Journalism school faculty votes to lower proposed fee increase

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Faculty members at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism voted last week to lower a proposed annual supplemental fee from $10,250 to $7,500.

If approved by the regents, the fee would bring in more than $1 million annually and come in the form of Professional Degree Supplemental Tuition — fees paid by graduate students on top of tuition. Unlike basic tuition, the money would go directly to the journalism school, and at least 33 percent would go to financial aid, according to Edward Wasserman, dean of the journalism school.

Of the 17 professional degree programs at UC Berkeley currently carrying the supplemental tuition, all except those from the College of Environmental Design have proposed fee increases for 2015-16, according to Andrew Smith, assistant dean for research and planning in the graduate division. This is the first year that the journalism school and the campus Graduate School of Education have proposed the supplemental tuition.

“I’m sure that the amount of unhappiness over here is going to serve as a cautionary tale to the other deans to try to raise their fees further,” Wasserman said.

The Graduate School of Education submitted two proposals to the UC Office of the President that will reflect a fee increase of $6,000 for certain master’s programs and $8,000 for the education doctorate program, which are undergoing revisions, according to Jessica Charles, director of professional programs at the Graduate School of Education.

Wasserman alerted the journalism community to the proposal Sept. 12, and three meetings have been held since then.

At the journalism school, the estimated average financial impact of the fee per student, after factoring in financial aid, would be $4,083 per year for in-state students and $1,226 for those outside of California, Wasserman said in a Tuesday email to the journalism school community.

Faculty members voted on two points Thursday, determining first whether to implement the fee and then deciding what the amount would be. The result of the first vote was 12 in favor and two opposed. For the second vote, faculty members were given six fee levels to choose from. Six faculty members voted for $4,000 or less, and eight voted for $7,500.

“The idea that public funding has deteriorated so badly that we have to charge students this way is abhorrent to almost all of us,” said professor Cynthia Gorney, who reluctantly voted for a fee.

Graduate students from the journalism school are not always guaranteed a middle-class job or secure salary, Gorney said in explaining her reason for supporting a lower fee.

According to Wasserman, the $7,500 would be “helpful” for better financial footing but would not be enough to expand the school in the way he had hoped. It was not worth pushing for the higher amount and potentially undermining the “sense of commitment, loyalty and affection that people had for this school,” he said.

Wasserman hopes to use the money from the fee increase to fund core operations and raise money from outside the school to provide more financial aid for students. Future fundraising efforts will include hiring another staff member in the fundraising department, finishing up plans for the school’s 50th anniversary endowment drive in 2019 and reviving relationships with funders that have been “allowed to languish,” Wasserman said.

Wasserman added that if the tuition increase had been implemented gradually, the issue would not have sparked such widespread controversy.

“I think that the $10,250 was a pretty scary number,” Wasserman said. “No matter how we then tried to talk about minimizing the input, that took all the oxygen out of the air as far as discussion.”

Wasserman does not believe that admissions would be impacted by the fee. The reason students attend the journalism school should not be because of a low cost of attendance but because UC Berkeley has the “best journalism school in the world,” he said.

Becca Andrews, a second-year graduate student at the journalism school, believes the school’s culture and diversity will be impacted by the fee increase because it may lead to lower accessibility for people from low-income communities.

“If there’s one thing we don’t want in journalism, it’s more white, privileged reporters,” she said, “because then you don’t get diversity in the newsroom … that is necessary for a thriving journalistic community.”

Gorney, who is a graduate of the journalism school and has been teaching there for 15 years, names the “tremendously diverse” backgrounds of students as a major reason for her commitment to the school and worries that the fee increase poses a threat to current educational and economic diversity.

The UC Board of Regents will consider the results of the faculty vote when it reviews the proposal in November. If approved, the supplemental tuition would become effective for the 2016-17 academic year.

Contact Amy Jiang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.