Students of the St Catherine University MLIS program received troubling news a couple weeks ago when an unexpected email arrived in their mailboxes from Dean Deborah Grealy outlining a new restructuring of the graduate schools. According to the email, the School of Professional Studies (where LIS was previously housed, along with Education) will be moved to the School of Business and Leadership. This news was met with shock, confusion, and protest by many LIS students. Questions still remain, but there are two major aspects of this reorganization that are most troubling:
The first is the fact that this decision was made by upper administration without the consultation of the students or even the faculty of the affected programs. This type of top-down, unilateral decision making process is symptomatic of a very rigid, bureaucratic governance structure that is detrimental to a dynamic and thriving educational community. Further, the upper administration has not provided any sort of justification for the move in the weeks since they made this decision. Why is the School of Business and Leadership a better fit for the LIS program as opposed to the School of Professional Studies, which included Education and Social Work? The School of Professional Studies provided a natural fit for all three programs. Explaining why this is a beneficial move to ALA, in regard to our recent accreditation as a program, will not be easy. Since this decision was made without the input of anyone from the MLIS program, I think a disclaimer is in order:
“The views expressed by the upper administration of St. Catherine University do not necessarily represent the opinions and philosophy of the students and faculty of the Library and Information Science Program”
Though I can’t speak for all students in the program, I can say many are opposed to this decision and I do not think it is fair to say that this reorganization represents a “a full commitment to the “business model” of library management, where public service in the interest of democracy and public good is hard to justify on a cost basis,” as Rory Litwin does in a recent blog post. A strong current of social justice runs through the learning objectives, curriculum, and student activities of the St. Catherine University MLIS program and we intend to keep it that way.
The second major concern amongst students is the questions of how this decision will affect the future of the program, its curriculum, and its continuing accreditation. It’s too soon to say as the dust is still settling, so to speak, however many students have sprung into action. Members of the student chapters of the ALA and PLG have opened up a conversation with administration and LIS faculty to ensure that the ethics of librarianship are known, that the curriculum of the MLIS program is not compromised by this reorganization, and that their voices are heard and taken into consideration as we move forward. A blog has been started where students and alumni can express their concerns and obtain updates on the current status of this ongoing conversation. Meetings between students and faculty to address the many questions remaining have already taken place and a wider discussion surrounding this issue along with further action will likely take place in the fall. Many LIS students are posting their reactions to this shocking news in social media and the blogosphere, including LIS student, Paul Lai who has written quite eloquently about the issue on his blog. I recommend that all students take the time to reflect on what implications this decision has on their education and how it relates to the ethics and commitments of librarianship. Current students, alumni, faculty and others are urged to post their comments to the St. Kate’s MLIS Reorganization blog because the more voices we have weighing in on this issue, the more persuasive we will be.
As far as the student chapter of the Progressive Librarian Guild goes, it may seem that the transfer of business operations of the Progressive Librarian journal to the St. Catherine University was ill-timed because of this reorganization, but I am choosing to look at this optimistically. The student chapter of the PLG will provide a much needed vehicle through which students can express their progressive ideas and collectively organize around this issue and other ongoing issues. Students who believe that the business model of librarianship that Rory Litwin (and others) rightly oppose are encouraged to join the student chapter of the PLG because we share the position of the national chapter that states:
“A progressive librarianship demands the recognition of the idea that libraries are for the people has been one of the principal anchors of an extended free public sphere which makes an independent democratic civil society possible, something which must be defended and extended. This is partisanship, not neutrality.
Members of PLG do not accept the sterile notion of the neutrality of librarianship, and we strongly oppose the commodification of information which turns the ‘information commons’ into privatized, commercialized zones. We will help to dissect the implications of these powerful trends, and fight their anti-democratic tendencies.”
So if you agree that libraries need to remain free and open to ensure the continuance of a healthy democracy and want a conduit through which to organization and express your concerns regarding this re-organization decision, join us as we fight together with the rest of the student body and other student groups to fight for a fair resolution to this reorganization and the concerns its raised in student and faculty, to ensure that our new dean is cognizant of the ethics of librarianship and the ways that it is at odds with profit-motivated thinking, and to push for a more democratic relationship with our institution’s administration.