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Statement from W. David Penniman June 30, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Informatics, Library School.
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I received the statement below from Dean Penniman of School of Informatics with permission to post it where I felt participants would be interested. I posted it to the UB MLS listserv after some thought and consultation with trusted colleagues and Dean Penniman. I also emailed it to students in UB’s COM and INF degree programs. My intent here is to make available to the LIS community Dr. Penniman’s side of the story. Most LM readers will have already seen this elsewhere by now, so please excuse cross-posting; I wanted to reach as many as possible. It provides a timeline of events from Dean Penniman’s perspective:

Statement from W. David Penniman

Dean, School of Informatics

University at Buffalo

June 25, 2006


Earlier this year Provost Satish Tripathi and I held frank discussions at my request regarding his unwillingness to release the faculty lines committed in our last budget cycle. He had repeatedly refused to free up the resource, indicating he was not ready to invest more in the School when he felt its focus was unclear. He consistently rejected arguments regarding the broader definition of informatics that took us beyond the computing domain into a broader perspective of informatics. His view is consistent with hard-core computer scientists who consider this emerging area to be limited strictly to computer technology. He refused to see the broader implications of this emerging area concerned with technology and its interaction with many other aspects of application and implementation as well as society at large. I had repeatedly shown him accepted published definitions of the field of informatics appearing in scholarly literature that recognized the domain of informatics as a much broader field and he consistently rejected these definitions. He continued to say that our School lacked focus.

Decanal Review

At the same time that this dialogue was going on, a decanal review process initiated early in the year (I had volunteered as one of three deans for this process) was nearing completion. This review was done by a committee of faculty headed by a senior engineering faculty member, Andrei Reinhorn. I had wanted a review as I was nearing the end of my fifth year. The Provost was given the report sometime in late April or early May. I repeatedly asked him to go over the results with me. He had already completed the two other deans’ reviews (Law and Education) and renewed their appointments. I asked why theirs were going so rapidly and mine was not. He informed me my situation was different.


Due to subsequent events, I have learned that the review was overall quite positive with some areas for improvement noted – including being more inclusive of faculty in decision making. With such improvements, the report noted that I could be a top-tier dean. The provost would not show me the report nor give me a written summary as originally stated. He instead indicated he was still studying the report, but that it indicated I was below average. I told him I found that difficult to believe. A review of one of our degree programs by an external accrediting team done in April and May of 2006 found me to be “well qualified and visionary”. I shared this result with the Provost after our May 24, 2006 meeting described below.

May 24, 2006

On May 24 the provost met with me and said he wanted to discuss in secret three options: 1) Keep things as they are with me running the School 2) Change the leadership 3) Close the School. I provided him with arguments as to why closing the School did not make sense. I urged him to speak to the process consultants out of the President’s Office who had been working with me on strategic planning issues within the School. I also proposed that at our next meeting (June 5, 2006) we focus on questions around the School and not me. These questions included: a) why was he considering closing the newest and most innovative School at UB where a promising new faculty and a growing externally funded research agenda existed, b) why wasn’t he considering how to make our School even better and c) what metrics would he use to evaluate any of the schools at UB and how did they apply to our School? He acknowledged that these were good questions, but said he wanted to do my decanal review first.

May 24 to June 5, 2006

Between May 24 and June 5 I decided I could not abide by his request for secrecy and discussed his three options with a few senior faculty. I sought their advice on how to respond. They felt my assessment of the situation was correct. He was not listening to the information I was presenting and had likely already made a decision concerning the School.

June 5, 2006

At my June 5 meeting with the Provost he informed me that he intended to change the leadership of the School, but said I could remain as dean for one more year. He added that the year would be used to decide what to do about the School. He indicated that his decision was based on the decanal review, the presidential consultants I had used as process consultants within the School, and his own opinion. I felt it was not consistent for him to say he would search for a new dean while “deciding what to do about the School”. I asked to be allowed to think about what he had told me overnight. He agreed. After consulting with a few senior faculty aware of the situation, I considered what I felt would be best for the School.

June 6, 2006

On June 6 I informed the Provost that the School would be better served by placing someone in charge whom he would listen to, and I would go on leave for the year instead of continuing as dean as he had suggested. He agreed that day to my suggestion and immediately appointed Lucinda Finley (a distinguished faculty member of the Law School and currently vice provost for faculty affairs) as interim dean effective August 1, 2006. He indicated a desire to meet with the faculty – many of whom were not on campus for the summer.

June 8, 2006

When the announcement went out on June 8 that I had agreed to step down, the faculty on the decanal review committee, I was told, were dismayed. They felt they had submitted a very positive report with some areas identified for improvement and could not believe I had been removed.

