The Collegian
Thursday, February 22, 2024

Editorial Board: UR Journalism needs another full-time professor

<p>Weinstein Hall, home of the journalism department.&nbsp;</p>

Weinstein Hall, home of the journalism department. 

At the core of all lessons in the University of Richmond journalism department is one central goal: to teach storytelling. And so, as students of this fine department, the members of The Collegian Editorial Board have a story to tell. It is the story of a small number of professors who relentlessly pursue the best out of their students. It is the story of how that department’s strengths have created an unsustainable demand. And it is the story of why we feel the department desperately needs a fifth full-time professor position. Read on for our collective stories, and sign the petition for a new professor here.

My first experience with journalism at the University of Richmond was in News Media and Society the fall of my freshman year. I came to the university believing I would study journalism, but was beginning to doubt myself.

In News Media, I had to write a short paper on why I was in the class. So I poured out my uncertainties, including these two lines: “I don’t seem to have a burning, insatiable fire to read, write, and breathe news, nor am I all that brave to hit Richmond streets and start reporting. I find myself questioning if journalism is truly what I want to do or if it’s what I am telling myself I want to do.”

I can say with confidence now that I have the fire. I know journalism is what I want to do. And it’s because of the encouragement and support and the general hard-ass nature of the journalism professors that I know all of this to be true.

Each one of them has made a difference in my path here at UR. And mine is not an uncommon story. I am certain it is the quality of people in the department that continues to pull more and more students into studying journalism.

This department has given many of us so much. We only hope that we can return the favor by helping them add another invaluable member to their deserving -- and overworked -- team.

It took me a long time to find the journalism department, but it was well worth the wait. Before my first journalism class, I often felt lost and discouraged in class. I found the opposite experience during my first journalism classroom experience with Tom Mullen in News Writing and Reporting.

As Mullen said I would, I caught the journalism bug pretty quickly and that passion hasn’t dwindled since. In a lot of ways, Mullen knew that I would be a major even before I declared, and I’ll never forget the day I approached him following a session of Fake News & Real Journalism to proudly announce my decision to declare the major.

Since then, the entire journalism department has been the most supportive unit I’ve had on campus. It's there that I found my love for journalism and the people who do it. The friends and professors who have encouraged me along the way have made the biggest imprint on my life to date. There's no other place I'd rather call home on campus.

The journalism department is small yet mighty, but it's time they get the help they deserve. A fifth full-time professor has become necessary for the department to thrive for the major that is rapidly growing at the university.

There will always be stories to tell, and we as journalism students at the University of Richmond need the proper resources to ensure they are told well.

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The journalism department is one of the most special departments on campus. Even though I am only minoring in journalism, I feel as if I am a part of a family within this department, and that I can go to any faculty member for advice -- academic or otherwise. However, these amazing professors can only do so much to give their valued attention to the growing number of students who are joining the journalism department each year. We need another role-model, leader and professor to continue improving the lives of young journalists for the better!

The journalism department has defined my time here at UR. The students in the department have encouraged me and pushed me to be better, and I think most people with a journalism major or minor would agree that the department is a supportive, welcoming and competitive community that fosters growth. 

The professors challenge me and have seen me at my best, so they expect my best. They have given me so much confidence in my abilities and truly helped me develop as a journalist and as a person. The close relationship I have with my professors is because they support me in ways that extend beyond the sphere of the classroom. I know I can always ask for help and guidance in matters pertaining both directly to my work and to my life in general. 

With that being said, I know I am not the only student who has a relationship like this with the professors in the department. Because the faculty members give so much to each and every student, they are beginning to be stretched too thin since the number of students in the journalism department has been increasing. We need another full-time professor. We need it to create the same quality instruction and mentorship for future students in the journalism department while alleviating some stress on our current professors, and to ensure that this successful department continues to grow.

The journalism department, specifically Tom Mullen, cunningly persuaded me to become a journalism major my sophomore year at Richmond. It was one of the best decisions I have made here so far, and the journalism department is like a family that I am so proud to be a part of. 

Since I made this choice, however, I have constantly felt behind. I knew I now had less time to get the major credits, and I also knew I needed to get them quickly to finish the major. But getting into a journalism class is much easier said than done lately. The fall semester of my junior year, I could not get into a single journalism course because all of them filled up too quickly or conflicted with the credits for my biology major. As many other students in this department have witnessed, there were not enough sections of each course taught, so I wasn’t able to take a single journalism course during my junior year because I then went abroad in the spring. Now as a senior, I have to take four of the nine required credits during my final year of college, meaning I will not have an easier schedule nor will I be able to take electives in my final semesters here. 

