LSJ Editors' Blog: Demise of a School

24 June 2006

Demise of a School

We're in a bit of a crisis here at the UB School of Informatics. Provost Satish K. Tripathi just announced that the decision has been made to "reorganize" (ie. dissolve) the School, putting the Department of Library and Information Studies in the School of Education. The official press release gives a rather uppeat view, but the real story is a bit more depressing. Alex Halvais explains a bit of the history behind the decision in this blog post (be sure to read the comments).

We're trying to stay positive, and in reality the department has far too much going for it to be held down by even a major step backward, but the decision is nonetheless very demoralizing. Overnight we have gone from innovative to marginalized; from a sense that we are poised to be one of the top LIS school in North America, to a sense that we have been abandoned to mediocrity by the administration.

And all from the unilateral decision of a single man. The decision was made with absolutely no student or faculty consultation. Why was the decision made? To save money? Because in Tripathi's world all LIS is education? Who knows. We're not being told why. It is a shock.

Tripathi has not even extended the courtesy of communicating the decisions to the students. We are learning of it from the newspaper and from the grapevine. Below is a selection comparing the spin of the provost and the real story as written in the Buffalo News...

From the UB news release:

Through the course of the natural evolution of the university we are always looking at the best way to align and integrate strategically our academic programs and academic support services to best fulfill the university's mission of teaching, research and public service...It is our expectation that not only will these academic programs continue in their current manifestation, but that they will progress and flourish, moving into the ranks of nationally recognized degree programs."
From the Buffalo News:

David Penniman, who was recruited as the school's dean in 2001 under former Provost Elizabeth D. Capalidi, said the move will make it nearly impossible to sustain the informatics program. It's a shared responsibility of two departments, which are now being placed under different leadership, he said.

He's also concerned the decision will cause some faculty to leave, particularly some of the younger members who came to be part of the innovative program.

"They were outraged," Penniman said, "not only at the decision, but the way the decision was made."

From the official UB press release:

Tripathi announced last week that after serving five years as dean of the School of Informatics, W. David Penniman had agreed to return to the faculty.

From the Buffalo News:

Penniman said he was forced to step down as the school's dean two weeks ago, after the provost told him he was looking for new leadership in the School of Informatics.

The removal of Penniman - who is expected to stay on as a faculty member for now, but is uncertain about his future at the university - is the latest in a series of administrative changes at UB since President John B. Simpson arrived in 2003.

"I was in shock I would be told I was an inadequate dean," Penniman said, "but then the greater shock is to destroy not just what I, but the faculty, have built over the past five years."

And the most insulting paragraph from the UB press release:

Administrative changes will not impact current or incoming students. The reorganization will be communicated to students in coming weeks.

In the coming weeks? Wont impact the students? Really, Tripathi, we deserve better. Tell us what is going on. Tell us in an open and honest way. And do it now.


Blogger Mark C said...

I was a student when Dean Penniman had just started, and I am a bit surpised at his comments. How can he be upset by administration not communicating with subordinate entities when he was guilty of the same thing. He frequently made decisions impacting the students without communicating them.I guess what goes around comes aroud.

That school has some good faculty members, but it has been lacking strong leadership for some time. Change was needed, I just wish it didn't happen this way.

Blogger Eli Guinnee said...

Another good article on the subject here:
(thanks to Marie Peterson for finding this)


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