involved in the profession, reinforce what their professors have been telling them, and also demonstrate to students why a wide variety of courses across disciplines such as psychology, theatre arts, politics, arts history, and philosophy are so important to success in creative and leadership positions. Instead of waiting until after they graduate to discover that they don’t enjoy the “gig to gig” lifestyle of screenwriting or the late hours of broadcast journalism, or that independent film producers need to know about finance and law, they gain these perspectives early on and can easily change majors or choose elective courses that build deep conceptual and technical skill sets that prepare them for both a career and a lifestyle in which they will thrive.

Accreditation-Industrial Complex

We also are sensitive to the burden on faculty and administrators of self-studies, external evaluator visits, and staying on top of accreditation standards. We choose to spend our budget and time in ways that we feel more directly benefit our students and faculty. Accreditation can become its own “business”, spinning off committees, meetings, fees, workshops, and debates over policy and philosophy – all of which come at a cost. Further, we don’t feel that the accreditation is a reliable way for prospective students to judge the quality of a program. AEJMC’s own website cites a study published in the Spring 2010 issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Educator that concluded “no study has discovered evidence that accredited programs are strongly or clearly superior in major ways to unaccredited programs.”

Our students continually land impressive internships, jobs, and graduate school placements and progress to the very highest levels in their chosen fields, whether that be anchoring ABC World News, running the Walt Disney company, producing successful TV series and films, or becoming tenured leaders in communications education. We stay closely connected to our alumni and to professional practice. Our reputation for graduates who are well-prepared, demonstrate character and a great work ethic, and who are proud of their education speaks for itself. At a time when colleges and universities (especially private schools like ours) need to become more efficient, creative, distinctive, and laser-focused, yet one more accreditation process is about the last thing we need.

Diane Gayeski, Ph.D, is the Dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. An alumna of the school, she also founded Gayeski Analytics.

More in this series:

J-School Accreditation Debate: A Rigorous, Transparent Process Helped Georgia’s Grady School Improve, by Charles N. Davis

J-School Deans on How Accreditation Helps, Hurts Programs, by Aline Peres Martins

Say What? Reactions to Medill J-School’s Decision to Let Accreditation Lapse, by Aileen Gallagher

Tagged: accreditation acejmc internships Ithaca College liberal arts

One response to “J-School Accreditation Debate: Ithaca’s Park School Opts Out, and Flourishes”

  1. MichaelCherenson says:

    I’m a proud graduate of Ithaca College. I’m also a communication professional with more than a quarter century experience, a past CEO and Chair of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), a member of the Accrediting Committee of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC), and a member of the PRSA’s Educational Affairs Committee who also serves as a site team member for that committee’s CEPR (Certification in Education for Public Relations) program.

    While I was a student at Ithaca College – and for some time thereafter – I was rather oblivious to professional accreditation within my profession. Now, having served in leadership roles within the public relations sector, and having visited dozens of colleges and universities, and served on multiple university advisory boards, I’ve come to appreciate the value of accreditation. While the process is voluntary, as it should be, and schools must have some flexibility to meet the needs of their students, no single organization can match the independent, unbiased review process provided by groups like ACEJMC and CEPR. Depending solely on regional accrediting agencies limits perspective and professional insight. Given current attacks against journalism and mass communication, as well as the disruptive impact of technology and of new business models, the profession and those who educate the next generation should be demanding more rigorous and independent review and assessment – not less.

    Beyond the theoretical, I can say that on every site visit I’ve made, my partners and I have created more opportunities for students — not fewer. We’ve opened doors to new resources and pathways that I believe were a direct result of the independent evaluation process.

    Again, I’m proud of Ithaca College – but I’d be even more proud if my alma mater welcomed ACEJMC and CEPR certification.