From this experience, I can say firsthand that the journalism department must hire more staff members in order to support the growing number of journalism majors and minors. We absolutely love the faculty and courses, but getting the required credits has become a lot more difficult than it should be.

One of the main reasons I decided to attend the University of Richmond was the exceptional journalism department, and I was not disappointed when I attended my first class with Shahan Mufti. The professors in the department have inspired me to pursue my passion for writing and have fueled me with the knowledge I need to chase that passion until it becomes a career. All students should have the opportunity to explore their interests in academics, and not be discouraged or turned away by the lack of available class spots and courses offered.

Last semester, I returned from studying abroad eager to be back roaming the halls of the department, but I was unable to get into any of the journalism courses I needed. I ended up registering for two intro-level classes just to be a full-time student, hoping I would get off the waitlist, but the classes were in too high of a demand. 

The journalism professors treat every one of their students as family, and they never hesitate to lend students their undivided attention — but they can be in only one classroom or one office at a time. I have gotten to know the professors pretty well in the past three years, and I know they are always reasonable, honest and clear about what they expect out of the students, and I can imagine they are the same way with presenting a request to the board for another full-time professor. More students have found their path and a home within the department, and I believe the university should celebrate this and meet the needs of the students by allowing the department to hire another professor.

Before I started my first year at University of Richmond, I knew that I wanted to major in journalism, so I made sure to take journalism classes when I registered for the first time. It has been so great being able to familiarize myself with all the professors in the department. They have pushed me to become a better writer and to think beyond any limitations. They have inspired me to become a passionate storyteller and to really see the beauty of journalism, and because of them, the fourth floor of Weinstein Hall has become one of my favorite places to be on campus. 

These few professors can do only so much with their time. The department needs another faculty member for the growing number of students looking to be journalism majors and minors. One of the most challenging parts of being a major in such a small department is the difficulty I face in trying to register for classes. I’ve had a hard time being able to get into journalism classes and it has forced me to spend semesters without any journalism classes. Adding another faculty member will mean students will not have to face any difficulties in getting their required classes and will help the department become better equipped to manage the students.

I came to the University of Richmond with aspirations of studying international business. It was not until my sophomore year -- amid the 2016 presidential election -- that I enrolled in News Media and Society with Betsy Mullen. During the few months of that fall semester, I realized the myriad stories that need to be told, and my passionate urge to tell them. I changed my major that December.

Journalism matters. People pay attention to the news, despite where they are getting it from or how they choose to process it. Mullen complimented my writing one day. She suggested I write more, and although I have always loved to write, I had never really considered making a career out of it. Her class was inspiring to me, and for the first time at college, I felt as if I was in a course that combined everything I care about.

I’m not the only one, though. The number of journalism majors and minors is growing every year, and unfortunately, the journalism department does not have the resources to keep up with, what should be, a positive change. Our professors are some of the most hardworking, dedicated and intelligent people I have ever met. They do not deserve the burden of feeling overwhelmed because more students want to study their field of expertise. I am a strong advocate for the addition of a fifth full-time hire for the department that has become my second home and made my time at Richmond so meaningful.

When I started at University of Richmond, I didn’t think I would ever pursue journalism. I wanted to be a lawyer or a politician or a speechwriter. Journalism was a dead industry anyway, or so I figured, and it took some persuading by the editor-in-chief of The Collegian my freshman year for me to even join the student newspaper. However, I found my passion for the field writing for The Collegian, and I decided to take a News Media and Society course the fall semester of my sophomore year just to try it out. It was easily my favorite course that semester. I quickly realized that journalism was not only a still-alive field, but a growing one, albeit in a different way than it traditionally was, and I wanted to be a part of that.

The journalism department is my home on this campus. I know all of the faculty well, they know all of our names, and declared majors even get birthday cards in the mail signed by the staff members. I could probably fairly argue that it is one of the most caring departments here. They want nothing more than to see all of us become the best journalists we can be and succeed.

