COLUMBIA — Three years ago, the process began to find the perfect date for the MU School of Journalism's Centennial celebration. Knowing that perfection is seldom found when the schedules of thousands of alumni are concerned, event planners bit the bullet and marked the calendar for what seemed like the best option: Sept. 9-13, 2008.
"If you go three years back, what we realized was that there would be problems with the timing, regardless of what days we picked," said Suzette Heiman, director of planning and communications for the School of Journalism. Heiman has been involved with planning the event from the start. "We wanted to have it during a time that was close to the actual anniversary date, which is Sept. 14."
But even the best of planning couldn't predict the economic atmosphere that would surround the Centennial.
On Tuesday, AAA reported regular unleaded gas was selling for $3.65 a gallon, on average. Prices for plane tickets continue to stay high, as does the cost of airline jet fuel.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted in its 2008-2009 Occupational Outlook Handbook that jobs in the journalism field would grow by only 2 percent between 2006 and 2016, which, the book says, factors out to being little or no change in employment.
Combine these statistics with bosses who don't want to see their employees leaving for an event in Missouri in the middle of the work week, and many alums say it is better to enjoy their alma mater's Centennial from afar.
Around 20,000 invitations were mailed out to J-school alumni, Heiman said. As of Monday, approximately 1,900 people had registered for the celebration, a head count that includes not only alumni, but faculty, current students and other guests. Heiman said she was unsure how many alumni had actually registered.
"I can't afford the trip," said Sharra Klug, BJ '03, MA '06. "For one thing, I'd have to fly out...add in the cost of food and gas and everything...It's just too expensive for me to come from halfway across the country."
Here's what other J-school alumni had to say via e-mail about why they couldn't make it to the party this week:
"Everything is during the week! For those of us who do not live in Columbia, this is a problem! I suppose we're supposed to take off work to come? Not all of us can spare those extra vacation days. If there was some activity on the weekend I would have been there in a heartbeat."
— Melanie Lambert, BJ '05
"As much as I understand the excitement about the centennial celebration, I feel in the dark about how much progress has been made on the new journalism school. Is it worth it for me to drive five hours from Des Moines to see construction fencing around this new institute that I've heard so much about since my sophomore year of college? In all honesty, I'd rather tip my hat from afar rather than attend. Perhaps I'll learn after the fact that I'm missing out, but I guess I'm willing to take my chances."
— Lauren Aust, BJ '07
"I would have given coming back for the Centennial much more consideration if the organizers had picked a weekend in which Missouri played a stronger opponent in football. If it had been the Oklahoma State game, the Colorado game, that would have made it a lot more enticing. When I saw it was the Nevada game, I thought, ‘Eh.'"
— Shawn Donnelly, BJ '00
"As much as I would love to come back to Columbia, see all my teachers and my friends who haven't yet graduated, it's just not in the cards. I can't afford to fly out there (I'm in Durango, Colo.), nor could I get the time off (my paid leave doesn't start accumulating until November)."
— Allison Hull, BJ '08
"1) cost of travel from Virginia
2) I don't think my best friends are going
3) can't get time off work"
— Amy Menefee, MA '04
"In my personal case, it was simply that the event takes place Wednesday-Friday and I can't miss that much work."
— Erin Guyer Schreiber, BJ '02
"Simply put, it's just too darn hectic at work this time of year (especially with the election less than two months away) for me and many of my old Mizzou friends who are still in the news business to take off any time for the Centennial. Gas prices and airline ticket (and baggage) prices certainly didn't help lure me back."
— Dave Gustafson, BJ '02
"I would have liked to attend the J-school centennial celebration, but all the fancy invitations I received from the school involved events that cost money — a lot of money. I think the least expensive event cost something like $75 per person. It was just too expensive."
— Martha Everett, MA '94
"After getting my MA in May of this year, I moved to the Republic of Georgia to find work and do freelance. On my first week at the job, Georgia and Russia went to war, making my life and job interesting, busy, fun and scary all at the same time. So apart from me being a continent and a half away and only six weeks into the job, I am also too busy and economically strapped to fly out for the celebration."
— Dwayne Mamo, MA '08
"I'm not coming because I live too far away, flying is expensive and I'm not terribly inspired to participate. The cheesy PR package I received did not entice me, unfortunately."
— Blythe Terrell, BJ '05