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ALA Warns Buffalo on LIS Program August 24, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Informatics, University at Buffalo.

Another mention of the dissolution of School of Informatics in Library Journal. Read more here. Previous article, discussing former dean W. David Penniman’s public statement, which I disseminated in the interest of fairness, here.

From the recent LJ article, quoting a letter from ALA president Leslie Burger which has been going around the listservs for quite awhile now:

“We certainly hope that the decision to dissolve the School of Informatics was based on careful study and the expectation that the Departments of Communication and Library and Information Studies will secure the organizational support they require within the Graduate School of Education,” Burger wrote. “However, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that librarianship is a cross-disciplinary field that spans beyond the traditional boundaries of the educational field. MLS graduates need to be skilled communicators, information technology experts, good managers, and meticulous organizers and disseminators of information to provide leadership in our information-based economy. We hope that the MLIS program students will be encouraged to expand their horizons beyond the education sphere to ensure that they graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the workplace.” (my emphasis)

I resisted quoting this letter on Library Matters until now as it was circulating in listservs, where the premise can be an assumption of privacy within the list membership. Privacy rules for individual listservs are usually found in the confirmation email explaining how to post, unsubscribe, etc.

One of the senior faculty members at DLIS is encouraging alums to write to the UB Council to voice any concerns. The home page is http://www.buffalo.edu/ubcouncil/. A contact form is available at the site.

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1. washtublibrarian - August 29, 2006

Thanks again, Jenn, for presenting these communications clearly and with as little personal bias as possible.

On the aggravation front, at orientation on last Thursday, Dr. Finley made a fairly direct attack at “rumors circulating on several blogs” disturbing the chain of communications. I held my tongue, as an open orientation for new students was not an appropriate place to engage in an argument. I applaud Dr. Finley for directly addressing new students on an issue of central importance to their academic careers.

The blog presence on this issue has been one of the only ways people have been able to keep track of what’s going on, with official communications being so infrequent and, in many cases, uninformative. In an informal communications medium like a blog, conjecture does have a place. However, we have made sure to cite our sources when we had them, whereas the official communications have not made the ALA accreditation report public, nor have they exposed the process documents leading to the dissolution itself. So conjecture continues, and will likely gain momentum as the semester goes on unless sufficient efforts continue to be made to involve stakeholders in the communication process.

That is, without blaming the bloggers for doing what we do — trying to keep on top of the tides and sharing what we observe.

2. Jenn - August 29, 2006

Washtub, thank you for documenting this and for the reminder to be professional and cite references/sources. Pamela Benson, our guest speaker at Commencement, openly discredited wikis and blogs for not being part of the “formal journalism” structure. I maintain a heavy amount of skepticism when anyone feels the need to discredit an entire means of communication; clearly there is something agenda-ish about that. What I love personally about blogs and see as useful in academic settings is the opportunity for clarification. I personally have had the experience of using my blogs to clarify something I was quoted in the paper about or that someone posted about me.

As for rumors circulating around blogs I would love to hear about which ones and pay them a visit. I try to stay on top of the discussions taking place around this issue, and point LM readers over to any resources I can find and allow them to decide for themselves what to think. That’s one really cool thing about being a librarian.

On another note, awesome – Dr. Finley reads blogs!!!! I assume from her comments at Orientation she personally has read the posts mentioned, because to have heard about them and then commented to a group of new students would be similar to the “rumor” she likens these blog posts to. Or am I misunderstanding?

I would openly welcome any and all clarification or supplemental information she or her colleagues would care to offer here, or in another forum I would gladly link to. Given the hits LM receives when I post anything related to this issue it is fair to infer some folks out there would be interested in hearing more.

3. ladyofthelake - August 30, 2006

Ahhhh rumors… the lifeblood of any organization. They are certainly a pain in the posterior to administrators but they serve a very important function in the study of organizations. Rumors and the effectiveness of “the grapevine” are a means of measuring the effectiveness of “official lines” of communication. The more rumors, the less effective the “company spin,” er, uh, I mean “official communication.”

