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In the interest of fairness… July 7, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Informatics, Library School, LISNews.

Provost Tripathi of the University at Buffalo has now communicated directly to the LIS students via the student listserv. Rather than re-posting the entire statement I will post a link to the LISNews entry by Blake, here. A relevant excerpt:

“…universities initiate change for countless administrative and academic reasons. And, throughout UB’s history such has occurred — as I suspect our faculty and alumni can attest. The administrative change we are witnessing today in the School of Informatics has been designed with one objective in mind: To ensure our academic departments and educational programs are supported – through maximizing the use of our resources in direct support of our academic mission – so our students, faculty, and academic degree programs can flourish.(my emphasis)

Also discusses the very real and valuable efforts of interdisciplinary approaches. Personal commentary: School of Informatics IS interdisciplinary, encompassing Communication, Library and Information Science, and Informatics. The LIS program actively collaborates with the Law School, Libraries, Music, and Health Sciences disciplines.

I am pleased Provost Tripathi has addressed the students. It’s a step in the right direction. But my colleague said correctly at a recent podcast: “There are still decisions to be made”. Thankfully the Provost and Interim Dean will be meeting with students to discuss next steps.

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1. ladyofthelake - July 7, 2006

Hmmm. Just a few thoughts on “the letter”…

I guess that I did not find anything revealing from this letter. While reading it, I was reminded of time spent in a Navy recruiting office, where a very large and very loud marine sergeant asked me the same question in 7 differently phrased ways (the last of which involved jumping across his desk shouting.) Despite 7 different means of delivery, it was still the same message. The Provost’s letter strikes me as the same message, only more eloquently phrased this time.

His emphasis seems to be that this decision is, as Jenn mentions, based on a desire to make UB’s programs more interdisciplinary. Well, if you know anything about communication science and librarianship, you know that these fields are already interdisciplinary. So I’m wondering… If the real goal is to make UB into one big happy interdisciplinary family, why do we need ANY of the discipline-specific schools and colleges. Using the logic of the Provost’s letter let’s can predict one possible structure the “new” UB…

First, move the Schools of Dental Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, & Public Health and their affiliated research institutes under the administrative umbrella of the School of Medicine. All remaining schools, colleges and institutes can go to the College of Arts and Sciences.

Get rid of, er, I mean, “promote” all the respective deans and remove their administrators and staff. Then, jack up the $tudent enrollment by at least 1/3. Oooohhh … I can hear the cost savings rolling in. Add to that the increased revenue from higher enrollment and … ka-ching! (This is the stuff that makes CEOs dance little jigs.) Heck, why not go a step further and move the School of Medicine into CAS? Make UB one big happy family. One big cross-disciplinary, generalist conglomeration of just-dying-to-work-together scholars and researchers. Before long, UB will be the higher education epitome of the phrase “Jack of all trades-master of none.” Delightful sounding, isn’t it?

And, since we are taking the same approach to research and higher education as we are in selling burgers (thanks for the analogy, Matt!)we might as well flaunt it. Perhaps we could use the next corporate donation to place little counters on all of the “University at Buffalo” entrance signs. Something on the order of, “50 million students served!” But don’t forget the fine print disclaimer–“Attention employers: We provide the desired degrees that our students pay for. However, we are not responsible for any lack of specialized knowledge on the part of said students…”

Now that I’ve gotten that little rant off of my chest…

In all honesty, I sincerely applaud the Provost’s desire to point UB in the direction of emphasizing interdisciplinary research. Interdisciplinary research is one of the a foundations of discovery. Anyone who studies social networks knows that isolated cliques that “do their own thing” while allowing little input from outside groups are at a disadvantage when it comes to adopting and developing new ideas (Consider Granovetter’s ‘Strength of Weak Ties’). Crossing disciplinary boundaries exposes us to new ideas, technologies and ways of thinking. If anything, the term informatics screams this…to those willing to hear, that is. But while “the letter” touts this interdisciplinary focus as the primary rationale behind the decision, I am still getting my “sounds like typical administrative lip service” vibe–as if UB were using “we want to focus on interdisciplinary collaboration” as a way to justify corporate downsizing.

To be fair, let us suppose that focus on interdisciplinarity is sincere. Then consider that the School of Informatics affords departments like COM and DLIS more opportunity for collaboration, especially with departments in larger schools that would otherwise pay little attention to them. Will other departments be knocking down the doors to do work with DLIS when it becomes an 11th toe in GSE? Or when COM becomes 1/32 of CAS? What about Informatics? “The letter” barely mentions this program’s future.

The provost suggests that the UB community will be better off with this arrangement. I would like to hear what the faculty and the deans of CAS ( wait, isn’t he leaving, too?) and GSE really think.

2. washtublibrarian - July 12, 2006

Agreed, the phrase “maximizing the use of our resources in direct support of our academic mission” is another way of saying “reallocation” — also known as eliminating a budget line. But where’s the problem with the economics of the informatics school? Our enrollment is up, and we haven’t had a large-scale computer technology upgrade in years. We have minimized expenses well while continuing to provide a high-quality interdisciplinary education for our students.

3. ladyofthelake - July 14, 2006

Excellent point. There is no logic to the rationale for this decision and thus the administration feeds us abstract double-talk while avoiding at all costs, the phrases “downsizing” and “cost-cutting”.

Honestly I suspect that this “dissolution” has been planned for some time. The positive decanal review just put a knot in the plan. Instead of closing the school due to “administrative mismanagement,” there needed to be another reason. Ta-daaaa! “Administrative restructuring.” What they have failed to realize is that people in upstate New York can recognize nearly every euphemism for “downsizing” that there is.

Of course, the SOI is only the first step. I suspect that the Schools of Social Work, Architecture and Planning, Nursing–you know, the smaller schools that lack the sexy names–and perhaps even the GSE will soon be facing the same chopping block, er, uh, I mean… “restructuring”.

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