LSJ Editors' Blog: A meeting with The Provost

07 August 2006

A meeting with The Provost

Two weeks ago five student representatives met with Provost Tripathi and Dr. Lucinda M. Finley, Interim Dean of School of Informatics, to discuss the decision to dissolve the School of Informatics. Washtub Librarian and LSJ webmaster Ben Hockenberry has a good synopsis of the meeting, so I don't feel like I need to go into much detail here. The five of us have had trouble after the fact coming to a consensus about how well the meeting went (which is why we have all been slow to communicate its outcome).

I was probably the most sceptical going into the meeting, but came out of it the most reassured; others went in with positive attitudes, but came out much more sceptical. I thought the mood was rather relaxed and friendly; others thought it was quite tense. So, there you go.

My main points:
  • Tripathi assured us a number of times that all necessary resources will be made available to ensure the requirements of our provisional accreditation are met.
  • Both Finley and Tripathi assured us that the techological resources of the department would not only be continued in our new home but if anything would be increased.
  • We had been warned before the meeting to focus on student issues and stay away from faculty issues, but I am of the belief that faculty recruitment and retention is the number one student issue so stressed this concern nonetheless. Tripathi seemed genuinly concerned about faculty retention and recruitment and agreed that this was the most important issue. I found it reassuring that he did not try to offer false promises on this point.
  • Most exciting for me was to hear the commitment of The Provost and Interim Dean to creating a PhD program for the Department of Library and Information Studies, a dream that had stalled in the School of Informatics, and a subject that they brought up themselves without prompting from us.
  • Finley is planning a couple open meetings in the future to discuss issues of the reorganization with concerned students. I stressed that we wanted student representation in all future decision making, not just a couple of informational meetings. I think we'll get a couple informational meetings.
  • The meeting closed with Tripathi and Finley saying that their doors are always open if all or any of us would like to meet with them again to discuss the issue further.
So, in conclusion, I'm feeling now like the DLIS will be okay in the end. Unless we were completely lied to, which isn't impossible.

9 Comments:

Blogger ladyofthelake said...

Just a few comments regarding the points you make. (I thrive on counterpoint--makes librarian life more exciting ;-)

Your Point 1: Tripathi assured us a number of times that all necessary resources will be made available to ensure the requirements of our provisional accreditation are met

CounterPoint: If UB had not been reducing the funding to the SOI during the past few years, DLIS might not be in this situation with ALA. If the department's needs were not supported then, why should we believe they will be now?

Your Point 2: Both Finley and Tripathi assured us that the techological resources of the department would not only be continued in our new home but if anything would be increased.

CP: See response to Point 1.

Your Point 3: Faculty retention and recruitment is the number one student issue... did not try to offer false promises on this point.

CP: It will be difficult to attract new faculty if the DLIS either loses accreditation or starts to slip in the rankings. Faculty will be integral to a successful PhD program and if Tripathy is not willing to do what is needed to attract and retain top faculty the PhD point is a moot one.

Your point 4: Most exciting for me was to hear the commitment of The Provost and Interim Dean to creating a PhD program for the Department of Library and Information Studies...

CP: (See response to point 3.) The LIS program has been trying to institute a PhD program since well before the SOI was formed. The SOI was not the problem. Instead, the biggest obstacle lies within the department itself. The SOI had PhD program in COM. But the COM faculty support that program, wish to serve as mentors and incorporate students into their well established research programs. DLIS faculty fo not even encourage MLS students to choose the thesis option to earn an MLS, which would involve orginal research and a defense. I know of students who were actually discouraged from taking this route.

Your Point 5: Finley is planning a couple open meetings in the future to discuss issues of the reorganization with concerned students.

CP: I think you are right in that you will get a couple of meetings. But I suspect that there will be more "telling" than "asking."

9.8.06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite a rosey picture being painted here! And judging by how the Provost treated Dean P. - promising SOI would stay intact if he agreed to "step down" - we have every reason to believe he'll keep to his word. LIS PhD, upgraded tech lab, tenured faculty, full ALA accred! Yippie!!!!

9.8.06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the Annony-mouse above. Vague assurances are pretty meaningless given the track record. It's easy to say you will support a Ph.D. program, when it doesn't mean committing to anything. The provost was clear when the SOI existed that the administration would not support a new Ph.D. Why the change now?

