Gonzaga’s journalism program has always been small; there are 14 of us in our senior Capstone course this semester. But, our peers have interned at The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, Associated Press and MLB.com, launched digital sports news startups, helmed daily newspapers in San Francisco and much more. So, we’ve made do with what little we have. Yet, in recent years the university, like newspaper-gutting hedge funds, has pushed us to do more with less.
We can deal with walking up the four flights of stairs in College Hall to get to the office. We can handle it when administrators and faculty are critical of our coverage. But, now our education is going to suffer.
As it stands, next year GU will only have two journalism professors — over winter break, we learned the university isn’t renewing Tracy Simmons’ contract. The two remaining professors are already pulling double duty: John Kafentzis as a public relations instructor, Susan English as a department chair. And, the content of their courses is rooted in their careers as print journalists, which is reflected in how we’re ultimately evaluated. The journalism senior Capstone project still revolves around designing a newspaper front page, not creating a website, a podcast or interactive graphics. We don’t take classes from them in digital journalism or learn how to engage readers on social media; that’s what Simmons’ classes are for.
Simmons started as an adjunct professor and was hired full-time in the 2016-17 academic year in an appointment by the academic vice president.
Simmons became the instructor for vital classes, like public affairs reporting and emerging media, and added the technological expertise of a reporter decades younger than the rest of the journalism faculty. Students don’t just talk about social media or the web in theory anymore; they practice it and she critiques them.
Simmons has also been one of The Bulletin’s advisers for the past two years. She’s the first adviser to give weekly critiques on our website and social media usage; in the past it came down to student knowledge.
Last year, GU finally hired a new tenure-track professor to fill the hole left by retired Tom Miller, a longtime journalism professor, except he’s a filmmaking instructor, not a journalist. (Yep, GU’s pivoting to video.)
Simmons embodies the struggle of today’s journalists to remain employed and make an impact. Specializing in religion reporting, Simmons left her post at The Waterbury Republican-American when faith coverage was reduced in the late 2000s. She turned around and launched a digital religion news startup, which she sold to the Religion News Service. In 2012, while working with the Religion News Service to start more local religion news sites, she launched Spokane Faith and Values. And now, she teaches a class to show students how they can do the same.
Yet, it seems the university does not appreciate her efforts, and the concerns of students directed toward the department and the College of Arts and Sciences have fallen on deaf ears.
Recently, the integrated media department put out a call for students to attend meet-and-greet sessions with candidates for open broadcast studies and public relations faculty positions. Well, if you’re looking for student feedback for the future of our education, here it is: retain Tracy Simmons.
The Gonzaga Bulletin editorial board is comprised of Editor-In-Chief Kendra Andrews, Managing Editor Arcelia Martin and The Bulletin’s section editors.