Dean Gayeski’s Response to April’s ‘Buzzsaw Asks Why’

By | April 24th, 2012 | Buzz Blog, Guest Commentary

The Park School of Communications

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to respond to the column, “Park thinks Professional Equals Professor” in the April issue of Buzzsaw. In this article, Brennin Cummings asserts that “The Park School of Communications loves to hire professors that are professionals in their field…” and goes on to describe her experiences with professors who may be able to practice their craft but, in her words, “can’t teach.”

As the Dean, I’m acutely aware of the challenges we have had in recruiting and retaining professors who are both experienced practitioners and accomplished academics.   The journalism department lost two full-time faculty lines in a college-wide budget cut in 2009, and unfortunately, we have had no choice but to cover many sections of courses with part-time adjuncts, some of whom are less experienced in teaching since this is not their full-time occupation.  Ms. Cummings goes on to say, “This is a problem that the administration in Park seriously needs to address.”

This article ignores several important facts which should be obvious to any journalism major:

  • First, we’ve recently hired two full-time experienced professors with excellent teaching records and professional backgrounds.  These hires occurred because of a concerted effort on my part to restore these lines and to be able to meet the salary requirements to attract people of their caliber.
  • Second, Wenmouth Williams, a full professor in the TV-Radio department, has graciously agreed to serve as interim chair of the journalism department; this frees up current journalism faculty whose student evaluations have been outstanding to put their full-time effort into teaching.  Dr. Williams has also been teaching course sections for journalism majors, and he is one of our most experienced faculty members.
  • Third, although the article mentions Jeff Cohen as a great teacher, it fails to mention the fact the journalism professor Mead Loop was one of only five professors at Ithaca College to have earned the Faculty Excellence Award last year, which recognizes outstanding research, teaching, and service.  Professor Loop was also the only professor named by former dean Dianne Lynch as a “master teacher” in the Park School.
  • Fourth, I was able to argue for one more faculty line in the journalism department beginning next fall, and I announced this fact at my “State of the School” open meeting in February.

Had Ms. Cummings sought to interview me or other members of the journalism department, she might have become more aware of these initiatives and have presented a very different viewpoint.

This article somehow implies that the Park administration was unaware of or unresponsive to student concerns about teaching effectiveness, and I take exception to this.  Nothing is more important to me than recruiting, retaining, and mentoring an exceptional faculty, and I have spent a great deal of my own time and political capital addressing the needs of the journalism department and successfully arguing for three new full-time positions within two years.  I support the right of students to express their views, and I regret that Ms. Cummings experienced what she felt was inadequate teaching in some courses.  However, I am very unhappy that this opinion piece gives the impression of a generally ineffective journalism faculty (which is not the case — because I read each and every student evaluation for every course) and an indifferent administration. This doesn’t help us in attracting great students (especially at the sensitive time of admissions events for accepted students) or great faculty (as we are poised to launch a new search).  Moreover, it diminishes the reputation of the Park School, which follows all of us as alumni throughout our future careers and for which we have all invested significant time and money.

    Buzzsaw Also Recommends:
  • Buzzsaw Asks Why: Park Thinks Professional Equals Professor? by Brennin Cummings (March 28, 2012)
  • LIPS Delivers List of Demands on International Worker’s Day by Mariana Garces (May 8, 2012)
  • Park School Dean Gayeski Delivers ‘State of the School’ Address by Alyssa Figueroa (February 22, 2012)
  • Part-Time Professors Need Full-Time Respect by Alyssa Figueroa (April 23, 2012)
  • Buzzsaw Asks Why… by Josh Elmer (November 7, 2008)
  • 15 Comments on “Dean Gayeski’s Response to April’s ‘Buzzsaw Asks Why’”

    1. Anonymous

      I find it sad that the Dean felt it necessary to save her own skin during “the sensitive time of admissions events for accepted students” by attacking a student who was simply voicing her own opinion. I know many students are unhappy with the journalism program (and I don’t need to “read every each and every student evaluation” to figure that out…). Although I’m sure Dean Gayeski is doing everything in her power to remedy this situation, she should be more open to student criticism. After all, it’s the students who are paying tuition, taking the classes, and taking the Ithaca Park School name with them when they graduate. It doesn’t matter if Dean Gayeski fixes this matter by responding to this article- the fact of the matter is, her students are unhappy, and that in itself reflects poorly on the journalism department, whether or not the opinion is published.