How is the School of Ed pro-technology, when they recently killed their Ed Tech program, leaving students stranded. Again, empty promises are easy: when you have a date and a number for updating the informatics lab, then you have something to hold them to. Of course, AT&T who funded the lab and some updates, isn't going to provide funding now that UB basically killed their funded project. The administration wasn't paying for the lab before, where exactly is the funding going to come from.

Sorry, but promises are cheap. Unless students hold the administration's feet to the fire, they are going to see the programs' resources dwindled to nothing, and each of the programs, but especially the MLS & MA in I, will be slowly and quietly strangled.

10.8.06  
Blogger burlapwax said...

Quick thought first -- I'm not sure if the LSJ editors' blog is the best place to discuss this, since it's specifically a UB issue. However, I'll post my thoughts both here and on washtub...please respond in either location.

Many respondants have posted anonymously. I understand the fear that people have when posting politically sensitive opinions online--there has been enough coverage in the news lately about employers checking applicants' online presence, and I have close contacts who have experienced this sort of online scrutiny following involvement in business/university politics--but I firmly believe that our names can exist beside our opinions. We are graduate students and professionals capable of defending a position. Any library employer who would refuse a candidate for advocating for their library school is not an environment in which I would like to work. Our criticisms are viable: stand by them.

Here are some more personal reactions to the meeting with the provost. These do not represent the views of my colleagues who were present at the meeting or those who were not.

The group of students meeting with the provost and vice provost were charged with presenting the students' concerns to them and bringing back the answers given. The mood was far from sunny. In the first few minutes of the meeting, the Provost made a statement regarding the "mission and vision" of the SOI -- a phrase that echoed criticisms he levied at Dean Penniman, as reported by the former dean in his statement. The tension in the room raised several notches at that point, and it was visible in the students' faces. He quickly changed gears, and didn't mention those words again. In fact, the meeting pushed over toward the other side of the table, with Dr. Finley taking the lead in discussions. The two were definitely working in tandem -- you could see each move that was being made to change directions. And I think we demonstrated to them that we were following the twists of argument.

That said, I think they took us seriously.

While one side could say that the tactical play from their side of the table was intended to trip us up (thus being a sign of belief that we students aren't intelligent enough to see through it) I believe that they actually see themselves on treacherous ground. We have shown a willingness to discuss our perspectives of this "minor restructuring" with fellow students, faculty, the library community, and the regional and national media. They need to not only make but to keep promises.

Unfortunately, we fight with a hand tied behind our backs; as students in a short masters degree program, many of us have little knowledge of the history of administration of the school. A lot of what we supposedly "know" is either hearsay or has been given to us by the parties involved (Penniman, Halavais, Tripathi, and Finley). Even some faculty and staff I've spoken with have this feeling of being caught without enough information to go on -- troublesome for a school whose focus is the relationship between information and people. That said, there is a commitment here to making sure that we have the resources to bring our curriculum up to a national standard. There is a commitment to engage students in the discussion.

In response to one anonymous poster above, I disagree. A promise is not cheap unless it is treated cheaply. The way in which the provost dissolved the school, as you say, while promising something else, has incurred a real cost -- a loss of faith. The fact that the excellent criticisms above have been posted is proof that a promise is not cheap. There's a serious need for students, faculty, and administration to work together to ensure the future of the department, and I hope that the provost will follow through on the commitment made. A Ph.D. program? Maybe that's unlikely (and the provost certainly didn't make any promises toward that end -- just suggestions). But full ALA accreditation, with the support structure and technological improvements that entails, is a top priority.

Ben

11.8.06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Provost's decision to close the SOI was announced to the faculty and staff in June. There was no discussion prior to that meeting. SOI Council, DLIS Council, and the University-wide Faculty Senate, were in summer recess.

The ALA's accreditation committee (COA), expressed its concerned about the need to involve students and alumni in decision making. Faculty and staff were not involved in the dissolution decision, except as recipients of the announcement. I would not hold out much hope of student involvement beyond the "information meetings" promised - and if I read the postings correctly, that is all that was promised by the administration.

Before the merger with Com, SLIS was a free-standing school - with a dean. It is difficult to see how its demotion to 'department' status, with a chair reporting to the dean of graduate education, will address COA's concerns over administrative support the distinctive identity of LIS within the University.

Most members of LIS faculty have wanted a PhD program for some time. So did Dean Penniman. The top-ranked schools have PhD programs, and they are a necessity if you want to do successful research - the Provost himself has said as much. But a viable program would have required more financial support from the administration. For some reason, that was not forthcoming.

