Opinion Staff Editorial

Staff Editorial: UH journalism program in desperate need of repair

We do not take pleasure in this. 

This is not something we do out of hatred, but out of a genuine concern for the future of our school and, more broadly, our profession. 

The unfortunate reality is that the Jack J. Valenti School of Communications is on life support. 

While a decaying journalism program is nothing new, the recent cuts to the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences have accelerated an ongoing downward trajectory that culminated in the dismissal of as many as 60% of the school’s adjunct professors at the end of last year, according to emails secured by The Cougar. 

Alongside these cuts came stop-gap measures to provide students the illusion of normalcy. In the emails, administrators within the college were directed to cut costs by “encouraging professors to teach courses they have not taught recently,” “limiting electives,” increasing class sizes and shifting from in-person to online.

“Teaching reassignments must prioritize replacing part-time adjuncts or lecturers and delivering high-demand state Core or degree requirements,” said Todd Romero, associate dean of undergraduate studies for CLASS. “This may mean the faculty member will be teaching a course they have not taught previously or not in some time.”

These changes were, of course, tucked safely away from the students who enrolled in courses for the Fall ‘23 semester. Some eyebrows may have been raised when students noticed their course cap rose from 50 to 200, but no one cared enough to kick up a fuss. Those few who did were met with empty apologies from the administration and burnt-out professors. 

After all, three years of Covid classes make anything seem normal. 

But things are far from normal at Valenti. The emails claim CLASS is experiencing a deficit of as much as $3 million — a figure the University officially denies — and that the cuts were necessary as a result. In particular, adjunct professors found themselves on the chopping block as their compensation is paid out of a separate fund than full-time professors. 

This hurt some schools more than others. Of the most heavily impacted were those programs, like journalism, in which much of the staff are part-time faculty who actively work in the fields they teach. These professors — who, according to the emails, were responsible for teaching as much as 50-60% of all UH journalism courses — provided valuable, local insight into an evolving field. Now, all mostly gone. 

With them left their ground-level experience, but more importantly, their connections departed as well. As with many fields, networking is key to success as a journalist. What these professors provided inside the classroom was magnified tenfold by what they provided outside of it. 

Among the fallen include reporters and columnists from the Houston Chronicle, the Kinder Institute and a host of other institutions actively serving the Houston area. These were people who had genuine equity in the school and community — active professionals with a natural desire to see their students succeed. 

The impact these cuts have had on quality of education and professional development are obvious, but what is less so is the impact it has had on representation within the field.

In one email exchange, an adjunct whose course was cut for the ‘23 fall semester pointed to the lack of Black female representation at the school, and that her dismissal would only worsen the issue. While leadership at Valenti shared her concerns, they were quick to point out that the department did have “more than two” Black women on staff. 

The emails also revealed that pay equity has become a concern within CLASS. One professor pointed to the apparent salary gulf between CLASS adjuncts and those at other colleges. According to their data, instructors within CLASS are paid 40% less per course than faculty at other institutions. 

Now, some of you may think what we do is stupid. You may think it’s outdated, unnecessary or, dare we say, cringe. But the reality is that journalism is still broadly the first draft of history. Historians and culturists often rely heavily, sometimes exclusively, on newspapers and reporting contemporary to significant events in order to get a better understanding of them. 

And right now, in a lot of cases, the people writing and recording the stories of Houstonians are not from Houston.

It’s not the fault of the publications and news stations that cover our area — they, like any other business, choose the best candidates they are given. But, as a result of the low priority the University places on the program, they aren’t coming from UH. 

That might not seem important, but with a city as diverse and as large as Houston, nuance and experience are key elements in painting the picture of our vibrant culture. It’s easy for someone’s story to slip between the cracks in any city, let alone one that sprawls an area larger than the entire state of Massachusetts. 

That isn’t to say there aren’t great students or professors in the program right now — many of them are exactly that. We want to make clear that our grievance is not with Valenti or its staff, but with the University for failing to see the value in a profession so core to our democracy it’s explicitly mentioned in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

But the University’s treatment of its communications department doesn’t end at mere callous indifference. In many ways, it’s outright deceptive. The UH journalism program is advertised as offering a host of courses ranging from investigative reporting to opinion writing and photography. To the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman, our school looks as though it offers a robust introduction to the field. 

It won’t take more than a few semesters for them to realize the truth, however. Of those classes already mentioned, none of them are currently offered at our school. Entire fields of journalism are completely unrepresented at UH. Sports reporting for print? Nope. Photojournalism? Nah. Investigative journalism? No, guess you should’ve gone to UT. 

And look, for many of us, we knew UH was not a journalism school when we came here. But the fact that the University offered a program with a seemingly rigorous curriculum led many to attend UH as opposed to looking elsewhere. In many ways, though perhaps not overtly, the University is tricking students into enrolling in a program it has no business offering. 

That, then, brings us to the unfortunate conclusion we have arrived at. If the journalism program, in its current state, is the very best UH can offer, then it should not offer one at all. At least then aspiring journalists would be forced to take their fledgling talent somewhere that will value it. 

Call us pessimists, but the current state of CLASS as a whole does not inspire confidence that our program will do a 180 any time soon. The current leadership’s obsession with research funding and rankings means that we, the sweet and sensitive liberal arts students, who produce little in the way of quantifiable data, will be left behind. 

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  • This is really disheartening to read, I hope UH bureaucracy listens to the student body though I remain highly cynical. Sending hope and strength to you all, thank you for writing this.

  • journalism was once primarily a blue-collar field that didn’t require a degree, not really seeing where the move to university degrees in journalism and the resulting shift in the field from reporting to social responsibility has done anything but foster a massive failure in the field as evidenced by it’s ongoing collapse and replacement by non-journalists as news sources

  • We gotta make some lemonade with those class lemons, let’s goooo. Also, how about we start with a mother bleeping water fountain out in the courtyard. I’m talking the ones you where you don’t have to tilt your shit to get water into it. I’m tryna drink some green light filtered water while I’m on tik tok. Fr fr.

  • As a recent graduate from the Media Production department at Valenti, it breaks my heart and angers me to see how the University treats one of their largest schools in terms of students. My entire time at UH was filled with anger for how little resources are available to Valenti students and how little the university, and honestly the Valenti leadership, care. Media production has only two full-time professors and a single adjunct to cover dozens of students and all of their required courses. Those 3 professors and the staff of the media production department are allowed no voice to speak on their concerns. The university and Valenti leadership are actively and knowingly failing students.

  • Dear Daily_Cougar,

    This article about educational attention provided by the journalism school to its students expresses a cherishing of the constitution’s First Amendment as “core to our democracy”, relating the journalism profession that practices it as specifically mentioned in that founding document.

    But can you name a single media venue in America willing to allow people to discuss the issue of same-sex marriage with others in an intelligent fashion, if they happen to oppose it? If you aren’t aware of one, in what sense would such a presumed monopoly of political speech on the matter by _proponents not be a rather burdensome violation of free speech rights?

    Or if you don’t know whether such an enormous breach of American law is the case or not, why not? It certainly is taking place on my access to Twitter, aka _X.

    Michael Taggart
    Engineering Junior

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