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University of Montana journalism school loses dean but not commitment to mission

By the Missoulian

In the midst of a campus restructure, University of Montana Dean Larry Abramson will step out of his job Monday as head of the School of Journalism to serve as “special advisor” to the provost.

Provost Jon Harbor said Abramson will serve on a contract that runs through June 30, 2019. Harbor said his office is undertaking a search for a vice provost for student success, but the office is understaffed in the meantime.

“Larry’s perspective and advice are valuable to me during my first year as UM provost,” said Harbor, who left Purdue University and last month started the job at UM.

The change comes as UM works on a restructure intended to help close a $10 million gap between revenue and expenses. Recommendations for faculty reductions rolled out in May also suggested integrating the School of Journalism with other programs on campus.

The most recent recommendation places the School of Journalism within the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Harbor said UM will recruit for a School of Journalism leader, but whether that leader is a dean remains up for discussion, as does the school’s new academic home.

In the transition, Associate Professor Denise Dowling will step in as interim dean of the School of Journalism, a post she held from 2012 to 2014 before Abramson was hired.

School of Journalism operations will remain in Don Anderson Hall.

The new building opened in 2007 with roughly $14 million of mostly privately raised funds, and Harbor said the flagship will respect the wishes of donors who made contributions to specifically support the School of Journalism. He also said the school will remain prominent and productive through any restructure and interim leadership.

“I’m very excited with Denise’s leadership because that ensures we will continue to have an outstanding School of Journalism during this time of transition,” Harbor said.

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A longtime journalism professor said the School of Journalism is proud of the education it offers students, and it remains committed to them and to transparent, accountable storytelling.

“We punch above our weight, and our students do too, and I still believe that,” said Dennis Swibold, a professor with nearly 30 years at UM.

The School of Journalism has been through leadership changes and interim deans in the past and remained productive, Swibold said. He also said faculty understand the bigger financial picture at UM means changes in nearly every corner of the campus.

“We recognize the university’s situation, its finances and resources, and we understand that most parts of UM are going to have to contribute to a solution one way or the other,” Swibold said.

In any structure, he said the School of Journalism wishes to maintain its identity along with its endowment and the loyalty of its alums. He also said the School of Journalism needs good leadership, but the title of the person makes less of a difference than the quality of leader.

“We need leadership that supports the essential mission of providing good, honest, straightforward information,” Swibold said. “And more important than anything today is information that’s also transparent and accountable.”

The School of Journalism continues to provide that type of education, he said, and it remains valuable to news consumers.

“I still think there’s a demand from people who want to know what is going on, and want to know with some certainty,” Swibold said.

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