Over 100 Alumni Sign Letter Supporting Observer


The Observer Alumni Facebook group


Over 100 alumni have signed and sent an alumni-written letter to the Communication and Media Studies (CMS) Department in support of The Fordham Observer following the department’s decision to cut ties with the award-winning student publication.

The letter was spearheaded by the nine members of the Fordham Observer Alumni Steering Committee, which they formed in response to CMS’s decision. The letter, with a total of 115 signatures, was sent to the Chair of CMS Jacqueline Reich and copied President Joseph M. McShane, S.J., Provost Stephen Freedman, Dean of Faculty John Harrington, Dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) Robert Grimes, S.J., Dean of Students Keith Eldredge and Associate Vice President of Alumni Affairs Michael Griffin.

Many of the signatories are CMS and Observer alumni and identified themselves as “working journalists and communications professionals.” While the alumni stated in the letter that they “are happy the department will include a new major in journalism,” they have “serious concerns about the department cutting ties to The Observer.”

The alumni said “It is surprising and shocking that the academic department charged with preparing students to work in journalism will no longer support student journalism on campus.” In cutting ties with The Observer, CMS has also decided to cancel all journalism workshops affiliated with the newspaper scheduled for the Fall 2016 semester, according to an April 21 email from Reich.

Be it reporting, editing, layout, digital media, or management, there was no better hands­ on experience than what we gained from The Observer,” the alumni continued in the letter. “Both the support of Communication and Media Studies and the ability to earn academic credit through Journalism Workshop courses made that possible. The courses protected student media from conflicts of interest that would inevitably arise if university administrators were left to support and oversee the paper.”

“Since work for The Observer was done as part of academic courses and with the support of an experienced academic advisor with a background in journalism, student-journalists had a layer of protection between themselves and administrators who may want controversial stories reported a certain way or not reported at all,” Anthony Hazell, a member of the Fordham Observer Alumni Steering Committee, said. “With The Observer now being overseen solely by the administration, it puts students under the direct supervision of university staff who will be more inclined to advise against publishing articles that could be considered bad press for Fordham or that would not be a good fit with the university’s Catholic identity.”

The alumni further stated that they are “dismayed that The Observer has been left to rely on the university administration, who are now scrambling to find a way to continue supporting the newspaper.” This support includes Student Affairs and Grimes stepping in “to help secure an advisor for The Observer since the communications department no longer wishes to support the student newspaper,” according to Hazell.

They also referenced that The Observer “has brought regional and national recognition to Fordham–and the Communication and Media Studies program that [CMS is] working so hard to improve.” The alumni continued,  “It is difficult to imagine how The Observer and its decades of excellence do not fit into your plans for the department.”

The signatories also acknowledged that the decision was CMS’s “to make,” but would “like better to understand what led to a decision that, we believe, will ultimately hurt students and alumni of Fordham.”

They concluded by stating they “would love nothing more than to support” CMS and its goal of developing a “first class journalism program” and want to know “how we can work together for the good of the students, and restore alumni pride and faith in the judgement of the Communication and Media Studies department.”

Reich responded to the alumni letter on May 31, thanking them for reaching out to the department and saying that CMS takes “great pride in our graduates” and “so appreciated hearing your voices and your heartfelt words about our program and the Observer.”

In her statement, she said that CMS “greatly” respects “student journalism on campus and the integrity of The Observer,” attributing “that integrity we value so highly” as the impetus for “a complete overhaul of our undergraduate program” and creation of “a major and minor in Journalism, as well as a minor in Sports Journalism.” The new majors received long-awaited approval from the New York Department of Education on May 27, according to Reich.

Reich further stated that the new Journalism major requires all students to take a “campus media practicum, which continues to allow students to receive credit for their work they do on The Observer, with feedback and supervision from a faculty member.” As a result, “the tradition of a credit-bearing co-curricular model with faculty involvement continues under a different format.”

Currently, there is no official practicum course in place for The Observer for the Fall 2016 semester. The two practicums in place are the Campus Journalism Practicum and the FNN Practicum, both of which are offered at Rose Hill for the campus’s student media, according to the Fordham course registration portal.

Reich ended her response by stating that “we know that while you may not agree with our decision regarding The Observer, we hope that you can see that our motives behind our actions, especially in light of the new curriculum, aimed to preserve those very principles that make Fordham the special place that it is.”

Reich confirmed in an email statement that students will receive credit for their work with The Observer in a case-by-case basis in the Fall 2016 semester, as she stated in an April 21 email. While she said that she could not provide examples of such cases at this time, she said that “It depends on what each student needs in terms of credit load and what is his/her major or minor.” Regarding future credit offerings for work on The Observer, Reich said that “We have not yet determined what will be in place for Spring 2017, but we will continue to offer credit opportunities for work on The Observer.”

The collective alumni letter to Reich was preceded by individual letters from alumni to McShane, Grimes and Eldredge.

Grimes responded to these letters, thanking the alumni “for taking the time to express your concerns” and reassuring them that “The Observer is not being closed and the University remains committed to supporting it and student journalism at Fordham.”

He further explained that CMS “has completely restructured its major into four new majors, including one in journalism, beginning in the fall, that does not include the journalism workshops.” He also stated that he and Eldredge “have been working closely with the newly elected Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor and their full board to develop a plan to support The Observer through the transition, and Fr. McShane has directed us to keep him apprised of the efforts.”

Grimes concluded by drawing attention to The Observer staff recently received awards, stating that he anticipates “seeing many more in the future of one of Fordham College at Lincoln Center’s most important student organizations.”