Clearly, their time and energy and care have paid off. We now have more declared majors and minors than we’ve ever had and classes are hard to get into, even for upperclassmen, because they are in such high demand. The professors are doing the best they can to accommodate for us, but they now need help. That’s why I strongly believe and advocate for the expansion of the journalism department. So other people like me can take a news media class just to try it, and end up finding their true passion, with faculty and fellow classmates who are supporting them the entire way.

The university administration, like many others throughout the country, has placed an priority on putting money toward attracting incoming students in the last few years. Which it should. The reason, however, many students such as myself decided to attend UR over similar universities was the high quality of education we would receive, which stems from the quality of our professors. 

As a senior journalism student, I have been very lucky. Each journalism professor I have had has in their own style taught me valuable lessons about journalism and reporting and instilled in me a passion for writing. But they are in need of help, and a new professor to bring their own unique insights and experiences that will strengthen the department. The best way for the administration to invest in our school’s future is to continue to bolster one of its strengths, the faculty.

Declaring the journalism major was by far one of the best decisions I have made during my time at the University of Richmond. When I make the climb up the four flights of stairs in Weinstein Hall and round the corner into the journalism lounge, I immediately get the feeling that I am home. That may sound cheesy, but I have always been able to count on both the full and part-time professors and our wonderful administrative coordinator throughout the past one-and-a-half years. From encouraging talks about internship searches to thoughtful conversations about the state of our world, I have come to appreciate the faculty and staff in the journalism department as not only my mentors and role models, but also as friends.

It is hard for me to put into words just how special this department has been to my experience at UR. But I believe I can speak for many others when I say that this department plays a vital role in both UR’s academic culture and in informing our students of what it means to be an active citizen in our democracy. If it were not for my first journalism course, News Media and Society, in the spring of my freshman year, I can safely say that I would not be as interested in current affairs as I am now. My communication and writing skills would be lacking, and I would not have as strong a grasp on sifting through and analyzing the information I consumed. Being a journalism major has made me a more informed, empathetic and curious student -- values that any university should be encouraging their students to develop, which is evident in the recent increase in journalism majors and minors.

But the department cannot continue to do this important work at its current state of four full-time professors. These professors are academics, professionals, advisers and friends to their students, and they do an incredible job. But resources are thinly spread as interest in journalism continues to grow, and they are taking on more stress as they try to accommodate every major and minor.

The addition of a fifth full-time journalism faculty member would help alleviate these concerns, and contribute to the future of this necessary department.

The university’s journalism department is doing the Lord’s work: training the next generation of muckrakers who will go out into the world and make sure that its citizens are equipped with the knowledge they need to make the choices that will ensure a just society. Given the current American government’s hostility toward the press and preference for flights of fancy (read: lies), it is perhaps more important than ever to stand up for the truth. The journalism professors have done an exceptional job in preparing students, but they are overburdened. Although I think the aesthetic improvements the university has made recently are beneficial, our education should always take top priority. The department needs an additional full-time professor.

I came to UR with no plans to study journalism. One stress-filled round of scheduling later, though, I found myself somehow signed up for two journalism classes in my second semester. That spring, I spent four days a week being immersed in the knowledge and culture of UR's journalism department. And by the end of it, I'd decided I wanted a journalism minor.

I made this choice partly because I was already a third of the way there and partly because I enjoyed the subject. But mostly I wanted to minor in journalism because the department felt like a family, and it felt like home. The professors are among the most dedicated and knowledgeable I have met. They care about us not just as students, not just as journalists, but as people, and I know I can come to any of them for quality advice on anything and everything. But even our amazing journalism professors have some human limits, and there are far too many students in the department for the number of professors here to teach us.

This imbalance was especially clear to me during registration for the current semester. Before rising juniors had even started registering, each of the three courses I still needed for the minor was full, with two over capacity. Because of the unavailability of classes in the department, I now may have to choose between my academic interests, giving up the journalism minor or giving up some of my goals in my other areas of study.

For a shortage of faculty members to create these difficult situations for me and other students represents a failure by the school to provide us the interdisciplinary opportunity in which it prides itself. It also represents a failure to some of the most committed professors on campus. The ever-increasing number of students pursuing journalism majors and minors is a testimony to these professors' hard work, yet their reward for their efforts is to have overfull classes and to have to maneuver the near-impossible in trying to help us take the classes we need. A fifth full-time faculty member would alleviate this unnecessary burden on both professors and journalism students and would allow more people to come to know everything the department has to offer.

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