J-school gets grant to plan new institute

An initial $250,000 gift from the Reynolds Foundation will pay
to hire consultants for the project.
Thursday, September 11, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:30 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

A “sizeable” financial contribution that would help fund an expansion of MU’s School of Journalism is being considered by the Reynolds Foundation, the foundation’s president said. That expansion could include rehabilitating one of the oldest buildings on campus.

“The gift is in response to a preliminary proposal submitted by (School of Journalism Dean) Dean Mills and his staff and would be used to establish a journalism institute,” said Steven Anderson, president of the Reynolds Foundation based in Nevada. “I think it would be a sizeable contribution.”

Consultants hired by the School of Journalism are considering space needs to see if the proposed institute could be located in the vacant sociology building on the northeast corner of the Francis Quadrangle. The 111-year-old building, which has been closed for more than a year, is one of the oldest on campus.

“It’s a natural choice because it’s next to the J-school complex,” Mills said. “It is also important to the campus that this beautiful old building on the historic quad be maintained.”

In August 2002 when the building was vacated, MU spokesman Christian Basi estimated that it would require renovations ranging from $7 million to $8 million. Renovations would include work on the roof and windows and replacement of water and electrical systems.

Anderson said there was no specific dollar amount on the initial request received by the foundation and wouldn’t specify an amount under consideration. He said some figures have since been proposed by the School of Journalism, but he declined to reveal them.

Basi said the proposed gift would be part of the public phase of a campuswide money-raising campaign expected to seek $600 million or more.

“The public phase will begin on Sept. 19,” Basi said. “(The Reynolds gift) is part of the campaign.”

Anderson said that in response to the initial proposal, a $250,000 preliminary grant was awarded to the School of Journalism in August.

“The $250,000 is a planning grant to give us the resources to hire some consultants to help us come up with a more formal proposal,” Mills said. “The concept is for a journalism institute to be housed on campus.”

Mills said the institute would be a unique means of research and experimentation for students, unlike any existing outlets.

“The institute would make use of the unique strengths of the school — its real-world media, its rich scholarly resources, its strong ties to working journalists, its location in a major research university — to invent and test new and better forms of journalism,” he said.

Ideally, two of the institute’s main components would be a new and larger space for the journalism library and a media technology demonstration center, Mills said.

“If we are able to fund a technology center, we envision many high-tech firms wanting us to experiment with their media-related hardware and software,” he said.

Mills said that expansion of the School of Journalism has been under discussion within the department for some time.

“We, the faculty, have been talking about a journalism institute for at least two years, so it’s been a collective discussion,” Mills said.

Mills said the school hopes to have the final proposal completed in January, at which time the decision will be in the hands of the Reynolds Foundation.

The decision will be made by the board of trustees at one of its quarterly meetings, Anderson said — which means that depending on how far into January the final proposal is submitted, the decision might not be made until the board’s next meeting in April.

“The ball’s in the J-school’s court, and they can move as quickly or as slowly as possible,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the gift under consideration would be a special grant that falls outside all of the foundation’s guidelines for giving. The foundation has several areas to which it usually donates money, including cardiovascular research and an aging and quality of life program.

The late Don Reynolds, who founded the Reynolds Foundation in 1954, was a 1927 graduate of MU’s School of Journalism and contributed $9.5 million in 1988 toward the Reynolds Alumni Center.

“(The gift) is being considered by our trustees because of Mr. Reynolds’ lifelong participation in the field of journalism,” Anderson said. “He made most of his money in the newspaper business, and we’re considering it as a way of honoring him.”

The Reynolds Foundation — which in 2002 contributed more than $70 million to help fund programs and research nationally — recently announced a $2 million grant to MU’s Medical School.

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