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UNM journalism department to lose accreditation

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of New Mexico will soon no longer be accredited by an outside agency that evaluates journalism departments around the country.

The chair of the department said in an interview that most of the faculty within the journalism department at UNM were in favor of not seeking reaccreditation, saying the process was expensive and not worth the time and resources that it takes to meet the requirements set by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

“We chose not to renew our membership,” said David Weiss, the chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism. “To me it’s smoke and mirrors. It’s nice to say (the department is accredited) but I don’t know if anyone truly cares about it.”

The decision not to seek reaccreditation in the journalism department won’t affect UNM’s regional accreditation. Losing that would have ramifications on student financial aid.

UNM is one of 113 journalism programs around the country, and the only one in New Mexico, accredited by ACEJMC, according to the accreditor’s website. Weiss said that, last spring, the department needed to host an advisory team from the accrediting body to campus as part of once-every-six-years accrediting process.

He said the process would have pulled faculty from other assignments to gather records and cost the department an estimated $35,000, which wasn’t in the budget.

Peter Bhatia, the executive director at ACEJMC and the editor of the Detroit Free Press, said UNM will lose its accreditation once its membership expires, likely by the end of the year.

Accreditation “ensures a level of rigor and of breadth so that students can be assured and their future employers can be assured that they are getting young people prepared to move into the professions,” he said. “That’s what accrediting is all about. It’s holding everyone to a high standard of teaching, of curriculum and of preparation for the field.”

Weiss said about 75% of the faculty in the department were in favor with letting UNM’s accrediting lapse.

“I think we are a quality department because we are a quality department. Not because we wake up every day and try to comply with (ACEJMC) standards,” Weiss said.

Weiss said department finances and the number of faculty, which has declined in recent years, were contributing factors in the department not seeking an outside accreditor.

There are about 50 accrediting bodies affiliated with different programs, departments and fields of study at UNM.

Cinnamon Blair, a university spokeswoman, said university officials were not aware if other departments across the campus are also considering dropping their accreditation.

“The university expects each program considering specialized accreditation to carefully balance the advantages and disadvantages of such accreditation – what would be the benefits to students, and what would be the drawbacks?” Provost James Paul Holloway said in a prepared statement. “Accreditation can serve to help organize a program and align it with broad standards of a discipline or occupation, but there are ways other than accreditation to achieve this, and accreditation does present constraints that can reduce creativity in a curriculum. So units need to balance these goods and decide in the best future interest of our learners.”

UNM isn’t alone is dismissing ACEJMC’s accreditation. In 2017, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications didn’t seek reaccreditation from ACEJMC. The Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, has also dropped the accreditor, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Bhatia said the number of journalism programs accredited by ACEJMC in recent years has grown, thanks in part to international programs who have sought out the American accrediting agency.

“I’m sad that they’re dropping out, because UNM is a fine school and it’s been a good program over the years,” Bhatia said. “Ultimately, I hope people stay in accrediting because it helps the students, and that’s what we’re all about in the first place.”

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