Save the Wisconsin Idea! For the latest on our crisis involving investigative journalism, student internships, public service, and academic freedom, visit my department’s action page at blog.journalism.wisc.edu
(Largely reposted from the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, where I currently serve as Director, but there’s a new bit at the end, which frankly I’ve edited a couple of times now as I try to gather my thoughts together. In any case, don’t miss the WCIJ response and the official UW-Madison response too. I will collect other press at the SJMC blog Mediated Communication as it emerges. And Emily Eggleston’s Storify on the crisis is a good primer.)
My name is Greg Downey and I am the current Director of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication (SJMC) at UW-Madison. Today I learned that the Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin state legislature adopted the following motion into the proposed state budget last night or this morning:
Center for Investigative Journalism. Prohibit the Board of Regents from permitting the Center for Investigative Journalism to occupy any facilities owned or leased by the Board of Regents. In addition, prohibit UW employees from doing any work related to the Center for Investigative Journalism as part of their duties as a UW employee.
Some background: A few years ago, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UW-Madison entered into an innovative collaboration with our colleagues at Wisconsin Public Broadcasting and a new non-profit and non-partisan professional investigative news organization, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.wisconsinwatch.org). SJMC houses the WCIJ, and the WCIJ provides paid internships for SJMC students.
In only three short years, this award-winning collaboration has resulted in a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of both investigative reporting and public-interest data that is available to the people and businesses of Wisconsin. More importantly, this valuable information is made available not only through a central website, but through the free distribution of high-quality investigative news reports to private for-profit and non-profit news outlets across both the state of Wisconsin and the country at large.
The motion passed today by the JFC directly targets this collaboration, and as the current SJMC Director it is my judgment that SJMC, and UW-Madison, must oppose both provisions of the motion.
The first provision seems to arbitrarily single out our collaborative arrangement with WCIJ — where a modest amount of office space (most of which is used by our student interns) is traded for regular, guaranteed, paid internships for our students, as well as ready access to highly-respected investigative reporters as guest lecturers for classes and special events in the School. There are plenty of other arrangements where outside organizations use UW space for activities, if such uses are deemed to be in the interests of our research, teaching, and/or service mission. This one was, and still is.
The second provision is actually much more worrisome. As written it would seem to broadly and recklessly infringe on our academic freedom in terms of research, teaching, and service. Our faculty and staff regularly collaborate with outside organizations on media-related projects in terms of research, teaching, and service. Just a few recent examples:
- A research collaboration between a professor and the Capital Times to study and make recommendations concerning the transition from a print product to a hybrid print/digital offering.
- A service-learning collaboration between a professor and the South Metropolitan Planning Council to have students work in the south Madison community and create a web site promoting the diverse cultures and businesses of this area in terms of shared community and food.
- An outreach collaboration between a professor, local for-profit media organizations like WISC-TV, and a local community development organization to create a hyperlocal news site staffed by student reporters and editors.
- An academic staff instructor bringing an outside professional investigative reporter from a for-profit or non-profit news organization into a classroom to work with students on a real-world journalism project.
- A faculty member working in cooperation with a for-profit or non-profit outside organization as an instructional mentor for a student completing an internship with that organization, combining a work experience with academic credit.
Our collaborations with WCIJ are of a similar nature to all of these — but with the added connection that WCIJ provides a direct and consistent pipeline for paid internships for our students, in return for the nominal office space we provide. These students go on to win local and state awards for their reporting, and to launch their own careers in public-service investigative reporting.
So to summarize: (1) arbitrarily prohibiting the WCIJ resource-sharing agreement (paid student internships for office space) would harm our research, teaching, and service mission; and (2) arbitrarily prohibiting “UW employees from doing any work related to the Center for Investigative Journalism as part of their duties as a UW employee” would be a direct assault on our academic freedom in research, teaching, and service — and on the Wisconsin Idea.
UPDATE: Let me add a quick coda to this post, more appropriate to my personal blog. As I’ve responded to media inquiries over the course of the day, I’ve repeatedly been asked to speculate as to why the JFC added those two sentences into the budget at the last minute — “What have they got against the Center, or the School, or the University?” I have been asked. If I were analyzing this event in the classroom, I might offer a whole host of possibilities for student discussion. Perhaps committee members truly don’t understand what our School, the Center, and this collaboration are all about; perhaps there is a real concern about facility costs or a lack of concern about student internship opportunities; perhaps a committee currently controlled by one political party believe they must root out a group they perceive as promoting a different political philosophy — but whatever the reasons, it is not my role to guess. Rather, it is the responsibility of the legislators who have included this language in the budget bill to justify their reasoning. I have not heard them make an actual public accusation of any sort; nevertheless, they have quickly forced my School, the Center, and really the entire UW-Madison into a defensive position. That’s no good. I hope that some investigative journalist asks the committee, “Why have you targeted the UW-Madison, the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism at the last minute, without public discussion or debate, in this budget bill?” I think that’s a question that our students, their families, our alumni, and our many supporters across the state and across the nation would want answered. And if legislators do have questions about the Center’s reporting, let that be stated bluntly — because the Center’s own record of integrity, transparency, public service, and “continual and fearless sifting and winnowing” can easily stand up to scrutiny. As can ours.
