Memories of the Columbia Journalism Guild
Graduate School of Journalism 2003
We were the Journalism School class that entered Columbia along with President Lee Bollinger, who, according to David Frum of National Post, made "radical reform" one of his first priorities.
A small group of egg-headed J-Schoolers happened to agree with a number of the new president's provocative observations. By the middle of September 2002, about 20 of us were meeting regularly to seek more accountability among the administration of the School, which operates over the influence, as it were, of a real student government association.
The bizarre lack of representation is obviously a function of the time constraints occasioned by the heavy workload and the one-year duration for which the Master of Science program is famous. In fact, Michael Janeway, formerly Dean of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism and currently on Columbia's Journalism faculty, wrote in an important fall 2002 op-ed piece that the school's 10-month Master of Science curriculum was as rigorous as "an airless boot camp."
Soon after electing its president and other governing officers, the Columbia Journalism Guild became known as the most unusual organization in the Graduate School of Journalism. For one thing, a number of early participants joined simply to rally around Jones, a Black student who had been the victim of a racial insult that University police revealed had been launched from a Journalism building computer lab one weekend while Jones was out of town. Jones quickly refocused the group's attention onto the more important issues, with the group's organizing itself through a "Flushing out the Confusion" forum that drew thirty students to raise concerns about quality of life and academic advising at the School. Weekly public forums and an e-mail account that received anonymous complaints about the School were operated during most of the year. From these inputs, the Guild members drafted and personally signed "issue-response" letters seeking answers from the appropriate deans. The officials usually were responsive.
Through forceful advocacy, The Guild accomplished too much to list in a capsule, although some milestones deserve mentioning. The Guild successfully challenged elections violations within the Society of Professional Journalists, prompting an appeal to the Dean of the School by the faculty adviser of the SPJ. The Guild investigated complaints of missed meals, compelling the administration to recommend that faculty allot longer lunch breaks during six-credit-hour course meetings. The Guild took notice of academic policy inconsistencies, engendering clarification on rules for professors' awarding unofficial grades of "high pass." The Guild exposed the unwillingness of other Schools to admit certain Journalism students under cross-registration, prompting Journalism deans to stand up for these students during the ongoing curriculum-reform negotiations. The Guild even acted on behalf of the next class, confronting the then-Dean of Students over her office's overcharging students for business-card production.
Early skeptics of The Guild had charged that the organization would fold after Commencement and therefore criticized their work. "So what?" responded Amos Jones, who conducted The Guild's mass meetings. As Jones explained in an invited appearance before the board of the student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in October 2002: "Through cooperative engagement with the administration, The Columbia Journalism Guild enhances life for every student in the School. If, at the end of the year, our aims are accomplished, then there is no further need for our work, for our actions will have proved sufficiently transformative."
At graduation, The Guild boasted a disproportionate number of members receiving major prizes and awards. Over the next year, six of the approximately 240 members of the Class of 2003 contributed to the Journalism Annual Fund. Four of the six had been active in The Guild.
A photograph and description of The Columbia Journalism Guild appeared on Page 10 of the 2002-2003 Journalism School yearbook. The full story of The Guild is available in the Journalism Library and in University Archives at Low Library, where approximately 350 pages of official agendas, announcements, attendance registries, correspondence, and meeting minutes were deposited in August 2003.
—Amos Jones ('03J) and Itai Maytal ('03J)