June 14, 2006

On June 14 the Provost stopped in my office immediately prior to his planned meeting with the faculty (I had not been invited). He told me he was closing the School and would be informing the faculty in the next few minutes. He then met with the faculty and told them of his decision. The faculty were stunned at his decision and his lack of collegial involvement of them or the Faculty Senate in the process. Their objections caused him to say he would “sleep on it”. He then went next door to meet with the administrative staff and told them the same thing, but said he had agreed to sleep on his decision. He subsequently implemented his decision and intends that the process of dismantling the School will be completed by the end of the Fall semester.

Opinion Statement

What appears above are the facts as I have documented them during their occurrence. As to my opinion, any dean serves at the pleasure of a provost, but serves first the faculty. I believe I have done that. A provost may fire a dean for reason or not, but he must not be allowed to fire a school. I will continue to object publicly to this administration’s motives and means regarding the School as well as their end objectives. This administration has failed to act in the collegial manner expected by the faculty and has taken dramatic action when most university faculty are away for the summer. They have misused their power and have discredited an innovative school, the university, and me. This entire debacle brings real doubt as to the credibility of the collegial process supposedly underlying their administration, including the UB2020 process. Shame on them.


W. David Penniman, PhD

Dean, School of Informatics

University at Buffalo

Buffalo, NY 14260

716-645-6481 x-1176

Fax 716-645-3775

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Students (and a few alums) speak out about School of Informatics dissolution June 30, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Informatics, Library School, Web 2.0.
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Just got back from a podcast session hosted by Jim Milles about UB’s decision to dismantle the School of Informatics. 19 current students and recent alums were present (an excellent turnout for summer session!). While the majority represented the MLS program (which is slated to be placed under the auspices of the Graduate School of Education) Communication and Informatics students were also present. COM apparently will go back into College of Arts and Sciences while the fate of Informatics degrees (MA, and the newly announced BA) remains to be seen.

After minor edits the podcast will hopefully air airs tonight at Check This Out! Link is here, episode 33, check it out! Anyone who could not make it today but who’d like to contribute may leave a message on Jim’s skype “jmilles” or comment line at (716) 989-4422. Jim will be putting together a supplemental podcast. I’ll put a direct link here when it goes online.

Several other folks have been blogging about this and to recap:

I’ll be sure to update this post as I find more, but first a few quick personal observations, questions and thoughts:

  • After a brief recap of the mainstream press on this affair (UB Reporter article, Buffalo News) we discussed how we’d heard the news. Shocking that many of us read it in the paper or heard from a friend or coworker at UB. A recurring theme today: the dissemination of information to students has been poor. I’ll let you listen to the podcast for details.
  • Concerns: ALA Accreditation for DLIS? Where will Informatics go and what will diplomas say? Job prospects… sure our degrees are all accredited, but what will future employers think when they google our school? And what is UB doing to make sure we are not punished as individuals for things out of our control?
  • Communication, communication, communication.
  • Will new faculty come? Will other faculty stay? What are their fates? And what do the faculty have to say about all this?
  • IS this a done deal? There are still many decisions to be made, including passing faculty council. How will students and faculty be included in the process? Or better yet, students are stating unequivocally that they wish to be included in the discussion.
  • Another missed opportunity for Buffalo? We could be leading the way in educating the information professionals of the future. Cutting edge programs = cutting edge faculty = cutting edge students = cutting edge partnerships (eg, Firebrary)… (or any other order of the above)? Is UB dropping the ball here?
  • Bioinformatics. It’s the new buzzword – got LOTS of money from Homeland Security and Big Pharmaceutical Companies (among others) and opened up a Center of Excellence downtown. Did we step on their branding and confuse things from the President’s perspective? Our philosophy is bigger, in my view, but our pocket books are smaller. Should we have been “School of Information” rather than “Informatics”? Bad timing?
  • The best part of the meeting, for me, was toward the end when someone suggested discussing the positives of the programs – which are numerous. This is the part where people got most passionate and articulate. Informatics, Communications, Library Science. We LOVE what we do.

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School of Informatics Dissolution: Podcast! June 25, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Informatics, Library School.
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Jim Milles is Director of the University at Buffalo's Charles B. Sears Law Library, he is also a School of Informatics visiting professor and is active in DLIS Council. Jim's a blogger and podcaster who recently presented (and podcasted!) a paper on Digital Libraries in Dubrovnik, Croatia. He's asking current students and recent alums to join in a podcast to discuss the dissolution of the School from the perspective of students.  

Please email jim at jgmilles@buffalo.edu to let him know you're interested in participating on either Wednesday June 28th or Thursday June 29th, and when you're available. There are rumors of Jim providing sustenance at the podcast. More information soon. Come be heard and ask your questions.

