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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

When I was accepted to UF (after being rejected four times), I yelled. That's how excited I was.

I thought UF was this amazing school. UF, in my mind, hired the best faculty. All professors had professional experience. All students earned an education that would help them win Nobel Prizes, Pulitzer Prizes and NFL MVP Awards.

UF didn't focus on the fancy letters behind professors' names.

UF didn't, because of tenure, keep lousy professors who couldn't teach or research.

UF didn't spend $750,000, some from stimulus money, on a 21st Century News Laboratory just to forget the managing editor who would oversee the lab.

This lab, which is designed to teach students how technology and new media are changing the way news is delivered, was intended to be used by students during free time and by classes. A managing editor would then help students on multimedia projects, ranging from videos to photo galleries to wiki projects to whatever.

UF searched for the perfect candidate for more than six months. They couldn't find one. Oh wait, that's not true. The search committee did find one. His name is David Frank.

The committee couldn't hire him. He has 25 years of experience at The New York Times. He transitioned from photo editor to video journalist. He knows multimedia journalism. But he doesn't have a master's degree. He doesn't have fancy letters after his name.

Maybe, UF, being highly learned doesn't mean being highly educated. Frank is highly learned.

Maybe, UF, you're right. Maybe my expectations for this university were just a tad bit too high.

When I was accepted to UF as a journalism student, I imagined Pulitzer Prize winners and the best journalists would teach me. Journalists who worked for the top news organizations: the St. Petersburg Times, The New York Times.

I never imagined that UF would say, "I'm sorry, Mr. or Mrs. Distinguished Professional. We don't like accomplished faculty members. We only hire people who've done nothing but go to school." Good job, UF.

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I'm not saying that having fancy letters behind your name is a bad thing. But when all you've done with your life is earn degrees, and you've never done anything professional, then I don't want you near a lectern. I don't want you teaching.

Norm Lewis, Ph.D., is a professor worthy of praise. He's one of the best lecturers, and he produces A+ research. But this journalism professor was the editor-in-chief of three newspapers and a newspaper publisher. He didn't earn his Ph.D. and leave it at that. He earned the Ph.D. after he did things with his life. He came to UF after he worked.

Don't think this is limited to journalism. I don't want the doctors performing my future prostate exam to learn how to stick their fingers up my butt by unprofessional professors.

You shouldn't teach a medical student how to be a doctor unless you've been a doctor. You shouldn't teach an architecture student how to build hotels unless you've built hotels.

Learning from the book is fine and dandy - as a supplement to real-world experience. Do something with your life. Get your Ph.D. or master's degree if that's what you want, then use that knowledge to accomplish something.

Kevin McGeever, a recent applicant for the managing editor position at the news lab, has a master's degree.

But he also has 26 years of experience as an editor at the St. Petersburg Times. He was a print editor until 2004, when he switched to senior editor of the Times website. As his resume says, he "led a culture change at the nation's 15th-largest newspaper, transforming a print-centric newsroom into a web-first publishing environment."

UF, at least you got this one right. You haven't hired someone unqualified for the news lab. You decided that it'd be better to stall the search until you could find a premier candidate. And thanks goes to search committee member David Carlson who recruited people like McGeever. And this time, you've made some amends. When you re-open the search in December or later, you'll look for the best candidate, even if he or she doesn't have a master's degree.

Perhaps, UF, you can redeem yourself.

Make yourself the university I once thought you were. Teach engineering students how to be professional engineers. Teach education students how to be teachers. Teach journalism students how to be journalists.

Remember the principles of education: to educate. Tenure is a gift to those who may be fired for having radical ideas (i.e. communism) that weren't accepted by others. It wasn't intended to protect pathetic professors. Protect academic freedom, not lousy work.

Fire bad professors - and ignore tenure.

Then hire McGeever or Frank - or both. Hire someone with professional experience, even if he or she doesn't have a bachelor's degree.

Andrew Pantazi is a journalism senior.

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