SOI was a financial success for the University, with solid tuition income, increased funded research in the form of grants, and non-trivial corporate donations from local and national benefactors. One has to wonder why the program was dissolved, what the administration really thinks about library education, and what its real agenda might be.

14.8.06  
Blogger Cheri Crist said...

I'm in agreement with most other students about the dysfunctional manner in which this whole thing went down -- there was no transparency in the decision-making process, the provost never explained, in clear, un-bureaucratic terms, WHY they're giving up on the School of Informatics, the announcement was made during summer recess, which is mighty suspicious, and now they've ticked off our corporate sponsor.

Frankly, we deserve a straight answer. As much as I hate to use these terms, we ARE UB customers. We give them money in exchange for a service. That service is education. Doesn't it seem, then, that we would at least be given a heads up about a major change in that service?

Aside from that, does anyone else have a problem with the DLIS's move to the Department of Education? It just doesn't seem to fit. What we do involves education to be sure, but it's also much more. I didn't enroll in the LIS program with the aim of graduating from the Department of Education. Part of the reason I chose UB was on the strength of its innovative Informatics program. This is NOTHING against the education department, but having a degree that comes from them and not Informatics seems like a step backward, not forward.

But that's just me.

19.8.06  
Blogger Eli Guinnee said...

It has come to my attention in the last few days that a certain professor--whose name I feel I should not mention at this point--is very much against the dissolution. I bring this up now because the provost made a big show of telling us how excited this particular prof is about the new arrangement and how much this prof supported the decision. I'm finding it hard to reconcile what the provost very clearly told us with the apparent reality. And, of course, it makes me wonder about other things the Provost told us.

20.8.06  
Blogger burlapwax said...

I want to share a brief letter I submitted to the UB Council (http://www.buffalo.edu/ubcouncil/) regarding the Provost's dissolution of the SOI. I encourage other students to send their thoughts to the Council as well; they are the oversight and advisory body to the school's administration.

"Dear colleagues,

This message pertains to the recent dissolution of the University at Buffalo School of Informatics. I am a graduate student in the Department of Library and Information Studies, and act as an officer in the Special Libraries Association student chapter. I am writing to express my concern for the future of our Masters of Library Science program, which the Provost re-assigned to the Graduate School of Education early this summer without consultation or input from the faculty. This decision was made at a time when our department was undergoing its six-year accreditation review from the American Library Association, and we have been given conditional (rather than full) accreditation for the first time in our department's history.

I participated, with representatives of other student groups, in a meeting with Provost Satish Tripathi and Vice-Provost Lucinda Finley on July 24th, in which the student representatives discussed our concerns. Dr. Finley claimed that the decision to reorganize the school did not impact the accreditation review board's decision; however, the president of the American Library Association issued a letter of concern regarding the dissolution. Tripathi and Finley assured us that the full efforts of the school would be behind the program, that they are committed to ensuring the return of full accreditation, and that all necessary funds will be allocated. These are promises that we as students do not take lightly, and we want to make sure that our program remains viable and supported over the years to come.

As a student, I am not privy to the university process for making decanal changes such as the ones that led to the school's dissolution. I am sure, however, that major changes involving the closing of a school need to have some input from the faculty and administration of the school and its component departments, or meet the approval of the faculty senate. This sort of unilateral action is frightening and does not encourage a sense of stability for the student body, nor does it encourage retention of the quality faculty our department has attracted. Even in meeting with the provost in person, we were not given a solid reason why the school was closed. We're aware of some sense of conflict with the UB2020 strategic plan, but are unaware of any concrete reasons. In addition, the timing of the decision's application during the summer recess seemed designed to disable the sort of direct review needed in difficult situations like this.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this letter. The opinions represented herein are my own, and reflect conversations with a number of colleagues in and out of the program.

Sincerely,
Benjamin Hockenberry
Special Libraries Association Student Group
http://informatics.buffalo.edu/org/slasg/"

21.8.06  
Blogger Jennifer said...

The next meeting with the Provost and Dr. Lucinda Finley will be with ALA president, Leslie Burger. We spoke at the New York Library Association (NYLA) this past weekend and she is aware of the concerns that we are expressing here.

Lets think of more ways to advocate for ourselves as students in this program and people in the community of Buffalo, which has been so hard-hit by cutbacks. I'd like to hear some ideas that people have and be even happier to hear about some plan that you have to get active about library issues.

Jennifer Potter

7.11.06  

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