Journalism school considers potential merger to expand access for undergraduate students

Undergraduate students may soon be able to take journalism courses pending a potential merger between the journalism school and a program in the faculty of arts.

UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism hosted a town hall on January 21 to hear students’ responses about the possibility of the school merging with the arts studies in research and writing program.

According to the school’s Director Alfred Hermida, the merger is about expanding journalism courses to undergraduate students. Currently, there is only a standalone graduate program, but a small number of courses are available to undergraduate students who are in programs like the bachelor of media studies.

“As a school we’re always looking in terms of how can we grow the influence and impact of what we do here as a journalism school,” he said.

“[This] helps us lay the foundation for maintaining the strong journalism program at the graduate level, but also to work with faculty who have experience in undergrad in developing journalism undergraduate courses.”

But current journalism graduate students have mixed responses to the proposal.

Many worry the small program of fewer than 100 students would be different with potentially hundreds of other students accessing courses.

“While we’ve been assured that there will be separate administration structures, I think students just — when they hear that number — get worried about what it could mean for them and their student experience here at the school,” said Mel Woods, president of the Graduate School of Journalism Students Association.

Another question is about how the school would look on their resume.

Hermida responded that the graduate student experiences would likely improve after the merger because the school would have more resources than it currently does. He also noted that the master in journalism degree wouldn’t change.

“One of the challenges of being a small school with a graduate only program with small faculty is everybody has a lot of service commitments,” he said. “... If we have a larger unit with more faculty, then we can actually spread some of those service loads across faculty, making existing faculty more available to students.”

According to him, the merger is not a decision based on funding, adding that the budget for the master of journalism program is also going to stay the same.

“We’re a very high profile department, we have very high performing faculty, we bring a lot of research funds, we hire a lot of students for research assistants, we have award winning courses,” he said.

“It’s all about not just how we retain that, but how can we grow that. How can we do more of what we do, better? And then how can we bring some of that graduate magic into the undergrad?”

But the main issue seems to be the delay in the school’s consultation about the change. While the discussion on the merger began in July, the student body was only brought in for input in January.

The school also didn’t present any alternative option for making journalism courses accessible to undergraduate students besides a merger.

“There’s just kind of a sense of ‘Well there’s nothing we can really do about it,’ leaving that room that day,” Wood said.

“[This conversation] includes current graduate students at the school and any alumni and it includes prospective students — those are all players that need to be included in this conversation,” Woods added.

“[They] should have been included earlier, and should be included going forward.”

This article has been updated to clarify the potential merger.