I am the proud owner of a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Kentucky University. That’s right: proud.
There is no doubt in my mind that I am where I am today because of going through EKU’s journalism program, and though I may be just a bit biased, I would set the education I got against any other journalism program in the country.
That’s why it troubles me to learn that the university is considering shutting down the journalism department. Budget cuts are the reasoning behind the move. But, I urge the administration to reconsider this proposal — not because of my own nostalgia, but because the education and real-world training of future students is at stake.
Not only did I learn the craft of journalism (researchin’, writin’, late-night pizza dinin’), but I also learned how to work on a team, how to communicate for an audience, how to be a leader and how to be tenacious in the face of fierce opposition.
I didn’t remain in journalism after college — although I did complete a stint at my hometown community newspaper, The Hazard Herald, right after graduation before I entered graduate school. I moved on to the nonprofit sector. But because of the skills I learned through my journalism education, I was more than prepared to transition to my career. I daresay few academic programs at EKU would have afforded me similar preparation.
It’s not just journalism alums who have benefited. Many students take journalism classes or work at the award-winning student newspaper, The Eastern Progress, but graduate from other programs. I would wager that those students would credit their time on the third floor of the Combs Building for teaching them valuable lessons and skills that they use to this day.
Speaking of The Eastern Progress: It’s presence on campus is beyond invaluable. The paper serves as a training ground for future journalists and as the campus watchdog, often reporting on issues of which students might not otherwise be aware. It allows students to create an actual product for the public, instead of simply turning in homework assignments. It’s where leadership and team working skills are fostered, and where students learn how to interact with different types of people.
On the surface, or by the numbers, it may seem like the journalism program’s impact is small. But as we should all know, numbers don’t tell a complete picture. Ask any alum of the program, of The Eastern Progress, or anyone who took any journalism classes what the program has meant to them, and the story and legacy of this invaluable EKU department is fully realized.
It’s no secret that the journalism profession has suffered in recent years and has had to restructure the way it functions in order to remain profitable. But good journalism has always remained relevant.
Its critical role to a healthy, functioning democracy is paramount and should never be discounted or undermined. Cutting the journalism program at EKU would be a slap in the face – not only to the program’s distinguished alumni, faculty, staff and the university community, but also to journalism as a profession.
If good journalism is to survive and thrive (and most especially in the far-reaching rural counties that comprise the majority of EKU’s service area), we need schools to be investing more in journalism programs — not cutting them when times get hard and budgets get tight.
While I don’t wish to diminish that budget cuts at universities are very real and difficult, surely there are other avenues than simply cutting an entire program that has been so invaluable. Perhaps the program can be moved into another, higher-budget department so that the classes and expert faculty and staff can be retained.
To take the program away would limit students’ education in many known and unknown ways. In these trying times of economic upheaval when budget cuts are more normal than they should be, and jobs are scarce, can we really afford to stunt our future workforce in such a way?
* This post appeared in the Lexington Herald Leader on September 16, 2016.