Editor’s note: The reporters who worked on this story aren’t in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. The editors who worked on this story have not worked with or had class with Scott Winter.
On Aug. 6, 2013, Andrew Dickinson created a Facebook group with an initial post that read… “Welcome! Scott Winter is up for tenure this year. I’d like to make sure he gets it.”
The group eventually gathered about 200 members and resulted in Dickinson, a senior journalism major who was the 2012-2013 editor-in-chief of the Daily Nebraskan, hand delivering a manilla envelope filled with 36 student testimonies detailing their support of Scott Winter, an assistant professor of journalism in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
“Andrew sent me an email saying, ‘250 of us have come together, we just want you to know we care’ - something like that,” said Winter, who was approached by the DN for the story. “My wife and I got pretty emotional over the whole thing. Since then a lot of professionals, alumni and students have stopped by because I haven’t told anyone about my situation.”
On Dec. 6, 2013, CoJMC’s College Promotions and Tenure Committee denied support of Winter’s tenure candidacy after a 4-0 vote. Now the decision of his tenure ultimately lies with Ellen Weissinger, senior vice chancellor of Academic Affairs. CoJMC interim dean Jim O’Hanlon chose not to overrule the committee’s decision.
The committee consists of Mary Kay Quinlan, an associate news-editorial professor, Barney McCoy, an associate professor of broadcasting, Ruth Brown, an advertising professor and Linda Shipley, an advertising professor.
McCoy, the chair of the tenure committee, declined to comment on the issue, citing privacy policies.
In 2005, Orn Bodvarsson, an economics professor, was denied tenure even though he received 700 signatures during a 48-hour period. Bodvarsson didn’t receive tenure due to a lack of research initiatives, according to an email sent by Chancellor Harvey Perlman to students explaining the decision after student uproar. Other reasons stated in Perlman’s email included lack of funding opportunities for tenured professors.
According to the Wordpress page titled “Scott Winter’s Tenure,” which was created by Dickinson and Chris Heady, a sophomore journalism major and former Daily Nebraskan reporter, the committee’s reasoning behind the decision was that, “while Scott met the requirements in teaching and service, he did not in scholarly and creative contributions.”
Dickinson and Heady retrieved the committee decision information from a source who wished to remain anonymous.
This isn’t enough reason to deny tenure candidacy, said Dickinson, who helped compile 54 written testimonies from students, alumni and faculty on the site. On Feb 19. at midnight – the first day the site was launched – it received 3,165 views, Heady said.
“If it’s truly because Scott doesn’t have enough research, then the process is flawed,” Dickinson said in an email. “Who gives a shit about research when a teacher is excelling so much at connecting with the kids in his class, each and every one of them, in a way no other faculty member does.”
Universities would be better off if they had both teaching professors and research professors because then they wouldn’t intermix, said Brian Lehmann, a COJMC alumnus who graduated in May 2007 and freelance photojournalist.
“If I’m paying for my college tuition, I’m looking for a professor to motivate me to do something great,” he said. “I think Scott has that. I don’t think many professors have that, and that’s from both my personal experience with him from when I was at the college and when I’ve seen him on these trips and seen him from the professional side of things.”
If Winter is denied tenure, he will have one year left at the college.
“If I get tenure I’m excited to stay,” he said. “I think we’re in the process of really doing some amazing things in both sports journalism and international multimedia journalism in this college – beyond the great things we’ve done already, so I would stay.”
Tenure is a continuous appointment and a significant long-term commitment in a faculty member by the university. Faculty members under review for tenure must have a compilation of the faculty’s best works through the university. Faculty members on track for tenure must complete at least six years of teaching through the university. Winter has taught for nine.
Both Weissinger and O’Hanlon declined to comment on the issue, citing privacy policies.
When asked about past instances of faculty tenure occurrences, UNL news director Steve Smith declined to comment, citing privacy policies.
He cited the Human Affair’s confidentiality of UNL personnel records.
“Information other than directory information is accessible only to the employee, the department administrative personnel, UNL Human Resources, and other university offices with a need to know,” states the record confidentiality policy on UNL’s Human Resources website.
The Tenure Guide, under UNL’s Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs website states that records under the tenure file of the faculty, including the synopsis of the discussion, and the vote of the committee, can be by secret ballot. This means that the committee’s choice of vote can be kept confidential.
“At UNL, we hold tenure applicants to high standards of accomplishment in teaching and research,” said Smith in an email. “Student feedback is a central component of the documentation of teaching and advising effectiveness, and input from scholars at other universities is a key component of the evaluation of research.”
Winter came to Lincoln nine years ago when his wife began working at the Lincoln Journal Star. Winter was intending to get his master’s in English at UNL.
“The editor of the (Lincoln Journal Star) said the dean of the journalism school wants to meet you — little did I know I was walking into a job interview,” Winter said. “They hired me as a recruiter and instructor and later hired me to teach upper-level classes.”
In his time at UNL, Winter has produced three student magazines and won two national awards from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
CoJMC has won 47 Hearst Journalism Awards since his arrival - 19 by Winter’s recruits and 40 of them who he taught at some point, according to the site. The Hearst Journalism Awards Program awards scholarships to students for outstanding performance in college-level journalism, with matching grants to the students’ schools, according to the program’s website.
When Alex Lantz transferred to UNL from Southeast Community College as a journalism major, he wasn’t sure what direction he wanted to take his degree, the senior journalism major said. When Lantz heard about the site and read through the testimonies, he decided to add in his own student testimony.
“I knew I had a story to tell about how Scott helped me get a job and help me get on track for my degree,” Lantz said.
Winter helped Lantz land a sports clerk position at the Journal Star. Now Lantz is preparing for an internship as a Dow Jones News Fund sports copy editing intern at the Denver Post, also at the encouragement of Winter.
“This is a chance for us students to have his back the way he’s had our back,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to repay him for all that he’s done for us.”
One of Winter’s recruits, Faiz Siddiqui, a junior journalism major and former Daily Nebraskan projects editor, recently found out that he won a Hearst award on his story detailing the exploitation of Dominican baseball players. This story was written during a trip to the Dominican Republic during winter break, which was overseen by Winter and news-editorial associate professor Bruce Thorson.
“If you work with Scott you’re pretty much guaranteed to succeed because that’s his standard,” Siddiqui said. “It’s a Hearst award standard. He will settle for nothing less and he’s not mean about it. He’s someone that wants the best out of you regardless of the situation.”
Siddiqui is just one of several students, alumni, faculty and staff who support Winter receiving tenure.
“It’d be something that they’d (COJMC) end up regretting in the future and the Hearst awards we win - they’d stop coming in,” Heady said.
Heady also said that the college would lose connections to some of the best high schools in the country through Winter.
“If you take Scott away, those pipelines are going to shut off,” he said. “People are going to stop looking at Nebraska and people look at Nebraska because of Scott. Scott means a lot to a lot of people. He’s pretty much the heartbeat of the college. If you take out the heartbeat you know what’s going to happen next.”
Matt Waite, a professor of practice in journalism, said he’s unsure of the tenure decision, but Winter’s interactions with students speaks for itself.
“I don’t know anything about the reasoning behind why they denied him tenure,” Waite said. “What I do know is Scott is a gifted and passionate teacher and that students have put together advocating materials for his tenure decision is amazing.”
If Winter doesn’t receive tenure, it will only put the college at a disadvantage, Dickinson said.
“If Scott leaves, you’ll see the effects of that down the road in the college, both in terms of awards, recruiting and future success of students,” he said. “Maybe the promotion and tenure committee really doesn’t get it, but without Scott, many of us wouldn’t be where we are.”