Speak up! Advocating for the UW iSchool

02/03/2011 § 20 Comments

For those of you who don’t know, I attend the Information School (iSchool) at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. And while I, like most students, have had both positive and negative experiences in my education (you have or can read about them here or on my blog), I want to take a moment to express my deep concern for the future of the iSchool and the irreplaceable service it provides through its students, faculty and staff.

Washington, like many other states, has been dealing with a severe budget crisis. Since 2009, the University of Washington (UW) has lost 30% of its state appropriation — $132 million — and I have just become aware that after another round of proposed funding reductions, UW will have lost 50% of its state appropriation in just 3 years.

Last week the student leaders of the iSchool received an email from the iSchool’s dean – Harry Bruce. In the email, he attached both a letter the UW interim president, Phyllis Wise, sent to the legislature and press, and the budget reductions scenario worksheet. Reading the email and the attached documents left me shocked and horrified. On the list of possible actions as a result of the proposed reductions is this:

“Consider consolidating the Information School with another college and significantly reduce course and degree offerings.”

This. Cannot. Happen. It cannot happen for the ‘simple’ reason that there is not enough money for it to exist on its own. The iSchool recently began its centennial celebration. Although it has changed names, locations on campus and has evolved through the lifecycle of the Information Revolution, throughout its nearly 100 year history, its mission, vision and impact on Seattle, Washington and the Pacific Northwest have only expanded during that time.

William E Henry, the first director of the iSchool in 1922 wrote this:

Whether the University of Washington Library School filled a “long felt want” or not, I am not quite sure, but that it did supply a much felt need, I think there is no doubt, […]

He then goes on to talk about how he worked with other library directors in the Pacific Northwest to form the Library School on the West Coast. Before the UW Library School was founded in 1911, the closest Library School was in Wisconsin.

However, with all of these handicaps we did secure a few who were willing to make the sacrifice necessary and, as was to be expected, then a high-class, well-prepared group of persons, and these, more than any other single influence, made our libraries successful.

Today, 90 years after this was written, the mission and impact of the iSchool is similar. And while this is what is simply stated on the web site, it is honestly the way I personally feel about information and it is one of the main reasons I chose to attend this school.

“We are a community of diverse disciplines, professional fields, and areas of expertise engaged with the study of information and its use by people and organizations.

We are inspired by information. We want everyone to know how vital information is to all aspects of life.

We see a world where more effective use of information helps everyone discover, learn, innovate, solve problems, have fun, and make a better world. Information changes lives.

We prepare information leaders. We research the problems and opportunities of information. We design solutions to information challenges. We make information work.

In the email last week, we were told this, “We will preserve the high caliber of professional education in the information fields that we have achieved. Our highest priority in all our considerations is to maintain the quality of our academic programs that serve our excellent students.”

While I have no doubt the administrators, faculty, staff and students will work endlessly to maintain quality programs, I do know this will be difficult with significant reduction of courses and degree offerings. One of the things that makes the iSchool the iSchool is its opportunities for research, the flexibility to have discussions, be creative and develop innovative techniques, through unique courses and programs. These require financial support.

At a time when information is evolving in ways no one can imagine, I just don’t understand how the iSchool could receive cuts. We are inspired by information. We make information work.

I ask these questions:

  • What other schools within UW can step into the role of the iSchool for the UW, Seattle, WA, the Pacific NW, the country, the world?
  • Shouldn’t the iSchool be expanding and growing within the evolving field of information?
  • How can we work to become even more efficient through our research, services and education?
  • If the iSchool should be consolidated with other schools, which ones best fit our visions and missions?

I want to thank our dean, Harry Bruce, for informing us of this before it was announced through the state and the press. I also want to thank him for emphasizing that the integrity and impact of the iSchool will remain even if the worst happens. Of course, no decisions have been made yet, but this is our time to explore new options and secure the future of education options for information science students.

Please use this post as place to begin to talk about how to secure your place at the institution where you study. Look for more information about this as I get it from the school and the state. Although I graduate in a few weeks, I do not plan on leaving quietly and watching opportunities of future iSchoolers and the lives of those we (students) serve drown in the waves of the state’s budget crisis.

Note: iSchool students met yesterday to talk about our actions and we’ve created a Facebook group Save the UW iSchool to communicate and gather ourselves. We will also be compiling talking points for writing letters and an online petition and we hope to create a collection (on YouTube) of short video clips of people sharing why the iSchool is important to them. All of this will be shared with our legislators. Please look for more information soon.

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