The OED defines “rumours” as “General talk, report, or hearsay, not based upon definite knowledge;” and also as “A statement or report circulating in a community, of the truth of which there is no clear evidence.” I guess we “librarian/informatics blog people” are a community. Sweet! It’s so satisfying to finally be recognized by those academics still at UB. Too bad the administration is killing the School of Informatics (SOI) and ultimately–although it’s just a rumor, it’s pretty easy for intelligent people to predict–the program in the best position to study us… [sigh].

I would imagine that the rumors Dr. Finley refered to are those related to the ALA accreditation report. Since only the results of the report and not the details have been publically released, it is logical to predict that rumors will result from attempts by those affected to fill the holes caused their lack of access to information. That’s just human nature. We attempt to explain that which we do not understand or to alleviate the cognitive dissonance caused when experiences clash with the explanations we are given. To those of who actually read the ALA report, participated in the site visit or talked to ALA Committee on Accreditation (COA) site evaluator last spring, the Official SOI line that the announcement of the dissolution of the SOI had “no effect” on the conditional accreditation rating is suspect at the least. Dr. Finley spoke to the head of the COA who stated that the SOI dissolution was not the tipping point and I have no doubt whatsoever that the head of the COA stated this. After all, it is the COA’s official policy to not based their recommendations on any single factor. But come on. Think, people! Any logical analysis with an injection of reality will tell you that the provost’s announcement was indeed the tipping point. Case in point: the other factors cited in the report were relatively minor, all things that could have been addressed easily by a stable decanal administration and some financial committment from the provost. But if I were on the COA and an announcement was made that the management of the Library Science program was about to go into a state of flux, there is no way that I would assign anything higher than conditional status.

I would welcome anyone to refute this with hard evidence. Perhaps the COA member who actually performed the site visit–came to UB, talked to faculty and students and wrote much of the report–could tell me that my logic is flawed. I would accept that. Perhaps we could ask each member of the COA to look at two verions of UB’s COA report–one with the SOI announcement and one without. If both reports resulted in a conditional rating then perhaps I would accept the Chair of the COA’s “official explanation.” In the meantime, there is still a whole lotta dissonance going on.

Of course, there is even more that the SOI and provost could do to prevent the development of rumors in the first place. In short, provide us with answers. For instance, why did the SOI set out to look for a new dean in the first place? Was Dr. Penniman’s decanal review that negative? No one will say. Was the SOI’s enrollment dropping? That seems unlikely given that the undergrad COM students comprised the 3rd largest major on campus. Also, the coming academic year was to bring a new BA in Informatics program. I would think that a new program would have brought in MORE students and thus, more tuition. That said, what was the SOI searching for a new dean one week and suddenly killed off leass than 7 days later? Why won’t anyone tell us What happened in that period that could justify a decision that drastically affects dozens of faculty and staff and more than a thousand students, not to mention 6 degree programs and 2 schools outside of the SOI? Is this decision really all about improving the LIS, COM and INF programs and attracting new top rated faculty and students? If this is so, then why are 2 of the 3 programs being put into situations in which their very existence is treatened? It makes no sense… therfore, there must be underlying reasons that administrators are not willing to explain.

See what I mean? Can you feel the dissonance rising here?…I’m not liking it and I need a logical explanation.
Indeed. I feel the need to start a rumor…

4. Jenn - August 30, 2006

LOTL, thank you for your analysis! Again I will say I welcome any clarification or commentary by Dr. Finley and others here or in other forums to which I would link.

I was one of the people who met extensively with the Committee on Accreditation – External Review Team, as a student representative and as a graduate assistant. I was present for the our former dean’s initial reaction following the COA’s exit visit with the Provost. The mood was one of pride and delight; the recommendations were fair, and doable – but the team had been quite impressed. No review of anything would be worth its salt without recommendations for improvement. We were all celebrating. Somewhere twixt the site visit, and the final decision, something big happened.

I learned a great maxim in high school: correlation does not imply causation. I would be remiss in making assumptions about what happened here, but LOTL is right. Some of these “rumors” circulating could be addressed with clear, direct communication from the start of all this.

The SOI blogging community has at least kept communication lines open and documented publicly the discussions as we have experienced them. Various listservs have hosted sometimes heated discussions, and in one case an alum vowed to pull alumni financial support (I cannot give more details here as the discussion took place on a private listserv), so the LIS community sees this as an important issue as well.

Hopefully students will keep the discussion going and focus their energies on achieving full accreditation in their new home in GSE.

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