UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism withdraws from accreditation program

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The UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism has allowed its accreditation with the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, or ACEJMC, to expire.

The ACEJMC oversees a voluntary accrediting process, which reviews professional programs offered by educational institutions. The ACEJMC imposes no “specific curricula, courses or methods of instruction” — instead, it lists indicators and suggests evidence for how institutions should prove they are meeting standards, according to its website. The standards consist of nine units that are meant to ensure universities are meeting various objectives of professional education in journalism and mass communications.

The council currently has 113 fully accredited programs, all but three of which are undergraduate programs. Susanne Shaw, the executive director of ACEJMC, said most programs with this accreditation are undergraduate schools. According to Shaw, a benefit of the accreditation is the ability to participate in the William Randolph Hearst Awards.

“Many consider that to be the Pulitzer Prize of college journalism. Being eligible for the William Randolph Hearst (awards) is a great advantage,” Shaw said.

The William Randolph Hearst Awards are only open to undergraduate journalism majors. As UC Berkeley does not have an undergraduate journalism program, the awards do not apply to the program.

UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Dean Edward Wasserman — who prior to coming to Berkeley served as a professor of journalism ethics at ACEJMC-accredited Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia — echoed Shaw’s sentiment.

“Accreditation is a valuable process for undergraduate programs,” Wasserman said via email. “Berkeley’s program is a standalone, two-year, graduate-level-only, journalism boutique, with an exceptional reputation of innovation and achievement, which is subject to continuous self-examination, generated… by a restless internal culture of self-improvement.”

Wasserman stated that he examined prior accreditation reports, spoke to reviewers and sought feedback from faculty before withdrawing from the program. According to Wasserman, the decision was chiefly because of the large administrative burden preparing for the review placed on the school’s small staff.

The graduate journalism program is relatively small, admitting fewer than 100 students. Wasserman said he did not think that withdrawing from the accreditation would have any negative implications for the journalism school as a whole.

When asked about the implications of UC Berkeley withdrawing from the accreditation, Shaw stated, “That’s OK — they don’t have many students. I don’t know specifically what (Wasserman’s) reasons are, but I don’t have a problem with his decision.”

Wasserman gave assurance that the journalism school would continue to uphold its top tier reputation.

“The School remains committed to the highest standards of excellence, and will continue to turn out, as it has for a half-century, graduates with sterling accomplishment and exemplary promise,” Wasserman said in an email.

Contact Elena Aguirre at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @eaguirreDC.