English loses Knight chair to journalism

The School of Journalism and Mass Communication may receive a new faculty member, but it would be at the expense of the English department.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation used to have a program that supported higher education, President Carol Cartwright said. With that program, they funded a chair, or faculty position, in the English department. That program no longer exists, and the foundation recently asked Kent State to switch the funds from the English chair to one in journalism.

A donor’s request is very important, so the university will honor it, Cartwright said.

The Knight Foundation would not confirm it had made the request, but Cartwright said this is the foundation’s policy.

Larry Meyer, vice president of communications and spokesman for the Knight Foundation, said nothing official like that can happen until the foundation’s board of trustees votes on an issue, and he did not know when they will meet next.

The original donation was $1 million, Cartwright said, but increases with time.

The donation is invested, said Jeff Fruit, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The investments, not university funds, are used to pay the faculty member’s salary.

The English chair, specializing in rhetoric and composition, has been empty since April 2004 when Stephen Witte died, said Jennifer Nikolin-Myer, senior secretary for the English department. The department has been looking for a replacement.

The English department was shocked by the news of the change, English chair Ronald Corthell said. The position had been advertised since the beginning of the semester, and candidates had to be notified the position no longer existed.

“Knight chair was a very important position in English because of the activities it made possible,” Corthell said.

The recent changes in the English requirements can be traced back to the chair, Corthell said.

Provost Paul Gaston has been working with the department to minimize the negative impact of the change. Gaston said the university wants to add a specialty in rhetoric and composition to an existing position. It also intends on providing one-time funding for the department to help it adjust to the change.

At the same time, this is a big opportunity for the journalism and mass communication department, Gaston said, especially combined with the opening of Franklin Hall, the school’s planned home for fall 2007.

“Knight likes to fund areas of excellence,” Fruit said.

The donation will probably be used to fund a chair specializing in scholastic journalism, one of the school’s national strengths, Fruit said. The foundation has already given money to fund programs in this area, such as the NewsOhio TV program and the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ training for high school journalism teachers.

The school will conduct a national search, he said, probably during the fall semester when the university is fully running. The foundation usually wants schools to hire working professional journalists. No other desired characteristics have been decided.

“We may choose to set up a center for scholastic journalism and have the Knight position be a center,” he said.

The school has been calling other places with a Knight chair to see how they support the chair and make it work effectively, Fruit said.

There are 19 chairs in journalism and communications across the country, Meyer said. One of the large-scale initiatives the foundation has been involved with in the past five years has encouraged national organizations to work on strengthening and re-energizing scholastic journalism.

Each chair has a specific purpose, Cartwright said.

“We know about the reputation Kent State has in scholastic journalism just as we know Michigan State is good for environmental journalism and Columbia is good for business journalism,” Meyer said.

The foundation has been working with all the schools that still have faculty positions from the disbanded program, Cartwright said.

Meyer said there has been one or two times where the Knight chair may have shifted from one subject matter to another.

Fruit said the ball is in Kent State’s court to do the things they require. Most of the details are still unknown as the university completes paperwork.

Contact administration reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected] and College of Communication and Information reporter Ben Breier at [email protected]