University of Washington’s President proposes iSchool Consolidation

The last three weeks have been somewhat chaotic for me as the President of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS). Many of you have probably heard that the University of Washington’s Interim President Phyllis Wise (UW is currently looking for a permanent President) sent a letter to the Washington State legislature outlining the UW’s plan for a 30% cut in state support to the University. This letter details what would UW would have to cut in a “worst case” budget scenario. One of the proposals was a consolidation of the iSchool and a reduction of programs. Of course this prompted anger and outrage not only from students but the iSchool’s administration and Dean. Our Dean was not informed that we would be targeted in this letter to the legislature prior to the letter being sent to Olympia. 

In response to the letter, iSchool Dean Harry Bruce prepared a revised program evaluation to the Provost. “The data in this report describe how excellent our school is on all of the measures of performance requested by the Provost,” Dean Bruce said to the iSchool. The Provost will be in charge of delivering the recommendations to the President regarding whether a program should be consolidated or not. On Friday, 3/4/11, Dean Bruce made a podcast detailing the potential impact of the cuts which is available here: http://ischooloss.wordpress.com/

Following the President’s letter UW MLIS students came together to propose plans of action we could take to support our school. We decided to write letters both to the President and our legislators and become a presence online with facebook page and blog posts. Heidi Kittleson, one of my cohort and a contributor to HackLibSchool.com posted on the LIS school blog, garnering national attention to our plight.

Many of students attended a Town Hall with Interim President Wise last Tuesday. (the broadcast from UWTV: http://uwtv.org/programs/displayevent.aspx?rID=33034&fID=7135). She spoke about her criteria for evaluating school at the UW. Regardless of what she said, a couple things were clear. She does not like small schools, she does not understand fee-based programs (at one point she declared them peripheral to the mission of the University) and she was flustered at the passion throw her way during student questions. Most of us that attended that Town Hall came away feeling discouraged and more confused than before.

Some student leaders, including myself then met with the Interim Provost directly after the President’s Town Hall. This meeting was a bit discouraging considering students feelings of disempowerment about the President’s statements.

On Thursday, 3/10/11, Dean Bruce, Matt Saxton and Mary Clark attended a meeting with the Provost where they discussed their conceptual academic business plan. There has been no official public notice of what the conceptual academic business plan contains at this time.

So maybe at this point you are wondering why consolidation would be a bad thing? Here is my long answer.

The UW iSchool was created from a Future Strategic Vision of the University of Washington in 1996. At that time the University realized the opportunity and future for information and libraries for the good of the world and the community. We have since become a leader in the information world, hosting the iSchool conference this year and ranking in the top ten for graduate programs. 

It would not make sense for the University to abandon such an internationally recognized school. The administration says that UW might save only $500,000 from a consolidation of our school. This is not enough to be worth the trouble in my opinion.  I do not believe that the University will consolidate our school. I think the letter sent to the legislature was meant as scare tactic so the Legislature would know how detrimental a 30% cut would be.

The UW iSchool is internationally recognized. We are financially stable and are working on making our school more sustainable. Our Dean has promised that we can grow and still maintain our quality of education. We are more relevant today than we were in the iSchool inception in the early 2000’s and will continue to be relevant in this age of ubiquitous information. Plus there are too many people of influence in the information community that never want to see the iSchool lose its independence including its students.

Another reason why consolidation would be bad was brought up by Dean Bruce in a meeting with students yesterday. One of the reasons that it is important to remain independent is that we are a professional school acculturating students to the information professions. We have a distinct culture and framework for information and the world. It is important that we continue to be independent to cultivate that feeling. If combined with another college we might lose our culture as library and information professionals.

Despite my feelings that we will win whatever fight that is brought to us, the reality is that our University will suffer as a result of the state budget cuts whether it is 10%, 18% or 30%.

Our administration has proposed that the residential MLIS program become fee-based. This is upsetting for a number of reasons. First- the cost of fee-based programs at UW is pretty steep. It is a lot more money for people to spend. Also it eliminates the opportunity for University staff to come to our school. That means the para-professionals that work at the UW Libraries will not be able to take class for free anymore. There is some concern about financial aid not covering beyond regular UW tuition. This list goes on and on. But there will continue to be a conversation about making the residential MLIS fee-based according to Dean Bruce.

We have some tough times and conversations ahead but I know that the iSchool will prevail and remain independent. 

If you want to support the UW iSchool, there are a couple ways you can help:

-If you live in Washington State: write a letter to your state representative or those on the Higher Education Committee in support of the iSchool,
-Contact any iSchool alumni you know and urge them to take similar action,
-Anything else that you think might be a positive show of support for the iSchool (MLIS students may start chalking Red Square to support the iSchool and make it visible!)
-Contact information for the President, Provost the Board of Regents, finding your State Representatives is listed below:

Contact Information
University of Washington Officials:
Phyllis Wise
University of Washington
Office of the President
Box 351230, 301 Gerberding Hall
Seattle, Washington 98195-1230
(206) 543-5010
Pmwise@uw.edu

Mary E. Lidstrom
Office of the Provost
University of Washington
301 Gerberding Hall
Box 351237
Seattle, WA 98195
206-543-7632
provost@uw.edu or lidstrom@uw.edu

Board of Regents (Herb Simon, Board Chair)
139 Gerberding Hall
Box 351264
Seattle, WA 98195-1264
Phone: 206-543-1633
Fax: 206-543-6110
E-mail: regents@uw.edu<mailto:regents@uw.edu>

Washington State Legislature Find Your Legislator: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Default.aspx

iSchool University of Washington Library Students LIbrarians UW iSchool UW Budget

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