A group of journalism professors and faculty, including College of Liberal Arts Dean Linda Halisky and interim journalism chair Harvey Levenson, spoke to students on Sept. 28 to address concerns that the department would shut down by March. Manon Fisher – Mustang Daily.

After years of strife and dysfunction and the threat of being disbanded, Cal Poly’s journalism department is trying to stay positive as it tries to get along and change for the benefit of the students.

On Tuesday, Sept. 28, College of Liberal Arts Dean Linda Halisky and the interim chair of the journalism department, Harvey Levenson, spoke to and answered questions from worried journalism students about the status of their major. Students also wanted to verify if threats reported by Cal Coast News — that the department would close in March if the faculty did not start getting along — were true.

“Even in the worst case scenario, the journalism major is not going away,” Halisky said at the meeting. “It may be housed someplace else, but that’s a long shot at this point.”

Levenson began the meeting by telling students of presented opportunities, changes to the department and hiring new faculty.

“(You) have an amazing opportunity to be on the ground floor of some major changes in developing programs,” Levenson said at the meeting. “You are going to have the opportunity to help form and reformulate this department with the regards to staffing, faculty and so forth and so on; because over the next two years, we are going to be hiring four journalism faculty members, and you are going to be a part of that process.”

Outside of the meeting, Levenson wanted to additionally address the rumors that the department would “shut down.” Levenson said Halisky and university provost Robert Koob want to see the department grow and in order to do that, the faculty and staff need to have a “common movement in the same direction.”

“It’s not that everyone has to think the same way or agree, they just want to see some kind of harmony and a common goal on the part of the faculty and staff,” he said. “If they see that, the department is not going to go away.”

Halisky spoke about the department possibly being moved, however, as of now no plans or decisions have been made official.

“There is an option, and it’s still on the table, to move (the journalism department) so there would be a journalism major, but it might have a home in a different, more stable and healthy department,” Halisky said. “That might be all the concentrations together, or it might mean moving (public relations) separately.”

However, Halisky said, this is “plan B” and is no way the most preferable option. Yet, she also said that with Levenson’s leadership and the effect of promoting a stronger, more “vibrant” department, she has hopes the faculty will come together.

“I think (Levenson’s) started to help people come together, and he’s excited them about a new vision for the department,” Halisky said. “I think if the faculty can focus on something positive and exciting like the really vibrant, charged department, that may go a long way to helping with some of these past charged issues recede into the past.”

Professor Teresa Allen also felt that although the department has had problems, this is a new opportunity for beneficial change.

“I think the journalism department has a rare opportunity to refine and rebuild its program with new faculty, new ideas and new vigor,” Allen said. “I see or hear nothing to make me think this is not the unified goal of our current faculty or of the administration.”

Kelsey Magnusen, a journalism senior and president of Cal Poly’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), said it is important to stay positive about the prospective changes instead of the past problems.

“We know that there’s no point to being negative, (especially) when it’s not the students’ fault,” Magnusen said. “We are really trying to (stay) positive.”

Magnusen also said it is important to know that it was not the students’ failures that made this happen. Rather, she said students should work their hardest to succeed so if the department does disband, they can say “we did great, we rocked (this year).”

“(For PRSSA) this is going to be our best year ever (despite the problems),” Magnusen said.

However, Krista Scarbrough, vice president of PRSSA, manager of Central Coast PRspectives (CCPR) and journalism senior, said the past problems should not just be ignored.

“We need to remember how tense it was,” Scarbrough said. “(Halisky and Levenson should have) acknowledged what happened in the past and (say) they don’t want to repeat it.”

Professor Bill Loving, the former chair of the department who was asked to step down this summer, also said it was necessary to remember what occurred when he had been replaced as chair.

“I’ve seen that students have been badly affected by the stress,” Loving said. “And I question the wisdom of putting the student, staff and faculty through this.”

Loving said asking him to step down when he felt he was making “progress” and then threatening to disband the department just caused more problems.

“I don’t know why she would threaten to shut down the department,” Loving said. “I don’t know why she decided to fire me as chair. I certainly didn’t see any good reasons.”

Loving felt that he has not had an adequate reason for being “fired,” and still has lingering questions as to why he was. He felt that Halisky did not handle the situation as effectively as possible, often siding with some tenured faculty members who were “resistant to change” and, since asking him to step down, sidelining previous progress.

“The progress that we’ve made in the past two years has been tossed into the trash can,” Loving said.

When questioned why she had asked Loving to step down, Halisky would not comment, but felt that the previous progress had not been lost.

“(Professor Loving) did make some progress,” Halisky said. “He was especially good at helping to bring the budget back in line. And I don’t believe any of the work that the program did moving in a positive direction has been scrapped.  I think much more needs to be done, but we certainly want to give credit where credit is due.”

Even so, Halisky said as far as she can tell, the faculty is ready to move on.

“All of the faculty, including Professor Loving, are working very hard to move the program forward and that’s where I think our energies need to be,” Halisky said.  “As far as the department moving forward, my understanding is he is being very helpful in that process, and that’s a great thing.”

Victoria Zabel, a journalism and graphic communications senior, said it was a “rash decision” to ask Loving to step down and that the “students weren’t really considered when the decision was being made.” However, she also felt it was time to put all of the previous unpleasantness in the past and to focus on the students.

“I hope that the department gets it together and starts to remember the reasons they are even teaching at Cal Poly in the first place — the students,” Zabel said.

