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Article(s) on School of Informatics closing November 29, 2006

Posted by jennimi in Informatics, University at Buffalo.

UB’s Spectrum has published an article on the closing of the School of Informatics: http://spectrum.buffalo.edu/Narticle.php?id=29774. Peter Rizzo’s piece gets into the details behind the closing from the point of view of UB Administration and some faculty, as well as a prominent alum. I would like to have seen more from students and alums. One criticism I have heard is that students’ concerns have found purchase in informal avenues such as blogs and classroom discussion boards (at Orientation blogs were apparently discounted as hearsay). Well…

In any case, I like this quotation from Dr. John Ellison of the Library Sciences Department:

“I question the provost’s process of dissolving the School of Informatics arbitrarily without consulting the founders group, the advisory boards — he didn’t even consult with the chairs of the departments let alone the faculty. Good administrators work through a proper process to get things accomplished,” Ellison said. “Management defined is ‘getting things done through people,’ and I think that that office, from the top down, just does not understand effective management processes; their mindset is that, ‘we decide it, therefore it is.'”

Update: The paper form of the Spectrum has quite a different feel and I urge anyone who can get a copy to please read the editorial, “Tripathi: Judge, Jury and Academic Executioner”. As of this update I could not find it posted on the publication’s website, but I think the title tells quite a bit here. This is a very strong piece that points out the Faculty Senate took months to decide on which pointers the university would use in standardizing campus lecture rooms (surely, an important decision, I am not disputing that) but that Provost Tripathi took only 4 months to finalize his decision to close the School (without consulting faculty or students).

The Spectrum editorial is not asking for the School to be saved nor stating it was erroneously dissolved. It is addressing the process by which it happened. Part of our responsibility as members of an academic community is to speak out when a process is conducted unfairly, whether it affects us directly or not, and I applaud the Spectrum for doing so.

Update: The editorial is available online, http://spectrum.buffalo.edu/Narticle.php?id=29769.

Update November 30: An article has been published in the online version of the UB Reporter entitled FSEC supports dissolving informatics school. You can read it here (http://www.buffalo.edu/reporter/vol38/vol38n13/articles/FSEC.html). The piece goes into great detail to document Interim Dean Lucinda Finley’s process in assessing the viability of the school. I just received an email via a listserv that stated the title of the article is incorrect, that the FSEC voted to “accept and file” the report, but that the rest of the article accurately represents the discussions.



1. Jim Milles - November 29, 2006

I guess a bulldozer is one way of getting things done through people.

2. ladyofthelake - November 30, 2006

Strange… I didn’t see any of this information in the Reporter; or the Buffalo News; or on the UB News services website. Hmmm–oh wait…it’s not that positive, self-promoting spin that we’ve grown used to…silly me. But I’m troubled by the continual lack of communication or rather an unwillingness to even talk about the SOI’s fate. Closing a school is a big deal! But no one wants to say anything. Shhhhh… someone might hear. I am told that UB’s Professional Staff Senate was queemish of including the mere mention of the SOI’s closing in their staff newsletter. I thought that newsletters were supposed to inform the staff of university goings-on. So much for thinking.

It is not surprising that the faculty and staff involved have been reluctant to say what they think. The Academe, despite its rhetorical promotion of the need for academic freedom has perfected the art of quashing criticism from the inside. But it is ironic that this is all happening in departments that train information professionals, librarians–some of the most ardent advocates of intellectual freedom–and communication students/future scholars. I think the UB community should turn to their student newspaper more often. At least Rizzo and the Spectrum editors had the guts to ask questions and point out facts that call into question the administration’s rhetoric. These, of course, are the facts that few–especially those affected most by the SOI closure–seem to want to see.

There are schools much smaller than the SOI at UB. This article should cause all to be concerned.

3. jennimi - November 30, 2006

Jim and LoTL, all I can say is 1. thank you both as always for reading and commenting, and 2. sigh. Very rare that I don’t have something more to say….

4. ladyofthelake - December 1, 2006

Just read the Reporter article and I’m confused. Why was Finley assessing the viability of the SOI when in the Spectrum article she said that she wouldn’t take the interim dean position unless the provost made his intentions clear from the beginning? That she even took the job means that it had already been decided that the school would be closed, right?

Hmmm… that was June ’06. Quite a while ago. Plenty of time to creatively find justification for previous actions. And the FSEC based their recommendation to support closing the school on 1) the report of the interim dean, (who works for the provost, right?); 2) interviews with faculty, who have been preparing for the last six months to move to other administrative schools. Does this sound like an environment in which one could cary on as impartial analysis? Exactly what did the FSEC think they would find out using these sources? Did they even consider the possibility of “spin?”

At least they seem to agree that the process by which the provost killed this school was wrong. No matter, though. The SOI is still dead. Time to give the administration a slap on the wrist; and the students and supporters a slap in the face.

5. jennimi - December 2, 2006

I guess after reading the article, and the subsequent email about how the FSEC “accepted and filed” the report, I am puzzled about the actual role of the Faculty Senate. I have gone to the web site and learned a bit more…

I also like this excerpt from the “Code of Ethics for Professional Staff”: “As members of the university community, professionals must accept their share of responsibility for institutional governance. Although they should be dedicated to the university, they are expected to speak as the “loyal opposition” when the greater good of the institution, the public, or their constituents requires it. (From the “Code of Ethics for the Professional Staff”, 1987.)

Depending on someone’s biases or information, that statement can be interpreted for some as either a call to advocate for the dismantling of the school, or for its preservation. I have no problem with people acting according to their conscience based upon informed discussion and consideration. But to my mind, it clearly implies it is the responsibility of academic professionals at UB to speak out in matters that not only affect them but that affect others.

This week I spoke with a current student, a good student, who is very upset that the School didn’t inform her of what was happening here over the summer. The first she heard of it was after she arrived in fall. She doesn’t believe the program won’t be affected by the current events. Whether it’s true or not that academic excellence won’t be affected, this student doesn’t BELIEVE it won’t be. Somewhere in all of the articles, conversations, decisions, blog postings, speeches, communiques and lack thereof, the integrity HAS been affected, at least for this student and probably for many others.

Communication. Advocacy. Risk taking. Leadership.

“Although they should be dedicated to the university, they are expected to speak as the “loyal opposition” when the greater good of the institution, the public, or their constituents requires it.”

This last sentiment is as important for students and alums to read as it is for administrators and faculty. As Leslie Burger says, everyone is a stakeholder, not just Provost, Chair, Dean.

6. theory.isthereason » Today’s Links: What’s more evil… sugar donuts or academic executioners? - December 9, 2006

[…] On School of Informatics closure: Tripathi… Judge, Jury and Academic Executioner The School of Informatics drama unfolds in a school newspaper, this time with interviews with all sides involved. The title you see, was the actual headline! Keywords: academia, buffalo, newspaper […]

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