It is nearing the end of finals week here at UW-Madison, and this weekend is filled with graduation events. Our students and their families have every right to be proud of what they have accomplished — the criteria for admission to UW-Madison are extraordinarily high, and the curricula that our students pursue once here are challenging in both their breadth and their depth. Not surprisingly, all of our data indicates that UW graduates go on to great things, not just in the first jobs they land over the months after graduation, but in the careers and communities that they nurture with their leadership and creativiity for years to come.
As a member of several different units on campus, I have the pleasure of being involved in a bunch of different graduation events. In my role as a faculty member in the School of Library & Information Studies, I participate in a Sunday morning ceremony where about 100 graduate students and their families are recognized upon completion of the Master’s Degree that will help them advance their professional careers. In my role as Director of the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, I am lucky to be part of the big Sunday afternoon ceremony at the Kohl Center, even taking a turn at handing out diplomas on stage to undergraduates from around the College of Letters & Science. And I also get to speak more directly to an informal gathering of Journalism & Mass Communication undergraduate and graduate students and their families at a departmental open house on Friday afternoon.
But this is a bittersweet week to be saying goodbye to this year’s class of students. Today in the local news, the UW System found that it may be held to a two-year tuition freeze and a cut in the planned state appropriation of funds, due to arguments over the size of the reserve fund that the system maintains (which includes a certain amount of accumulated tuition revenue). According to Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, quoted today in a Wisconsin State Journal article by Dan Simmons, “The Walker administration is saddened that the UW System did not show leadership during a fiscal crisis and instead made the burden of public higher education heavier while stockpiling cash.”
Admittedly, as a UW faculty member, I have an interest in seeing our institution adequately resourced so that we can continue our tradition of excellence in research, teaching, and service. But I am also a parent of two students who will begin attending college themselves in less than five years, and the rising trend of tuition bills across the nation — at both public and private universities — disturbs me as well. And as a taxpaying resident of the state, I want to know that the revenue dollars I contribute to the budget go to support the public good, and not to enrich private interests or to bolster partisan power.
So I think that this latest debate over state funding for higher education is both important and necessary; however, the progress of that debate so far profoundly disturbs me because it doesn’t seem to engage with the simple, substantive question of “how much is enough”: how much tuition revenue, how large a reserve fund, and how significant a state appropriation are necessary to allow a world-class research university to thrive in a state of only 5.7 million residents?
Among the latest book reviews in the interdisciplinary journal Information & Culture is a nice piece by Thomas J. Misa, Director of the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, on the two latest volumes from the UW-Madison Center for the History of Print & Digital Culture:
- Science in Print: Essays on the History of Science and the Culture of Print edited by Rima D. Apple, Gregory J. Downey, and Stephen L. Vaughn. Madison, Wl: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012. 235 pp. $34.95 (paperback)
- Education and the Culture of Print in Modern America edited by Adam R. Nelson and John L. Rudolph. Madison, Wl: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010. 225 pp. $29.95 (paperback)
There are many reasons why I am excited about this:
- I am one of the co-editors of the Science in Print volume;
- I was one of the chapter authors in the Education and the Culture of Print volume;
- I am the current Director of the Center for the History of Print & Digital Culture, which brought each of these volumes together out of its biennial conference series;
- I am an Advisory Editor for the journal Information & Culture, and I know it to be a quality journal of interdisciplinary scholarship on the history of information in all its forms and contexts; and,
- I was one of the authors in a recent volume edited by Misa on the history of women and gender in computing and information professions, titled Gender Codes: Why Women are Leaving Computing, and I know him to be a careful and thoughtful scholar for whom I have the greatest respect.
So you can consider all that either “multiple, tangled conflicts of interest” or “the small world of academics who work at the intersection of print and digital culture” — but please be assured that (a) I only became Director the CHP&DC after my own author and editor work on the two volumes under review, and that (b) I had no idea that Misa and I&C were producing a review on those volumes until I stumbled across them on the web.
Anyway, what was the verdict of the review? Let me excerpt the first paragraph:
Readers of Information & Culture will be interested in these attractive and thought-provoking volumes from the Wisconsin series in Print Culture History in Modern America for two related reasons. Most immediately, a midstream change in the sponsoring center—its title, director, and identity shifted from ‘modern’ culture to ‘digital’ culture—neatly parallels the shift that this journal itself underwent from a library-based endeavor to an information-centered one. More profoundly, both volumes spotlight the significant insights that the well-developed study of print culture might offer to the still-developing field of information culture. The concepts, approaches, and historiographic debates in print culture are, thus far, a mostly untapped resource for understanding digital culture. Even this conference-and-book series’ exploration of major American institutions—religion, education, science—might inspire scholars of digital culture.
Read the full review on the Information & Culture web site.
Today was the last meeting of my graduate student teaching colloquium, a one-credit, one-hour-per-week course that I try to teach each Spring, in order to explore issues of teaching and learning in a structured but flexible sort of way. Each Friday at noon we hear from a different guest speaker. Some of our guests are faculty and staff who teach courses relating to the broad themes of information and communication in society, in varying modes such as large lecture/discussion courses, online courses, and hands-on laboratory courses. Our other guests are drawn from all levels of university administration, from department advisers to the Director of the Writing-Across-the-Curriculum program, to help us understand the context of teaching and learning — not to mention working and living — that undergraduates at a top midwestern research university in the early 21st century navigate every day. It’s a fun class and I learn a lot each time I teach it. (You can read more about it at our course web site.)
Anyway, there was one final question that I refused to answer for my students today. Maybe that’s not the best way to model quality teaching, but in my defense, I attempted to answer it on our blog instead. I found the exercise useful and maybe you will, too.