The University of Colorado at Boulder kicked up a cloud of dust when it announced in August that it had formed a committee to consider the creation of a “new interdisciplinary academic program of information, communication and technology.”

The kicker? It had formed another committee to explore the “discontinuance” of its journalism school.

J-schools around the country are overhauling their curriculums to prepare students for a changing industry. But the suggestion that a journalism school might need to be sacrificed in that effort led to consternation.

The University of Colorado may still spare the school. The discontinuance committee will deliver a report to the provost in early November. The chancellor will then make a recommendation about the fate of the journalism school, as well as the creation of another school, in early 2011. The ultimate decision will be left to the Board of Regents.

[Update: The discontinuance committee delivered its report (pdf) to the provost on the November 17. The group recommended closing the journalism school “in order to permit a strategic realignment of degree program, faculty, and other resources to better serve the mission and collective interests of the Boulder campus as a whole.”

While the committee concluded that the school had “overall done a good job of delivering undergraduate professional training,” it also found the school had a relatively poor regional and national reputation. The committee faulted an “insular structure” that inhibited “the flexibility necessary for change.” More importantly, it would seem, the group criticized a “structural tension” between the journalism school’s mission to provide professional training and its mission, as part of the Boulder campus, to meet the standards of an accredited research university.

Basically, the committee is saying that it is “no longer sufficient to train skilled practitioners. In order to receive promotion and tenure, [university] faculty [has] to engage in scholarly research and publish in peer-reviewed.” It argued that adoption of journalism “skills” (presumably, multimedia production, photography, etc.) courses distract from the university’s core mission, which is to “engage is research and scholarly activity” and “offer theoretical and research-oriented courses.”

“If journalism is construed as a trade or craft, then it is not clear that training students for that trade is a central function” of a research university, the committee wrote. “If journalism is construed more broadly as a profession whose essential skills are not designing ads or producing a news story, but rather gathering information relevant to society and democratic governance at all levels from local to global, thinking critically in the interpretations and analysis of that information, and finally conveying that information to multiple audiences faithfully and effectively, then a case can be made that journalism education does have a place with other liberal arts disciplines in a comprehensive research university. Having heard from a wide variety of sources, we are convinced that this broader conception of journalism education can and should be part of the campus curriculum.”

Indeed, the committee ultimately recommended that “key features of journalism education” be incorporated into a new, interdisciplinary program (the structure and features of which are the purview of the second, exploratory committee). It even recommended that “journalism” should be included in the title of the new program, “in recognition that the study and professional practice of journalism are not dependent on the current or future prominence of traditional print or broadcast journalism.”

Still, it’s difficult to interpret a lot of committee’s suggestions. On one hand, it wants to teach students to “convey information to multiple audiences faithfully and effectively.” On the other, it doesn’t want to spend any time teaching them the “skills” to actually “produce a news story.” Likewise, at one point, it seems to suggest that journalism faculty should be focused on peer-reviewed publication rather than “engaging in writing and production for a range of non-academic audience.” At another point, however, it seems to recognize that journalism faculty “should probably be evaluated by different criteria, given that part of their scholarly work is in professional practice.”

So, while it seems to be curtains for the journalism school, it remains to be seen what elements of journalism education will survive at the university.]

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.