      Also, let’s emphasize that Ms. Cummings was writing an OPINION piece, not a factual news article. Perhaps the Dean should make note of that before she criticizes the author for her OPINION.

    2. Student

      I appreciate that Dean Gayeski cleared up what is going on in terms of hiring professors and why there were so many layoffs. However, it does not change the experience of the class year Ms. Cummings is apart of. As students we have had a course with a professor who did not teach anything and moved on to a higher level course where we are struggling because we have not had the proper training prior to the course. Consider it from a student’s point of view, this year is the first year since, at least since I have been enrolled, where students are allowed to voice their opinions in Dept. meetings. Also, I think that as students, as anonymous said, we pay a lot of money to attend Ithaca and it isn’t fair to students who are almost graduating to see current incoming freshmen receive the training that we, “upperclassmen” were supposed to have for the same price.

      I agree with Anonymous, it is simply an opinion piece and I am sure there are students who may not feel like this but some do.

    3. Parkie

      I applaud Buzzsaw Magazine for publishing Brennin Cummings’ piece in the first place. Obviously the article would not be favored by Park staff, but journalistic integrity means publishing what is truly concerning the general public, or in this case, Ithaca College students.

      I understand Dean Gayeski’s concerns, but it seems as though she is more upset about the image it projects of the Park School than the issue itself. Cummings’ article was not designed to create a PR nightmare, but to address serious concerns of Park students. Cummings’ article did not diminish the Park School’s reputation, but instead exhibit how passionate Park students are to learn and discover.

    4. Nicholas Tucci

      “This article ignores several important facts which should be obvious to any journalism major:”
      “Had Ms. Cummings sought to interview me or other members of the journalism department, she might have become more aware of these initiatives and have presented a very different viewpoint.”

      Wow, I’m rather surprised that a Dean would come out and use such harsh language and tone like the one exhibited in the quotes above. Rather condescending, in my opinion.

      “This article somehow implies that the Park administration was unaware of or unresponsive to student concerns about teaching effectiveness, and I take exception to this.’

      This article-response explicitly shows that the Park administration is very defensive and responds in an odd manner to criticisms. Ms. Cummings, in my opinion, should take exception to the tone Dean Gayeski uses throughout this response.

    5. Jenny Barish

      I recognize why Dean Gayeski had to respond–but as a student of crisis communication, her response was not appropriate. I understand why Cummings’ words may have hit a nerve, but as a student, I don’t appreciate Dean Gayeski’s language in this piece. She seems to cut a student down in this crisis response, which is not an effective tactic. I am offended on Brennin’s behalf.

      By the way, it’s not just the journalism department that lacks quality professors. I can name one or two professors in the strategic communication department that were beyond unsatisfactory. I appreciate that our voices have been heard and the administration is taking steps to amend the situation, but the quality of at least two of my courses in the last two year is unacceptable. Dean Gayeski should be proud that her students are so invested in their educations and that we demand the best instruction. It seems that Brennin was not trying to diminish the Park image. In fact she is a golden example of how students should behave here–utilizing freedom of speech, using media to start engaging conversations, and treating her education with the utmost care and integrity.

    6. Parkie 2

      “Also, let’s emphasize that Ms. Cummings was writing an OPINION piece, not a factual news article. Perhaps the Dean should make note of that before she criticizes the author for her OPINION.”

      Last time I checked, opinion pieces still had to be factually accurate to be run in a publication.

    7. Diane Gayeski

      I’m pleased to see that Brennin’s column and my response have opened up a healthy dialogue. As I stated, I support her right to express her opinions and very much regret that she, and others of you, have experienced classes which you felt were unsatisfactory.

      And I mean no disrespect to Brennin Cummings; in fact, when I read the article I invited Brennin to meet with me and we had a very cordial discussion before I asked the editors for the opportunity to respond. If my words seem harsh or condescending, I regret that … but I am just as passionate about defending the excellent faculty in the journalism department and the important work they’ve done to improve teaching quality and to actively respond to student concerns in the last few years.

      Let’s move forward: What can I do as Dean to provide the right kinds of opportunities for students to air their concerns so that they don’t need to feel as though they need to publish an article? Yes, I DO feel defensive…. and rather hurt and confused. I feel that the article implied that student concerns were going ignored when Brennin said, “This is a problem that the administration in Park seriously needs to address.” I agree- and I HAVE been seriously addressing them. I thought that I had created an environment in which students feel free to make appointments with me, email me, and come to some of the open sessions I’ve created, although very few students have taken advantage of these opportunities.