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Google Librarian Newsletter revisited, Google U.S. Government Search June 24, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Digitization Projects, Google, In your library, Library Related, reference.
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I have finally had a chance to review the 4th edition of Google Librarian Newsletter. This edition is MUCH improved. More pertinent info and in this issue, some great focus on my favorite thing one of my favorite things: searching.

One nice service outlined is Google U.S. Government Search. Seems to be an attractive alternative to the ole “advanced search limit to .govs” we all know and love. Still, anything to cut typing and keystrokes is welcome. A quick search for one of my favorite wildlife refuges looks like this in Google U.S. Gov Search, this in regular ole Google, and this in advanced Google searching limiting to .govs. Basic Google gets me a map and directions, as well as lots of consumer (reviews, birding and backpacking fora) stuff while the Gov Search gets me more formal reports and government documents. As with all search engines, the best path depends greatly on the needs of the user. But if you find yourself using the Google advanced search page for gov docs, you might bookmark this new service.

I also liked these free downloadable posters (pdfs) to help patrons learn to search better and explain online searching.

If you’re interested, you can sign up for Google Librarian Newsletter here.

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School of Informatics Dissolution June 22, 2006

Posted by jennimi in About me, Informatics, Library School.
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By now folks are talking and blogging about the dismantling of the University at Buffalo’s School of Informatics. LIS will be going to Graduate School of Education, and COM will go to College of Arts and Sciences. The brand new MA and BA in Informatics? You can read more here at the Buffalo News. Though I have had one-on-one discussions about this sad news I have purposely avoided blogging about it or reading other blogs addressing it other than Ben Hockenberry’s post urging some action on the part of students. As a former employee and student of the School, I have two years of close observation upon which to reflect. I have many feelings, but I honestly don’t have enough information to provide much insight into the situation. Judging by the article in the News, I am not the only one left in the dark.

In late 2003, when I was investigating a career in librarianship, I sat down with a trusted friend who said, “… you should look at UB… they’re doing something different up there”. I wanted to learn how to use technology to do what I did best: empower people (clients, coworkers, family, students, friends, strangers) by helping them not only find information but learn HOW to find information. I wasn’t looking for a computer science degree, or an education degree, I wanted to be a librarian of the future. I did some research, began to reach out to SOI alums, students, faculty and staff, and made my decision. The reason I came to UB in the first place was that its library science program was cutting edge. The venn diagram I have posted above, taken from the SOI web site, explains in simple terms what the School is was all about.

Had I found the degree in GSE I am not sure I would have come. Now, that’s just me talking. And dare I assume, faculty (and new faculty, there are many) would say the same? SLMS (School Library Media Specialist) students perhaps fit in with this restructuring due to the education focus, but not the rest: corporate, academic, law, music, public… Not if you look at the field today. Not if you look at job postings (which, I looked at OFTEN as part of my job, and now as part of my life).

Anyone who would come in and move our LIS faculty, staff, and students over to an Education program, hasn’t truly looked at what the field is doing practically or philosophically or otherwise. This is not a knock against Ed-u-ca-tion, ed-u-cators are my favorite folk (Dan Bern reference for my music people out there)… it’s just an observation based purely on my personal and professional experience and goals. Hockenberry is right to ask what other students are saying, feeling, asking. Perhaps I have this all wrong, but without an adequate explanation by Provost Tripathi on why this decision was made, and made so suddenly without a conversation with the School’s most valuable assets: its students, as well as a discussion of HOW LIS specifically fits into the mission and values of GSE, I am left to my own devices to form my opinions.

It remains to be seen what will happen. For my part I am proud that I earned an ALA accredited MLS from the University at Buffalo’s School of Informatics. There is talk on the liblogosphere about students and recent grads finding passion for our work. There is was passion at the SOI… everywhere you looked. In lab, in class, on the discussion boards, in Dean’s open door luncheons, in restaurants where LIS students met and talked… but you needed to look, and listen. Library Science students (and faculty?) are busy and at times quiet. Their passion is not always found in their voices but in the work they create. (Perhaps, in the blogs they write, or should write, to get the word out about what they we do?).


Update: Dr. Alex Halavais, former Informatics professor and blogging guru, offers some insight here. Complete with (at times extremely heated) discussion thread.

Update: A SOI student has started a discussion board to explore the matter: http://informatics.wnyhost.com/phpBB2/index.php

Update June 26: Gone is the SOI student discussion board. I received an email this morning from the moderator stating she was taking the board down due to conflict of interest. Apparently she works for Development and Alumni Relations, a division of SOI’s Division of External Affairs. Fair enough, but your humble blogger fails to see how students discussing what’s hapenning to their school is a conflict of interest with the school! At any rate it’s her call. Perhaps someone more neutral could step in and moderate. It was a good idea, though not sure how well it was working.

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