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Medill lets J-school accreditation lapse

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Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism won’t renew its accreditation with the 72-year-old accreditation system, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) and calls for change in the program.

Bradley J. Hamm is the Dean of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. In a letter to alumni, Hamm cited his reasons for pulling out of the program, it’s out of date, extremely time consuming and inconsistent with Medill’s teaching techniques.

“We find little value in the current version of accreditation,” Hamm wrote.

“As we near the 2020s,” he continued, “we expect far better than a 1990s-era accreditation organization that resists change.”

Associate Dean and Professor of Communication Carolyn Bronstein is part of an organization where she visits the schools and judges whether their journalism programs meet accreditation standards.

“If you pass your accreditation,” Bronstein said, “your program is meeting recognized standards for journalism education.”

A number of different factors play into the accreditation process including reporting fundamentals, like journalism ethics, in a specific way and making sure classrooms don’t exceed a certain number of students.

Bronstein also recognizes the accreditation program’s limitations.

“Some of the common complaints about accreditation is that it narrows (the universities’ offered courses),” Bronstein said. “It gives the schools very little flexibility in terms of what they can put in their journalism curriculum.”

DePaul, for instance, which does not have an accredited journalism program, can quickly include timely courses like election reporting into its curriculum.

While lack of accreditation is not likely to hurt Medill, a continuing trend of journalism programs discontinuing their accreditation can hurt ACEJMC.

Medill followed University of California-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism in not remaining accredited.

“When an influential program leaves the flock, removes itself from the organization, it hurts the program,” Bronstein said.

Despite his critiques, Hamm says he looks forward to working with a modern version of ACEJMC in the future.

“Let’s keep this important national discussion started by Medill’s decision and build a much stronger and more valuable accreditation system for all the schools in our field,” Hamm said in a statement released Wednesday.

Bronstein said while losing Medill will not fundamentally change ACEJMC, “it does point to a need to re-envision and revisit the accreditation process and accreditation standards. If programs are dropping out and aren’t finding value in (ACEJMC), that’s a problem.”

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Medill lets J-school accreditation lapse