      We can’t go back in time and change the experiences some of you have had in your classes– but we can show that we respond as best as we can to your concerns.

      Suggestions???

    8. Frustrated

      As dean of the park school, you would think Gayeski would understand that it’s not necessary to interview anybody for an OPINION piece. It’s embarrassing, as a journalism student, to see Gayeski resorting to implied personal attacks (she says these points should be “obvious to any journalism major,” as though Cummings is somehow sub-par for expressing these opinions, and of course they must be the product of being ill-informed). Also, what was she trying to accomplish with the Professor Loop thing? Professor Loop is clearly not the type of professor Cummings was talking about. If Cummings had not been confident in the fact that many students share in her frustration, I am sure she would not have published the piece, because she is a responsible young woman and is not trying to somehow stir up trouble where there is no need. The administration needs to hear this, and instead of worrying about what prospective students will think, maybe they should focus on the students who are already here. This type of response is not going to make frustrated students step back and say, “Oh, no, you’re right, I was wrong for feeling frustrated that my education has been sub-par and I’m now facing little job prospects and a mountain of debt”… it’s so obviously a PR response that reminds me again that the college is, essentially, a business, and as long as they can keep pushing students through, they seem unconcerned about the actual experience. This is not to say that everyone in the Park School acts like this, to the contrary I have had great experiences with professors like Loop and Cohen. However, to me, at least, the administration has always seemed detached.

    9. Velma Burrows

      I taught Brennin Cummings in a high school Honors English class. I don’t consider her a rebel-rouser, so I must conclude her concerns have a basis in fact. Also, I like the fact that Brennin recognizes that teaching is as much an art form as doing, i.e., “Those who can, teach; those who can’t, do something else” as opposed to “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”). I remember that for a number of years I used to have a local newspaper reporter speak to my students about how to cover a famous speaker in a news story, e.g. how would Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address be written up in the next day’s newspaper? I did this because I felt that students would pay more attention to a professional journalist than to their old biddy of a high school English teacher. The first few times this reporter visited my class, she was atrocious at communicating her craft, so I would always do a follow-up lesson on the salient points of her presentation, but by the third time, she was much better prepared, more energetic, and better able to adapt the message to the given audience. I do have one suggestion for Ithaca journalism students: if adjunct journalism professors at Ithaca are, indeed, practitioners and experts in their field, students should take every opportunity to “pick their brains,” so to speak. Rather than empty vessels waiting to be filled, active, questioning students can help mold journalists into teachers. It’s kind of like asking grandma for her recipe for turkey stuffing. Her first response is liable to be, “Oh, I don’t know. I use a pinch of this and a dash of that.” If you really want to replicate the recipe, you need to ask, “Grandma, how much is a pinch?”

    10. Diane Gayeski

      I very much appreciate the comment from Ms. Burrows. I absolutely agree with the concerns that Brennin Cummings has about some of her past classes. We had been in a position to need to hire quite a few part-time adjuncts over the past few years and given our location, we don’t have the luxury of having experienced professors in our area who are available for part-time temporary teaching assignments. Our students also have expressed their desire to have more exposure to professionals, and many other comm schools are hiring more professional journalists to teach in their programs. Under our former Dean we hired two such professionals who found out that teaching was not their forte’. I’m the first one to admit that some of our trials haven’t worked out, and I’m hoping that the folks who turned out to be able to “do but not teach” are no longer in our classrooms. Our current roster of full-time journalism professors have that magic combination of professional experience plus advanced degrees plus a real talent at teaching.

      Your advice, Ms. Burrows, of suggesting that students learn how to “pick the brains” of experts is a great one. I’ve recently designed a new course for all freshmen called “S’Park” that features Skyped-in guests, mostly alums who are working in various facets of the comm industry. One of the things we explicitly teach our students is how to ‘take notes’ and find the key points in what they are saying – and how to ask good questions that elicit the important information they need to learn about the contemporary media environment.

      It’s great that former teachers are following our student media! Ms Burrows, we have a program called Media Mentors that selects 4-5 outstanding high school media teachers and advisors to get an award and spend a long weekend on our campus to share ideas with our professors and learn more about the Park School. You obviously have taken great interest in Brennin and in your own teaching. Kudos!

    11. Not a true Parkie, but...

      Dean Gayeski and I were able to have a very pleasant correspondence about all of this, and it is clear to me that she cares deeply about the school and her job. She is a great person, and Ithaca College is lucky to have someone with her level of passion.

