BROOKE GLADSTONE: This week the newly-appointed president of Columbia University made headlines when he put off a decision to appoint a new dean for its acclaimed Journalism School. Debate first - Dean later, he told his colleagues in a memo. This Friday's Wall Street Journal says the debate has the makings of an academic culture war over which is more important -- teaching the craft of journalism or molding better citizens to tell the nation its news. Lee Bollinger is the new president of Columbia University. Welcome to the show.
LEE BOLLINGER: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What did you mean when you wrote that "to teach the craft of journalism is a worthy goal but clearly insufficient in this new world." What's insufficient?
LEE BOLLINGER: Well, if you look at other graduate schools, whether it be in law or business or other fields, every one of them has confronted this question about how much we should have of sort of technical training or craft training of our students. What is the appropriate balance between doing that and learning for example about basic principles of economics or democracy or of international affairs? And the ways in which they are balanced and maximized really determine how much you're serving the society and how good your university is. That's what I'm asking that the school or the university, really, undertake.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:A lot of people think that journalism school isn't necessary at all. There are a lot of reporters that counsel young people to go study political science, go study history, go study what you're interested in so you'll be equipped to report on it later and the J school be damned.
LEE BOLLINGER: One has to ask why that is so and whether we should offer different opportunities for people who would like to be journalists but would like a different experience than current school curriculums offer. The basic point is there is a much wider range of views about what a school of journalism should be in today's world than is true in other areas. That, to me, is something that signals we should talk about this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But there must have been something other than a generalized need for a debate that's been going on probably for decades that had you put your foot on the brake of this higher.
LEE BOLLINGER: If you look candidly and honestly at journalism today, I think you will see really intense debates about the quality of journalism, the forces that are at work on the profession; questions about whether commercialization is trumping journalistic ethics. Within universities we are responsible for preparing people for that world and for taking responsibility for the quality of the profession too.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But it seems to me that the problems that are endemic in journalism now -- the commercialization, the tabloidization -- these are things that are out of the hands, for the most part, of journalists. That particular debate happens between journalists and managers of news organizations and shareholders of news organizations who have very little in common. The best you can do is produce good journalists.
LEE BOLLINGER: [LAUGHS] I wouldn't be so despairing. I do think it is the responsibility of a university to help people understand the dilemmas that they may be facing within their own profession. We have a responsibility, I think, to help budding journalists become good journalists and influential people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well Lee Bollinger, thank you very much.
LEE BOLLINGER: You bet, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Lee Bollinger is the new president of Columbia University. He has decided to wait a bit before choosing the next dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.