The journalism department has been through three department heads in the past 10 years and previous department chair Bill Loving joined the list when he was asked to step down by College of Liberal Arts Dean Linda Halisky last week. Halisky said she hopes to begin the search for a new journalism department chair in the fall.
Halisky said she is unable to comment on her reasons behind asking Loving to step down because she can not discuss the particulars of a personnel action.
Loving said he believes she was influenced by a senior faculty member. He said he has declined the option to resign because he would waive his rights to “appeal and challenge decisions.” He will fight Halisky’s decision.
“The dean offered me the opportunity to resign as chair,” Loving said. “I told her that if she didn’t want me as chair she’d have to fire me and I wasn’t resigning. That’s pretty much how that conversation was ended.”
In the meantime, graphic communication department head Harvey Levenson will serve as “facilitator” to the department until a replacement is hired. As facilitator, Levenson will aid the faculty in coming up with a mission statement for the department, create a positive image of the department and “assist in establishing a unified direction,” as reported in a department faculty meeting Aug. 9.
During a mid-June meeting, Halisky told the journalism faculty that she wasn’t sure about Loving’s ability to lead the department and was uncertain if Loving would continue as department chair, Loving said.
“Toward the end of the school term the dean said that I as a chair was antagonistic and took sides in the department, that I was telling the faculty that it was ‘my way or the highway’ and that when I won I would rub people’s noses in it,” Loving said. “When I asked the dean when I had done these things, she repeatedly refused to give me any specifics.”
Halisky said Loving has done some fine things for the department. Instead, she said, her main concern is with the department as a whole and the difficulty with the faculty getting along. Halisky has mentioned to the faculty that if the department doesn’t settle its issues, she will consider moving the department to communication studies. She said she has confidence that the faculty can come together.
“There are (alumni) that would be very unhappy about seeing the program disbanded,” Halisky said. “I think we can do it and I think all of us will be better off, at least in the short term, where it is. If we have to move it then we will move it to a place where it will have a strong home.”
Loving said his biggest concern is that Halisky has no vision of the department and that she will “destroy the department rather than deal with the mess she’s created.”
“I believe in this department. I believe in the students,” Loving said. “What we do here is important. What our grads do is important.”
Journalism senior Erica Bashaw said she has been distracted by the faculty’s issues. She has noticed problems in the department and said the attitudes of some of the faculty have bordered on petty and unprofessional.
When the “Best For” edition of the Mustang Daily came out, a journalism professor commented on “how silly and high school the (public relations) writing was,” Bashaw said.
“Every student wants to feel supported and respected by their professor,” Bashaw said. “When that doesn’t happen, it’s really unfortunate. That shouldn’t happen. Faculty should be mentors and role models.”
Bashaw said some professors would discuss arguments or talk about somebody not getting along with another during class. She said they did not mention specific names.
“It’s no secret that the journalism department is dysfunctional,” she said. “The longer you’re here, the more obvious it becomes. It’s as if we’ve forgotten about the larger mission of the journalism department.”
Recent Cal Poly graduate and former Mustang Daily arts editor Cassandra Keyse said she also had also experience with professors voicing their disapproval about department issues in class and around the department.
“As a student in Teresa’s class my last quarter of college, she made numerous comments about how she felt about the department so it was obvious,” Keyse said. “She didn’t have any sort of censoring mechanism during classes and it interfered with her teaching.”
Despite the obvious bickering, Loving said one thing that can’t change in the department is the faculty’s priority to teach the students.
“The dean’s choices do not relieve us of that obligation,” Loving said.
Halisky’s decision, he said, provides an opportunity for the journalism department to take a good hard look at how it operates and how the dean operates. Currently, the department is made up of six faculty members, which makes it hard to get a consensus to move forward, said Tess Serna, administrative systems coordinator of the journalism department.
“One (faculty member) has very strong political views that cloud and create a road block for any decision trying to be made,” she said. “Another (faculty member) can’t deal with change and is very resistant to change.”
Loving said Halisky is putting the department at jeopardy because of a strong friendship with senior faculty member Teresa Allen.
“I’m deeply disappointed the dean has put the department at jeopardy for the sake of her friendship with Professor (Teresa) Allen,” Loving said. “This dean has perpetuated the dysfunction of the department.”
However, Halisky maintains that her relationship with Allen is no different than her relationship with any other professor.
“It is my policy when faculty are unhappy I listen to them and I send them back to their department to try to work it out, and that is what I did in the case of Professor Allen,” Halisky said. “We are not and have never been social friends. We’re friendly but we don’t have a special relationship of any kind.”
Amid allegations that Halisky did not ask the opinions of other faculty except Allen regarding Loving, Halisky said she that has met with faculty three different times — in mid-June, early in July and early in August — but would not go into detail about what was discussed. She said she asked the faculty what was working in the department, what wasn’t working and what Loving is doing well and what he could improve on.
As for the reaction of the students, Halisky said she expects uncertainty and concern but is not anticipating a huge impact. She plans to meet with students and the journalism faculty in the fall to present a “united front” that shows the faculty has moved forward from their disagreements. She also plans to allow students to ask questions.
Halisky’s plan for the faculty to move forward and past the quarreling is for them to solve their problems together as a group. Benchmarks will still be set up, but Halisky said she has not decided on a timeline.
“If they are committed to the student and the betterment of the department, I hope this will prevail,” Halisky said. “These are grown-ups; they have expressed this commitment to (the students) and this program and I’m trusting them.”
The faculty’s previous goal of being accredited will now be long-term, Halisky said. Emphasis will now go toward building a stronger program that uses the opportunities Cal Poly provides, embrace it’s potential and move on.
However, Bashaw said real thought needs to be taken before the department can move forward.
“If we hope to see any improvement in the journalism program we need to really think through these manic changes in leadership,” Bashaw said.
Levenson, who was previously a department chair at La Roche College in Pittsburgh, Penn. and has 28 years experience as a department chair, said he will serve basic duties such as signing papers and be a voice for the journalism department. He will advise the journalism faculty if they would like it, he said.
“My philosophy is the way to get things done is to surround yourself with good people,” Levenson said. “Let them do what they do and support them; get the job done without interfering.”