    12. Anonymous Parkie

      I am a student in the Strategic Communication department just like Ms. Barish above and I too have had experiences with professors in our department that I would classify as sub-par. One such professor taught my Introduction to Strategic Communication class, which is supposed to be the foundation of my major, and yet I walked away feeling like I had learn almost nothing. I have written about my experience in my course evaluation form as well as spoken to the chair of my major about this professor; while I do not have a class with this professor this semester, discussions with my classmates lead me to believe that this professor is still teaching in the same unsatisfactory manor. I applaud and appreciate Dean Gayeski’s dedication to finding full-time professors to replace those that we students feel are not working, but I wish that there was something we could do while they were still here in order to improve student’s experiences and to ensure that no class feels as though it is a waste of time, money, and effort.

    13. Christina Neist

      As a TV-R major I can certainly understand what Cummings is saying, because i feel the same way. A professional in the industry does not necessarily mean they are guaranteed to be a great teacher. Every semester we fill out those teacher evaluation forms for a reason, and they rarely bring change. i agree with Jenny, that the administration should be encouraging of the fact that students are invested in their education and want more from it.
      I find it extremely offensive that Dean Gayeski would preach about changing the ethics of communications to Park majors, and then try and censor someone who does.
      In terms of reputation, perspective students are more interested in what current students have to say than what the school is selling them. One Buzzsaw article will not make or break their decision, but speaking with a student who is disappointed with the system will.

    14. Anonymous Park Student

      Before i state my own opinion, I just want to say that I think that giving Dean Gayeski the chance to respond through Buzzsaw was a smart and classy decision. For this reason (among others), I respect Buzzsaw Magazine as an on-campus publication. Another thing about Buzzsaw that I respect is that when you read an article for the magazine, you are not reading a “Buzzsaw article” in the way that you read an “Ithacan article” or a “Time article.” The piece you are reading is the author’s own work, and Buzzsaw proudly claims many pieces that they publish as a result of the author’s own thought process and experiences, not as a result of the publication’s own ideals. The two pieces in discussion are, very obviously, not “Buzzsaw articles;” the pieces are those of the authors. Cummings’ piece is her own, as is Gayeski’s.

      I respect Dean Gayeski for responding to the article, clarifying some claims that Cummings’ made, and speaking with Cummings in person. As a student, I identify with her frustrations, but writing down and publishing a rant does not constitute any sort of solution. If anything, it is an instigator, hence Dean Gayeski’s response, the above comments, and, of course, my own. Dean Gayeski’s language was harsh and I understand why students were offended; some of her statements came off as condescending and implied that the current study body was not her focus. I believe that Gayeski’s language should be less harsh towards students in the future, but she had every right to respond to the accusations that were made, especially when her personal efforts were insulted.

      Contrariwise, I respect Cummings’ critical eye and voice regarding her education. I respect her decisions and efforts to bring her opinion into a public eye, but as a Journalism major, she should have more appropriately researched her topic. Though an opinion piece, a lack of research and her wide-ranging statements are still unexcusable. Yes, opinion pieces do not require interviews, but some form of research – other than one’s own personal experiences – is necessary. Discussing the experiences of her peers, learning about the hiring process for the Park School of Communications, asking how a curriculum for a course is created… All of these are potential ways she could have researched her article with minimal effort, but unfortunately, she did not do so.

      In an odd sense, both sides are justified and able to share their opinions, but I think the problem is both responses were flawed: Cummings’ due to the severe lack of research and Gayeski’s due to the harshness of her words. I understand why faculty are offended by Cummings and students by Gayeski. Hopefully, all parties (even though watching from the outside in) can learn from this to create a better environment in the Park School of Communications and in the world of media.

    15. Max Barth

      “This article ignores several important facts which should be obvious to any journalism major”

      Awesome tone to use! I’m not a Parkie, so I don’t really understand the issues here and can’t speak from personal experience about Park in particular….

      but the general attitude of belittling students who question the education they’re paying for = campus wide, in my opinion. Not often from professors, but from administrators and office workers in various departments. There’s a general attitude of – Oh, if you have a criticism of our policy or situation, you’re either

      A.) trying to get around some requirement because you are lazy

      or B.) completely stupid/uninformed

      I detect a bit of that attitude in the Dean’s initial response (whether it was intended or not) and I don’t think it’s very helpful or appropriate.

      It seems like there is a conversation going on now, so that’s good. But in general I’ve found that the only college employees who treat students with respect consistently are professors and the food service people.

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