Halisky also felt the students and the reinvention of the program were more important than past quarrels.

“Is it about you, or is it about this program and these students and the future of journalism at Cal Poly?” Halisky said.

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8 Comments

  1. I was at the meeting, and I left with as many concerns as I had when I entered that room. Admittedly I now harbor some different concerns, but that is hardly an improvement. I have two major concerns now.

    The first hinges on the way that Harvey Levenson fielded questions during the talk. Levenson answered a great deal of questions over the course of our little department meeting, but the vast majority of his answers were far from transparent. In fact, he came across to me as a well practiced figurehead. Straight answers were nowhere to be found.

    My second concern has to do with the way both Levenson and Dean Halisky dealt with our questions regarding past issues among the faculty. The current predicament is, as far as I can tell, a pretty direct consequence of fighting and biases. When asked about these issues, Halisky and Levensons both held firm in their desire to put those issues behind them, rather than address and fix them.

    This would be all well and good, but it looks pretty clear to me that trying to fix the department is going to require fixing the members of the department. I am not convinced that the new leadership is either incapable of making important change, or unwilling to make important change.

    They appear to have set themselves on a road to failure. Farewell journalism department.

  2. I was unable to attend the meeting, but from the people I talked to who were at the meeting, what Anon said pretty much sums it up. It seems as though the deans are putting on this fake happy go lucky attitude, when in reality, the past and current issues must be addressed before the department can move forward and improve. I am considering transferring out of Cal Poly, and while the situation in the journalism department is certainly not the only reason I am thinking about leaving the school, it definitely influenced my decision a bit. I feel like the students aren’t being told much about what’s going on and it’s not because they don’t care enough to ask. It’s because when they do ask, all they get is the same generic answer over and over again. I guess I should have listened to people when they told me this was not a liberal arts school.

  3. I was unable to attend the meeting, but from the people I talked to who were at the meeting, what Anon said pretty much sums it up. It seems as though the deans are putting on this fake happy go lucky attitude, when in reality, the past and current issues must be addressed before the department can move forward and improve. I am considering transferring out of Cal Poly, and while the situation in the journalism department is certainly not the only reason I am thinking about leaving the school, it definitely influenced my decision a bit. I feel like the students aren’t being told much about what’s going on and it’s not because they don’t care enough to ask. It’s because when they do ask, all they get is the same generic answer over and over again. I guess I should have listened to people when they told me this was not a liberal arts school.

  4. I’ve been somewhat reading these articles about the journalism department.. can someone fill me in on what happened?

  5. @ Wondering:

    Here’s what’s been going on. Apparently, the journalism department at Cal Poly has had problems for quite some time now ( I don’t know exactly how many years, but it seems as though the problems have never been fixed and just keep getting worse.) The main problem is that the faculty can’t seem to get along and work towards a common goal for the good of the students. Over the summer, journalism chair Bill Loving was fired by liberal arts dean Halisky. Halisky will not give any explanation for firing him, but there are rumors that another journalism professor (a woman who is good friends with Halisky) accused him of sexism because he moved her to a smaller office because the larger office was needed for something else. As a journalism student, it is kind of sad to see the department crumbling like this, because there are clearly some people who care a lot about the major. The dean keeps repeating the same things over and over again about how us students should take the opportunity of being in this department when they are hiring all these new teachers and stuff. But I am not happy to be in this position because it never should have happened in the first place. Of course it has never happened before that you had to hire four new teachers, because teachers aren’t supposed to be dropping out of a department like flies. I know my writing kind of sucks, but I’m just really disappointed in the school right now.

  6. Sadly, I too left the meeting more discouraged than before. When I first visited Cal Poly and met the journalism faculty and staff, I was heartened by how invested they seemed in the students and our work, and over the past year I have become gradually more disheartened by what is happening to this department. To be honest, I feel cheated, and worry about how well this department can function (especially the somewhat-snubbed PR track) with these ongoing issues. The “answers” provided at the meeting were vague at best, and both Levenson and Halisky obviously skirted questions addressing the fact that current journalism students have been left high and dry. I honestly hope these two can get it together and put in a little more effort to ensure that their number one responsibility-the current jour students-will get the education they were promised.

  7. I consider myself very fortunate to be someone whose professional life was shaped in many positive ways because I have an undergraduate degree in journalism from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I interacted with faculty members like Jim Hayes and the late Ed Zuchelli, and university administrators such as Cal Poly president Dr. Robert E. Kennedy. Later in my professional life when I became a university professor, I always remembered how genuine and real Dr. Kennedy was with me when I was reporting the Cal Poly news on KCPR and writing local Cal Poly stories for publication in Mustang Daily. That influenced how I behaved and how I treated my students. I also chose to emulate behaviors that faculty members Hayes and Zuchelli demonstrated to me worked well in guiding someone’s professional career like they guided mine. I expect that I am not alone as a member of the Cal Poly alumni when I express my sadness and dismay at how the journalism department turned out in the 21st century, especially after such a strong and promising start. It is also easy for me to understand why any current journalism major might be considering a transfer elsewhere if it looks like the mess won’t be getting cleaned up soon.

  8. It’s about time someone asks Halisky to step down if you ask me. Just when the department seemed to be moving forward and picking up momentum (albeit slowly) under Loving, she went and derailed it all. Good thing I’ve put four years and thousands of dollars into a pitiful excuse of a degree. I can just see the interviews now….hopefully if i just say Cal Poly they’ll think I went to Pomona.

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