Wednesday’s student meeting recap

by Paul Lai

In brief, at the meeting on Wednesday evening, a few more students gathered to talk about the MLIS move to the School of Business and Leadership. We did not have any new information to share with each other since there have been no further communiques from the administration or faculty. We spent the time catching everyone up on what we discussed in previous meetings and emails. The relevant points are:

  1. We still have no good explanation for the decision.
  2. We do not know what the full implications are of this decision in terms of the MLIS program’s future prospects.
  3. We do not get the sense that any of the decision makers understand (or were even really aware of) the fraught relationship between librarianship and business, as entangled as the two worlds are. This final point is the most troubling as it suggests that there will need to be a lot of vigilance on the part of the MLIS program to make sure that it maintains a distinctive identity within the SBL.

We plan on holding a Monday night town hall type meeting for all students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other interested persons when the fall semester starts to talk about the decision and offer a forum for people to air questions and concerns. The specific format of that meeting is still up in the air though we hope it will be a chance to disseminate information about the change and perhaps to open up a direct dialogue with members of the upper administration. We are holding off on more concrete plans at this point until after the meeting with Colleen Hegranes this coming week. We hope to have a better sense of the decision process as well as hope to explain to VP Hegranes the danger of putting the library science program within the business school and will report back here on what we learn from her.

In the meeting, we also talked about how this decision might impact the program. Despite the administration’s claims that this change is merely administrative and will not affect the program’s curriculum, ALA accreditation, and general ethos, we remain skeptical. Though few of us have much experience with how higher education functions, together we were able to come up with a list of aspects of the MLIS program that will be affected:

  • New faculty tenure track lines will be authorized up a chain of command from the MLIS program faculty to the program’s associate dean, then the new dean of SBL (Paula King), and then to the Senior VP, President, and Board of Trustees. It is unclear to us how much influence (or veto power) upper administration has on faculty hire decisions, but the fact remains that there is now explicit oversight by the SBL rather than a school that has a different professional ethos than market forces. It will matter in the long run because the types of faculty expertise valued by a business-minded dean may very well differ from the expertise valued by a differently-oriented dean.
  • In a more general sense, the dean of the school administering the MLIS program is the one who advocates for the program to upper administration and to the Board of Trustees. While we do not wish to impugn the character of Paula King–indeed, we have heard only good things about her–we want to caution that our wariness of this move is not so much about Dean King personally as it is about having a business professional as dean of the MLIS program. Though every dean ultimately shares a background with only some programs in her school, our claim is that business and librarianship come from such vastly different philosophies that it will take much work to educate Dean King on librarianship and will also involve the more difficult work of unlearning the logics of a business mentality.
  • The change also seems to be poorly timed, given the six month time frame in which the MLIS program needs to realign itself in the new school. Also, we want to note that with leadership in a transitional state within the program, it seems a particularly bad time to make such a substantive shift for the program.
  • Relatedly, our concern with leadership extends to Dean King’s recently approved charge to create an MBA program. If her energies are directed to this new, intensive endeavor, will she be able to give the MLIS and Education programs the attention we deserve?

Again, if any of you have further questions and concerns you want us to raise with Colleen Hegranes, please feel free to leave a comment in the “Meeting with VP” post by Sunday. If you can come to the meeting, that would be great as well.