My name is Greg Downey, and I’m the current director of the UW-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m also one of the regular instructors of the 4-credit Comm-B course “J201: Introduction to Mass Communication” referenced in Kevin Bargnes’ opinion piece from Monday, January 25, 2010 entitled “UW journalism school classes should be updated, revamped.”

We in SJMC absolutely welcome civil and constructive student discussion, critique and suggestions concerning our courses and curriculum. Besides the formal student evaluations of every course we run, we regularly survey both our incoming and graduating majors, we solicit constant feedback from our undergraduate advising staff, we direct and support student projects to survey and analyze our curriculum and we hold biannual meetings with a distinguished alumni Board of Visitors drawn from all areas of the mass communication industry to keep our educational strategies in line with industry realities. My own door and e-mail inbox ([email protected]) are always open to students who wish to discuss our school and the education they receive. And we never stop challenging ourselves to improve our curriculum. Just this month the chair of our Undergraduate Curriculum Committee attended a Poynter Institute seminar on “A New Curriculum for A New Journalism” — where, not coincidentally, our longtime instructor for J202, Katy Culver, was personally invited to make a presentation on “ensuring the vitality of multimedia journalism in our curricula.”

However, I do not welcome mean-spirited attacks on our work as presented in Bargnes’ opinion piece. The author characterizes J201 as a “weeding out” course when it actually serves over 350 students each semester who are seeking their Comm-B requirement, about 200-250 of which then go on to apply to our major. The author characterizes J202 as “obnoxious, uninspiring, rushed and unfocused” when the scores from a decade of student course evaluations consistently rank it above our department averages (which are already high, about 4.25 out of 5.00 over the last decade) in terms of organization, instructor effectiveness and learning outcomes. But my greatest objection to the piece is the insinuation that our teaching assistants are somehow unqualified for their duties. We attract and recruit the very top graduate students in mass communication from across the nation, and of this elite group, only the highest performing students from our own program are granted the chance to work in the classroom with instructors and undergraduates. We take their training and evaluation extremely seriously and we do an excellent job of it, as their consistent success on the job market in teaching positions around the country (and around the world) demonstrates.

In short, I am dismayed the Badger Herald decided to launch an attack rather than open a conversation.

I invite all readers of the Badger Herald to explore the structure of both J201 and J202 for themselves and to enter into constructive dialogue with the instructors of each class if they wish. Here are the web addresses of both courses for the current semester:


Greg Downey

School of Journalism & Mass Communication (Professor and Director)

[email protected]