ETSU’s mass communication program loses accreditation

Sue Guinn Legg • Aug 6, 2013 at 10:12 AM

East Tennessee State University’s mass communication program has lost accreditation from Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

The program, which includes undergraduate study concentrations in advertising/public relations, journalism and radio/TV/film, has been accredited by the council every six years since 1989.

Dr. Gordan Anderson, dean of the university’s College of Arts & Sciences, and Amber Kinser, chair of the Communications Department that includes the mass communication program, said the decision will not impact any undergraduate degrees in mass communication received from ETSU before May of this year.

Other undergraduate study concentrations included in the Communications Department and ETSU’s Master’s of Professional Communication program are not subject to ACEJMC accreditation and also are not affected.

Incoming undergraduate mass communication students were notified of the decision in a letter dated Aug. 1.

Anderson said the ACEJMC council voted not to award the program accreditation in April following a lengthy re-accreditation process conducted in 2012 and 2013 and notified ETSU of its decision in May, “just as students were leaving for summer.”

He said the decision was based on three of nine areas in which the program fell short of ACEJMC standards — documentation of student outcomes, documentation of diversity in faculty and curriculum, and ETSU’s lack of an independent department of mass communications.

While the program received an otherwise positive report from the visiting review team and was recommended for re-accreditation by both the review team and by the ACEJMC review committee based on improvements made in each of the three problem areas, Anderson said he believes the council voted not to award accreditation in order to avoid setting a precedent.

According to Anderson, administrators and faculty will spend the two years the university must wait before it is allowed to re-apply to the ACEJMC weighing the pros and cons of accreditation and determining whether accreditation is something ETSU wishes to pursue.

He said ACEJMC standards place some limitations on what colleges and universities wish to do with their mass communications programs.

“There are some trade-offs,” he said.

In addition to the cost of establishing an independent mass communications department, Anderson said the natural paring and close working relationship between the broadcasting and theater programs offered through the Communications Department will be considered. Since the ACEJMC review team issued its report on the program, Anderson said the university has appointed an interim director of mass communications to work within the Communications Department. Kinser said the department has also revamped its strategic plans for recording student outcomes and for documenting its efforts to provide students with curricular offerings representative of communities and people of all ethnicities.

While the university makes an effort to hire faculty as ethnically diverse as possible, Anderson and Kinser said the small size of the mass communications faculty and the limited diversity of the population of the region limits the diversity of the program’s faculty.

Aside from three standard areas cited, Kinser said the ACEJMC’s report was very positive regarding the mass communications program’s curriculum, faculty, facilities and student services and the program will be improved by the new strategic plans that have been put in place since the report was issued.

“I would want students to know this change of designation by ACEJMC will not change how prepared they are or how competitive they will be in the journalism workforce or in graduate school,” she said.

Anderson and Kinser also noted that 75 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with mass communications programs do not seek or maintain ACEJMC accreditation, including some of the nation’s leading schools of journalism.

“It’s not what I wanted to see happen but I feel we’re still in pretty good company,” Anderson said.

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