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Timing of Auburn journalism merger proposal ironic

By By Lori Dann
Managing Editor
Auburn University may not have one of the largest journalism programs in the Southeast,but it is certainly one of the most respected. And as an admittedly biased graduate of the university, I believe it to be one of the best.
The department's alumni include Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and syndicated columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson, as well as noted journalists working anywhere from small-town newspapers to the New York Times.
So I was both shocked and disappointed to learn recently that the university is considering a merger of the journalism and communications departments. This would obviously compromise the outstanding reputation the department has worked so hard to achieve throughout the newspaper industry.
In the 12 years since my graduation, I have worked at four newspapers in the Southeast n two dailies and two weeklies. I also interned at The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. In each of the interviews for those positions, I received favorable responses when the employer asked about my college background. In fact, in all but one instance this led to a brief discussion about the quality of the small but talent-rich Auburn journalism program and its faculty.
Would I have received such a response if I had been a graduate of the Auburn School of Communications? I don't think so. In fact, I believe there would have been a predisposed bias against me since I didn't have a journalism degree.
As an editor who has assisted in the hiring process of reporters, I can tell you that a student with a journalism degree from any school has a much better chance of being hired by a newspaper than a student with a communications degree. I mean no disrespect to those in the communications field, but there is a distinct difference between the two.
A recent article in The Birmingham News stated that those who favor the merger believe it will save the university $50,000 per year. Provost William Walker was quoted as saying, "If you can get the same service for fewer dollars, you are obligated to do that."
There is certainly no way Auburn journalism students will be receiving the same services if the departments are merged and there is just one department head between the two.
The Auburn journalism department places 100 percent of its students in the workforce. This is due to the diligence of everyone in the department, from the head of the department to the department secretary. At Auburn, the students have always come first.
Until now.
My fear is that this merger will result in one department head serving two very different sets of students and faculty. Inevitably, the students will be the ones who suffer.
The biggest danger in this entire process is that it places the university's journalism reaccreditation in jeopardy. This again puts the reputation of the university at risk because it would leave the University of Alabama as the only state university with an accredited journalism department.
As an Auburn graduate, I find the timing of this proposal ironic, considering the public relations nightmare the university went through last year during its First Amendment battle with The Auburn Plainsman over its coverage of the Bobby Lowder-Terry Bowden scandal. Perhaps it is merely coincidence, but the university does not need this sort of publicity again.
I urge Auburn University leaders to resume the search for a full-time journalism department head and to keep the journalism and communications departments separate.
If not, Auburn University stands to lose much more than $50,000.