Saturday, September 24, 2022

Journalism program’s founder retires

By Aleksandra Sidorova

Dr. Ronald Davis, founder of the journalism program at SUNY Plattsburgh, is retiring at the end of the semester after 51 years of teaching. According to the two remaining journalism professors, Jack Downs and Shawn Murphy, the college does not plan to fill Davis’ position.

“Losing [Davis], like losing so many other people we’ve lost recently, is a big blow, of course, but not unexpected, nor is it unexpected that the college is not filling the position — that was to be expected, too,” Downs said.

According to Davis, academic departments college-wide are experiencing reductions in faculty due to the college’s efforts to become “more financially sustainable.” Davis said a third instructor is necessary for the journalism program to maintain its strength.

“I think the program is still strong. The college is cutting programs college-wide: whenever someone leaves, the position is usually not being filled,” Davis said. “We’re down to two faculty positions. We have a good program with two, but we really need three to have the program that’s going to flourish the best.”

Downs said the department had started taking measures to make the department easier to manage even prior to Davis’ retirement. The department worked to reduce the three journalism majors, which were newspaper, magazine and multimedia, it offered in the past to a single journalism major, as well as to revise the major’s curriculum. Downs said that with one fewer instructor, students will notice journalism classes offered less frequently, and suggested they take the classes when they are offered. Some courses have become “obsolete” with no one to teach them, prompting journalism students to deviate in their studies.

“Maybe it’s not exactly the same education, but it’s probably as good or better,” Downs said.

Downs said he was primarily concerned with the ability of transfer students and students with multiple majors to complete their degrees in time, which may also require deviations.

“I’m sure the administration probably isn’t happy with the number of deviations we do, but I think, honestly, it’s service to the student. It’s trying to make things work out for them and trying to help them get through in the right number of years. We are not the kind of department, not the kind of program that says to students, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, that course won’t be offered for another year, so you just got to stick around,’” Downs said. “We try to make things work out, and it does require deviations sometimes.”

Downs said there is a silver lining to having only two full-time professors in the department: it makes for a better faculty-to-student ratio. Murphy noted that the number of students in the journalism program has decreased as well and makes managing the department easier. It would also help the two professors build closer relationships with students.

“With just [Downs] and I teaching journalism courses, I’m certainly going to get to know the students — all of them, I’m sure, and that’s an advantage, I think,” Murphy said. 

Davis’ retirement raises concerns among students as well. McKenzie Murphy, a freshman majoring in journalism, said losing another faculty member in the Department of Journalism and Public Relations was “scary.” 

 “Am I going to be able to graduate in time? If one teacher decides to leave, what happens to our department?” Murphy said. “Just having two professors — what if they get overwhelmed?”

Davis’ retirement prompted McKenzie Murphy to consider transferring to a different institution, but it is not yet in her intention.

“I love the program here. I don’t want to leave,” McKenzie Murphy said. 

McKenzie Murphy also expressed admiration for Davis’ “legacy.” When Davis first came to SUNY Plattsburgh in 1971, he taught English. Upon noticing an interest in journalism among his students, he dedicated the summer of 1976 to postdoctoral studies in journalism at Syracuse University. The program Davis created placed a “unique” emphasis on grammar and writing, as well as helped produce a tight-knit community.

“I think one of the strengths of the program is, and it always has been, the relationship with the students,” Davis said. “Students become a community as they don’t in most majors because they work together on publications like Cardinal Points and DoNorth, and also have a closer relationship with the faculty. And that community carries over after they leave here. We have so many students who take pride in the program and having learned their skills from here and remain in contact with us.”

Journalism alumni have shared their sentiments for Davis’ retirement in the Official SUNY Plattsburgh Journalism Alumni Group on Facebook.

“Congratulations Ron on a truly impactful career,” Joe LoTemplio, editor in chief for Press Republican, commented. “You have helped mold so many journalists over the years and their work has made a difference in the world. I can’t believe it’s been since 1985 that I stopped by your office on graduation day to say thanks for all you did for me. There are still days at work where I refer to something you taught me in class all those decades ago. Thank you for all you’ve done for me and the journalism community and may you have a wonderful retirement.”

Davis said he looks forward to his retirement. He plans to devote his time to outdoor activities and writing and publishing books with his wife, Nora Montanaro-Davis.

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