FIU's Journalism Program Is a Mess

Trouble's brewing at Florida International University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Faculty members charge Dean Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver rarely shows up for work, retaliates against dissenters, allows classes of as many as 200 students to be crammed into a single auditorium, and has failed to raise much-needed funds.

"I have never heard such criticisms [of a dean] from almost all faculty members," wrote Dr. Richard Cole, a former University of North Carolina journalism dean who recently visited. "There is no question that most faculty members want her to be removed immediately."

The comments came in a March 1, 2010, report on FIU's program, one of the Southeastern United States' largest and most cosmopolitan. Cole, who has chaired national accreditation visits and conducted evaluations for 50 other universities, lists 17 quotes from faculty members. All are anonymous, likely because only three of the school's 24 full-time teachers are protected by tenure and can't be fired. Some examples:

"We have no leadership."

"I never see her."

"You piss her off, and you're out of here."

"She's in denial."

The discord has drawn little attention off campus. But at a time of crisis in the trade, when a new future is being mapped, it could have significant implications for the entire region.

"I left the program in decent shape," says the school's founding dean, J. Arthur Heise. "My only regret is not growing someone better either from the inside or the outside" to take over.

Kopenhaver, who makes $162,000 a year, declined comment despite two calls to her office, one to a university spokeswoman, and an emailed list of questions. She has won numerous honors including the 2009 Outstanding Woman in Journalism and Mass Communication Education award from the Commission on the Status of Women and is a member of the Community College Journalism Association Hall of Fame.

Perhaps more importantly, she has the backing of Douglas Wartzok, the interim provost and executive vice president of FIU. In a note to New Times, he cited the school's recent certification by an outside committee of experts as proof of her acumen. "Under the leadership of Dean Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver the School is providing a quality education to more than 1,600 students," Wartzok wrote. "The faculty and leadership... are to be commended for the recent unqualified reaffirmation of accreditation of all undergraduate and graduate programs."

Kopenhaver has a long history with the J school. She served as chairwoman nearly three decades ago when it was still part of the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1983, Heise took over. He says the program was in chaos, but over the next 20 years, he added a master degree program – which included the only one taught entirely in Spanish in the U.S. at the time – and oriented courses more toward Latin America, – giving the school international stature.

After Heise stepped down in 2003, Kopenhaver helped head the search committee to find a dean while serving as interim dean, Heise says. The committee failed to attract a qualified candidate, so it tapped her for the permanent post.

"I'm not convinced that search was as wide and deep as it could have been," the former dean says.

Since Kopenhaver's appointment, the program has suffered deep budget cuts and low faculty morale. A model writing program has been dismantled, Heise says, and faculty discontent burgeoned with mushrooming class sizes.

According to Cole's report, the student to faculty ratio at the undergraduate level in 2008-09 was 131 to 1, and master's classes often have 35 to 40 students. Some teachers told Cole they "were overwhelmed with the load."

"I've had semesters where I've taught more than 350 students," says associate professor Jane Daugherty. "In one class there were more than 300 students."

Daugherty, who was a Pulitzer finalist at the Detroit Free Press in 1994 and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, claims she was recently let go because she spoke out. "This is the only journalism school in the country that doesn't believe in the First Amendment," she says. "They've gone through great lengths to repress what's going on."

In 2009, a report by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) gave the school a good grade. But authors found an "urgent need to build permanent, stable, effective leadership." They noted Kopenhaver had announced "she would return to the full-time faculty."

"Everybody felt we were moving forward," says Fred Blevens, who earned a PhD after working as a reporter and editor at major metropolitan newspapers in five cities. "The spirit was raised. There was a bright future."

Blevens says Kopenhaver neither spends time in the classroom nor garners much-needed cash from donors, "If you don't raise money and you really don't administer, you should be in the classroom," Blevens said.

He complains money is so scarce that, "my four-year-old laptop broke in the fall [and] there was no money to replace [or] fix it. I paid $165 out of my own pocket."

Another sign of problems under Kopenhaver's watch: A June 2009 university audit shows Associate Dean Allan Richards recently took three research and study trips to South Africa, where his ex-wife and child had moved. Richards used $3,500 of $18,917 from FIU and grants to hire his former wife, who "had expertise in tours and journalism," as a consultant, the audit found.

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FIU is the worst school in Florida. Their Journalism program is difficult to get in to, so if you're going to FIU for that, run to another school. FIU is no Ivy League university, but the sure act like they are. Here are my reasons from my personal experience there:


1) When applying to FIU and attending the Orientation, Amy Donaldson tells you that there is a GPA requirement to get in to the School of Journalism, but she says not to worry, you can apply for a GPA waiver. You should worry because they will make ever excuse not to approve your application, so they can keep you there longer.


2) You must take the Grammar Exam, which consists of a computer exam and a writing exam, before applying into the School of Journalism. The test is not easy and you have four tries to take it. On top of that, you must pay to take it. They also offer a Grammar Slammer to prepare you for test, but it does not help, so don't waste your time. Oh and this costs money too.


3) If you do not pass the Grammar Exam after four tries, you must then take a Saturday class for a few weeks. And this costs money too. Then you get one more try to take Grammar Exam. If you fail, you're out of luck. If you pass, you then have to take Writing Strategies.


4) When you take Writing Strategies, you will be required to take another Exam Grammar to exit the course. If you pass the exit exam and your cumulative GPA (from previous schools & FIU) is a 3.0, then you;re good to go. You should be able to get into the journalism program. If you fail, then you have to take Writing Strategies again.


5) Let's say you pass Writing Strategies, but you do not have a 3.0 GPA. Well you can apply for a GPA waiver. You have to put together a package including essay, resume, recommendation letters, etc. Just because you apply for a waiver does not mean you'll get in. And Believe me, FIU will make it very hard for you to get in.


They rather you change your major and take more classes, so their pockets can be full while they empty yours. Francisco Marrero & Theresa Ponte are two people who will try to make your life difficult in getting into the program or applying for internships.  Beware. Remember when Amy Donaldson says don't worry; there's a GPA waiver. I suggest you worry.


FIU does not care about your experiences in the business or how hard you've worked, all they want is your money. And I would not be surprised if some of the journalism teachers were getting a kick back for discouraging students so they can change their major over and over. Bottom line is all FIU wants is your money because their journalism program and teachers are the worst. Ask around, I have and all I hear are bad things. Wish I had heard this before I started attending FIU.



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