Wot in accreditation: what changes at Medill mean for students

    Medill recently decided to forego renewing its accreditation from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC), meaning the school will no longer be considered an accredited journalism program. There were a lot of big words in that sentence – here’s what they mean.


    The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications is “a 1990s-era accreditation organization that resists change” – according to Medill Dean Brad Hamm in an email statement sent by Dorina Rasmussen, director of the Medill Office of Student Life.

    To define it more objectively, the organization independently accredits journalism schools around the country after both a self-study by the school that follows a set of guidelines and an external review by an ACEJMC-selected team. The process is voluntary and must occur every six years for a school to maintain its accreditation. This year, Medill was slated to undergo the review process again, but decided not to.

    Medill’s decision

    At its core, Medill’s reasoning for not renewing its accreditation stems from the basis of Hamm’s statement – the belief that the organization’s standards are outdated in a rapidly changing field and that the time and effort that the school puts into the review process can be better spent on improving the school itself. In addition, Medill said it hopes the decision will incite self reflection on the part of ACEJMC.

    “We hope ACEJMC will commit very soon to changing its leadership, strengthening and updating its standards, and improving the review process,” Hamm said in the same email statement. “We also expect that ACEJMC will treat all constituents, especially diverse organizations, fairly and with respect.”

    What this means for students

    Many Medill students, including Medill Undergraduate Student Advisory Council (MUSAC) co-chair Geordan Tilley, first heard about the decision through a Chicago Tribune story rather than from the school itself. For Tilley, this was indicative of broader issues within the Medill administration.

    “I think my main takeaway from this whole experience is [the] lack of transparency,” Tilley said. “As the co-chair of the Medill Undergraduate Student Advisory Council, I would assume that I would at least get a heads-up.”

    In hearing about the decision through external sources, many students were confused about the University’s reasoning behind the decision and what it would mean for the school. Even alumni, such as People’s Choice Award winner and former Buzzfeed comedy writer Matt Bellassai (Medill ‘12), initially expressed discontent with the University’s decision.

    In reality, the lapse in accreditation won’t create much visible change for students. The main effect that students could see is an inability to participate in the Hearst Journalism Awards Program, which currently requires that applicants attend an ACEJMC accredited school.

    Worries about the future of Medill’s reputation, however, are quelled by the school’s high standing within the field, which is unaffected by whether or not the school is accredited.

    “Student recruitment, internships and hiring have never been affected by whether a school is accredited in our field,” Hamm said in the statement.

    Northwestern is still an accredited university and is reviewed under a different agency. 

    Future changes

    Tilley believes that the University’s choice “makes sense,” but the way that many students learned about it exemplifies communication problems between the administration and undergraduate students.

    “I think ultimately, from what I have heard, the decision to not renew our accreditation is probably the right one,” Tilley said. “I just prefer to learn about it directly from administration, rather than the Chicago Tribune.”

    The fact that Medill is welcoming a new senior associate dean, Tim Franklin, this summer presents a unique opportunity to improve the student-administration connection and to improve Medill as a whole. Given the University’s statements that time and effort previously devoted to the accreditation review process will now be used to improve the school itself, Franklin could play a role in shaping how these improvements unfold.

    “I think coming in right as we’re no longer accredited gives him a huge opportunity to change, and hopefully improve, things,” Tilley said. “I hope that overall this is just going to provide him a platform to make lots of positive changes.”

    Transparency and communication, however, must be front and center in order to improve relations with students, Tilley says, citing suggestions such as open lunches, public forums and meetings with MUSAC.

    “If he doesn’t initially focus a lot of his efforts on connecting with the student body, and on making sure that some level of transparency and trust is there, it’s not going to help him,” Tilley said.

    What the review process will look like now

    Medill will now undergo a self-administered independent review, according to an announcement from the Medill Dean’s Office. The review will begin in July, as a part of a university-wide requirement.

    “An independent team of professional and educational leaders will visit the campus and study documents to make recommendations for improvement,” the announcement said.

    Generally, students choose Medill for reasons other than its accreditation, Tilley said, and the lapse won’t affect students’ future prospects.

    “I think we all picked Medill for a reason: there’s generally a thought of ‘I want to attend one of the best journalism schools in the country to be able to potentially pursue this career, or whatever this field of study means for a future career for me,’” Tilley said. “Just because we’re no longer accredited doesn’t mean we’re no longer Medill.”


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