An almost blank slate

In the United States, it is difficult for me to imagine beginnings. What was it like when the first college created the first policies? How did a person or group of people first decide that faculty members should teach xxxx hours a week? How did expectations about faculty research evolve over time? I’m sure that an historian of higher education has discovered the answers. But I haven’t read that account, but I wish I had, because I’m involved with many beginnings at CSJMM. A small group of people have the challenge of creating precedents, and for me, this challenge is both exciting and scary.

Of course, we’re not working in a vacuum. In fact, we’re referring to the faculty manuals of several universities, including American University of Beirut, American University of Bulgaria, American University of Cairo, Central European University, and my employer—the University of South Carolina. Why these schools? I don’t have a solid answer because I don’t know which schools would be peer institutions. Of course there are other schools in Georgia that have a journalism and mass communications master’s degree program, but I’m not sure if we want to emulate them. We should look at European universities because Georgia higher education follows the Bologna process (, but we should also look at American universities because a lot of the donor money supporting CSJMM comes from the United States government. Then there’s the issue of size. CSJMM is very small—it will soon have 4 faculty members and it currently has 146 students. In order to find a good match in terms of size, American-influence and European-influence, we chose the peer group mentioned above.  I’m looking for additional suggestions, however, so please write a comment on my blog or send me an email:

Since we are about to hire three faculty members, our first policy is “How to hire a faculty member.” My colleagues at the SJMC will recognize the policy.

  1. The dean asks the rector for an additional faculty position or for permission to replace someone who left or retired.
  2. Faculty members discuss the school’s hiring priorities.
  3. The dean forms a “search committee” to hire a faculty member. This committee includes at least one faculty member, one student, and one outsider. This committee begins by deciding on the wording for the advertisement.
  4. A staff member places the advertisement in appropriate locations. Usually potential applicants are given 2-4 months to apply.
  5. The dean encourages the faculty to call prospective applicants because it is better to actively pursue qualified people than to place an advertisement and then wait to see who applies. The dean also asks faculty members to spread the word via listservs and word of mouth.
  6. A staff person creates a folder for each applicant. In the folder he/she puts the person’s cover letter, CV, and any other requested materials. For example, the advertisement may request a portfolio of work if the school will hire a professional person.
  7. After the deadline for applying, the committee reads all of the material in all of the folders. The committee narrows the pool of applicants to its top three choices.
  8. The committee invites these three people to the school for a day-long series of interviews and other activities.
  9. Before the interviewees arrive, they receive a document that explains the school’s expectations of all of its faculty members. For example, this document lists the number of hours faculty members teach, the school’s requirements for research/scholarship/professional activities, and the type of service activities it expects from faculty.
  10. The committee creates a 1-page evaluation form, which includes both open and closed questions. The committee will use these forms to help it evaluate the candidates.
  11. An itinerary is created and circulated for each interviewee’s visit. The itinerary includes: a) meeting with faculty members; b) meeting with students; c) teaching one hour of a real class; d) making a one-hour presentation of their research scholarship/professional activities; and 3) meeting with dean.
  12. The search committee asks faculty and students to complete the evaluation forms.
  13. The search committee discusses the three people who interviewed and makes a recommendation to the dean. The dean generally accepts the faculty’s choice, but he/she has the power to make the final decision.
  14. The dean/rector then calls the applicant and negotiates a salary and benefits. If negotiations are successful, the person is hired. If not, the dean goes back to the search committee and faculty and asks for a second choice.

The “ties” that bind us together

Copyright Baadur Koplatadze, 2011

People who know me know that I like unusual ties. As a visual communications professor, I think it is appropriate that my trademark is visually interesting ties. When I gave some presentations in Tbilisi in April 2011, I wore a couple of my favorite ties. Then I was invited to a press conference at the American Embassy to announce the Journalism School Partnership Program between USC’s SJMC and GIPA’s CSJMM. I can’t remember if I wore a tie, but I remember that GIPA’s rector (like a president) did not wear a tie. Moreover, I clearly remember that Giorgi Margvelashvili said that Georgians don’t wear ties. OK, I thought, but I was not convinced.

