by John Glover, MLIS Day
When Mike e-mailed us early in May announcing his impending retirement, there was a palpable sense of surprise when the topic was discussed - and an equally palpable lack of surprise. On the one hand, Mike has been the Information School since he arrived here with a vision, creating a School with many programs and goals where previously there had been one medium-ranked program. The comment I have heard repeatedly from practicing librarians who attended the program prior to the transition is that it was not as rigorous as it is these days and that now students at the iSchool get much more in the way of theory and "core" skills. Friends and neighbors, whatever you have to say about the iSchool, give a cheer for the fact that it exists at all and that we emerge with the education we do. Our lives could be much, much worse. Because of Mike's leadership and vision, we have been able to participate in programs involving plenty of LIS theory, actual practice, many and diverse faculty members, and some kind of exposure to all parts of the field.
On the other hand, however, Mike's announcement was understandable. After the heart attack in November, many of us wondered what the outcome would be. Faculty, staff, and graduates who had seen him working over the years exclaimed that it had only been a matter of time, given how very hard he has worked for us. He built the Information School, laced it with new programs, interfaced with donors, was an ambassador to the public and the LIS world, and planned for the future. Given how much he has done and the amount of time and energy he has given, it is understandable that he is ready to move on. Though we are losing a Dean, hopefully future students will be able to gain from the opportunity to take classes from Mr. Big 6 himself as a teaching member of the iSchool faculty.
When Mike is gone, what will happen? Whither the iSchool? This is something the faculty have undoubtedly discussed and will be considering in the coming months. The shift to a new Dean will be more than the addition of a new faculty member or change in the administration. The person chosen to replace Mike will be the guiding force for this large, growing institution, and will have to be up to the task. The iSchool is many things to many people, from haven for quiet contemplation, to site of groundbreaking developments in information science, to school for burgeoning information professionals. All of these things and more will demand the new Dean's attention and none are worthy of neglect. If it was Mike's job to create the iSchool, it will be the new Dean's job to refine it, studying what has worked and what hasn't in order to determine how best to provide for the needs of all members of the iSchool.
Faculty thought, research, and publication are not the brief of the Silverfish. The faculty know the best way to carry out their research and find someone who will back them and provide for their needs. But while we learn from the faculty of the Information School, the students of the iSchool have many concerns in the selection of the new Dean that are not the same as those concerns the faculty might have on our behalf. Will the Dean continue the programs as they exist right now? Add new ones and stretch a faculty already stretched far too thin? Engage in meaningful dialogue with students and listen to their concerns? Continue the excellent practice of bringing in professionals from the field to teach subject area classes?
Students at the iSchool are a diverse bunch, hailing from different backgrounds and going in different directions professionally. Still, we have concerns that need to be addressed; as my co-editor observes in her editorial, there are serious unresolved questions about the goals and components of LIS education and the results it should produce. This is why we as students need a voice and representation in the conversation about where we are going. Who knows? Perhaps this is already in the works - something that has been discussed in the smoke-filled back rooms of the iSchool during meetings between student government leaders and the administration. If this is the case, my apologies - I simply have heard nothing about it. Admittedly, the process is just getting started, but it is the sort of process in which students ought to have a voice.
How many staff or faculty members have you seen come and go in the iSchool? People moving from one position to another with little announcement or explanation? Some days over the last two years, it has seemed like there is someone new, moved, or gone every time I've stepped through the doors of Mary Gates Hall. A little clarity in personnel duties in general would be a great help. Have you ever tried to find out what a person does in the iSchool and been frustrated? Numerous (countless?) are the photos on the faculty/staff photoboard with no description. While people are coming and going frequently at the iSchool, perhaps not so unexpected for a young program, it seems like this would be a time when it would be more important than any other to be able to find out who does what.
Let's be realistic here. People are hired for positions in the iSchool and then we hear about it. This is what happens and it is understandable. Student participation in every search process would be time-consuming, not necessarily useful, and would slow processes that are not necessarily quick in the first place. The role of Dean, however, is so crucial, has such a large effect on students, that it would be a crime for students to have no voice in the hiring process, to have their very real concerns go unheard. More than any other time, this seems like the perfect situation to get some sort of student government cross-talk going. Officers could collect information from their constituents and then discuss it together before passing it on to the faculty, hopefully in the form of a person chosen to sit on the hiring committee. Students, and particularly student government members, have a responsibility to learn what is going on and to represent themselves and the student body at large during this process. The search, along with the attitudes and goals of the new Dean, will not only affect current students, but will set the course for years to come at the iSchool.----
Thank you to the members of the iSchool who have read the Silverfish during the last year. Phoebe and I have tried to deliver high-quality content and thoughtful editorials, always aiming to make you think, keep you informed, or brighten your day. You and your feedback have been a constant inspiration in the process. Good luck to my graduating colleagues in finding employment and to the first year MLIS students for a fruitful second year. Phoebe deserves my thanks most of all, for being willing to work together, for keeping our standards high, and for never letting me slack. If running the Silverfish was like a year-long group project, I could not have asked for a better experience: no meltdowns, no failures, and the Silverfish in good hands for next year. Thank you, Phoebe, and best wishes to you all.