Speak up! Advocating for the UW iSchool

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.

20 replies

  1. This is terrible, I’m so sorry to hear about it!

    At the University of Texas School of Information, we’re almost entirely dependent on state funds (almost 3/4 of our budget comes from state appropriations–more than any other school or department on campus).

    To weather the budget crisis, we’ve significantly reduced our summer course offerings down to half of the required courses and one or two courses that consistently have a large waiting list during the regular semesters. Additionally, much of our faculty is retiring, but not all will be replaced.

    I know they’re small, but its helping to keep us afloat. Good luck and keep fighting the fight!


  2. I’m not an iSchooler, though I have strong ties to the community through friends and my participation in InfoCamp. The iSchool sets the bar for education and research in the information professions, and to see it consolidated with another school would be a shame.

    I’m still thinking about a Ph.D. in Information Science at UW and I hope to someday be able to say “The iSchool is MY SCHOOL!”


  3. This is incredibly concerning. I’m only in my 2nd quarter at the iSchool, and I haven’t fully experienced everything it has to offer me as a student yet. I worry that if these budget cuts do happen and the iSchool is forced to consolidate with another college and cut course offerings/instructors, I won’t get the chance to do so.

    I’m on board with whatever needs to be done to save the iSchool. Consolidation and cutting course offerings or instructors for this institution is a terrible idea. We are and will be one of the most important and relevant fields of study in the coming years, and for the state and the UW to ignore that would be like shooting themselves in the foot.


  4. Thanks for posting this! I’m a freshman at the iSchool’s distance MLIS program, and somehow missed hearing about the situation until now. Seeing the iSchool at UW disappear would be a terrible blow to library education in the Pacific Northwest – as far as I know, there are no library schools in Oregon or Idaho, and this is the only one I know of in Washington – and it’s a good one.

    Thanks again and I will be joining the Facebook page to save the iSchool.


    • Laurel, it concerns me that you haven’t received the emails about this! Would you send an email out to your cohort so we can make sure everyone is informed? Maybe post the link to the FB page on your cohort’s iSalon, too. Let me know if you have questions! Thanks.


      • Don’t worry, I received the emails! I just didn’t have time to read any emails last week because I had some really intensive projects to complete. Sorry for worrying you!


  5. This is so terrible! It would be a shame to lose one of the top ranked iSchools in the nation. Short term decisions like this create very long term consequences. Not only that, but there are no other options for on campus library schools in the area, which puts a lot of people at a disadvantage.

    I hope you guys can get a lot of publicity. It’s things like this that potentially threaten the future of libraries.


  6. I graduated the UW iSchool in the 3rd cohort back in 2005. It distresses me to see the budgetary impacts affect the iSchool, but it is, sadly, hardly surprising. Informatics is still a new field to many, a lot of people just don’t “get” Library Sciences, and too many people see myopic sense in dedicating more resources towards the Schools of Engineering or programs which are more strictly Business related. Perhaps that’s my own unique estimation, but in times like these, forward-looking programs and fields are all too often the first to be put on the chopping block – or at least asked to “compromise.”


  7. To put it simply the iSchool at UW is irreplaceable, Especially its ALA accredited library science program. There are only two other programs in the pacific northwest, and one of them is a satellite of Emporia state. Library schools make librarians that fulfill a communities need, and while the internet makes it easier to attend a MLIS program anywhere, it’s not the same as being physically in an area.

    While I love Washington State, library school moved me across the country. I don’t know yet if that is a good or a bad thing, but for a potential librarian in Montana or Idaho, moving to attend an on campus program isn’t a choice. We shouldn’t trust the future of Washington’s libraries to people who may move back.

    I also know people who have done the MSIS at UW. The iSchool has been instrumental to the development of Seattle’s information design and user experience community. A community which for the past 4 years has held, InfoCamp, an information event that this year had over 400 attendees and sold out 9 days before the conference. Seattle’s economy is based, in part, on companies that provide Information services, these ideas, businesses, and employees are created at the UW iSchool. As a Washingtonian, I am shocked and appaled that this program is on the chopping block. They wouldn’t threaten computer science, why cut information science?

    I’m probably sending that to my state legislators tomorrow.


  8. Point of clarification: what does “consolidation” mean? The are many universities that have combined colleges. The library system, for example, is often part of the College of Arts & Sciences, rather that its own academic unit. Accounting is sometimes part of Business. Etc. etc.

    At smaller universities, I can imagine a situation where consolidation would actually be a good thing. For two reason: (1) new, integrated courses that bring together students and faculty from other departments with outside perspectives (Comp sci, humanities, education, e.g.) and (2) access to new sources of funding, including added percentage of tuition, alumni channels, and restricted funds.

    Of course, cutting courses and reducing degree offerings is a frightening thing, but I think there are some benefits to consolidation, depending on how it works out.


    • Hi John,

      You raise good points. Thank you! The “consolidation” of the UW iSchool is a proposed action, and we have not heard any other details than that. Several of us (students) are meeting with people in the next week to get more information. I think that if this moves forward and becomes even more a reality, we will have to push to get our questions answered. Until then, I think it is important to keep people informed — we’re trying to do that through the Save the UW iSchool Facebook page.


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