Later the same week, Maia Mikashavidze took me to a piano recital in a beautiful concert hall. I studied the way the men were dressed and, indeed, found that none, or almost none of the men wore ties. Giorgi’s statement was confirmed. When I returned to Tbilisi September 1, I didn’t bring any of my ties.

Last night the American ambassador, John Bass, hosted a cocktail party to announce the arrival of the embassy’s new Public Affairs Officer. The invitation said “business attire,” and I work black slacks and a white long-sleeved shirt. As you have undoubtedly predicted, every man—at least 100—was wearing a tie except me. No problem; it is not the first time I’ve been under-dressed and feeling a bit foolish.

Then . . . I saw the rector, Giorgi, at the ambassador’s home, and guess what? He was wearing a tie. So we joked around for a while and had a good laugh.

Giorgi asked me how I’ve been enjoying my stay in Georgia. I said I’m having a great time—I love the people, the food, the scenery, my apartment, and so on. I just don’t have a tie, I joked. Giorgi immediately removed his tie and gave it to me. He was insistent. I agreed to take his tie on the condition that we “share” it. So, we shared the tie, and now this incident has become one of the stories that “tie” us together.

Thanks to Tom Weir and his assessment team

My first job for CSJMM is to make a presentation for the 3 deans at GIPA (Georgia Institute of Public Affairs) as well as GIPA’s rector, Giorgi Margvelashvili, about “total quality management.” After talking with Baadur Koplatadze, I understood that TQM is basically the same as program assessment, which is one of the standards for accreditation by the ACEJMC. Fortunately (for me) the School of Journalism and Mass Communications completed an assessment plan and report as part of its re-accreditation in spring 2011. Even more fortunate (again, for me) is that Tom Weir and a committee of USC faculty members did an excellent job creating the plan and writing the report. I shared several of the SJMC’s supplemental materials with CSJMM, and I prepared a PowerPoint presentation for my meeting with GIPA’s administration.

I also borrowed an idea from the British system of education—external examiners. If CSJMM adopts this idea, then it would pay for journalism school faculty member(s) and/or administrator(s) from another country—probably Armenia or Turkey—to visit for a few days at the end of the school year. These external examiners then read/view and assign a grade to a portfolio of work from each graduating student. If the examiners’ grades consistently differ from the grades students received from CSJMM, then an internal investigation would occur.

I was part of an investigating team at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda in 1996 because the faculty had assigned significantly lower grades than the external examiners to a particular student. After reviewing the case, I had sided with the external examiners—Makerere’s faculty members had been unfair to this student.

Arrival in Tbilisi

CSJMM background information:

The University of South Carolina’s (USC’s) School of Journalism and Mass Communications in Columbia, South Carolina is now partners with the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management (CSJMM) at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs (GIPA) in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Susanna Melo (left) and Natia Metreveli, staff member of CSJMM. Copyright Keith Kenney, 2011.

Due to a $742,000 grant from the U.S. Department of State, the two schools are participating in a three-year partnership program to improve the standard of journalism instruction and to assist in the institutional development of CSJMM. The partnership is designed to assist CSJMM to increase its capacity to deliver programs of the highest international quality for instruction and research in journalism. By training future journalists and media practitioners, CSJMM will play a critical role in setting the standards and providing the necessary skills to develop and maintain independent media in the Caucasus region. Such independent media should then play a critical role in ensuring the free flow of information necessary to maintain democratic systems of government.

My role:

My wife, Susanna Melo, and I arrived September 1, 2011, and we’ll be living in Tbilisi for 11 months. During this time I’ll work with the school’s administrators to either revise or create policies and I’ll work with faculty members to improve their teaching. I’ll also help everyone revise the school’s curriculum.

“We’re a family,” said Natia Metreveli, of CSJMM

The school will celebrate its 10th anniversary during the summer of 2012. Several people at the school have told me that for the first decade, it has functioned as a large family. Indeed, Maia Mikashavidze served as dean from the beginning until April 2011, when she resigned in order to apply to the PhD program in USC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications. She is now studying in Columbia. Tiko Tsomaia was one of the first graduates (November 2001) and is now a faculty member. But more importantly is the atmosphere that has been created within the school. Co-workers are also friends. People enjoy working at the school. They don’t watch the clock or count the hours they’ve worked; instead, they do what needs to be done. Since the staff, faculty and administrators get along so well, employees seldom leave the school.