Administrative Transparency & LIS Education

Recently I’ve been dismayed with what I see as a lack of communication and transparency on the part of the administration at my library school:

“Dear GSLIS Students,

Starting next summer, GSLIS will change the on-campus residency requirements for students enrolled in the LEEP online option. Beginning with Cohort 20 (Summer 2015), distance students will no longer be required to visit campus after completing the initial seven-day residency, affectionately known as Boot Camp. By eliminating the previous requirement for students to come to campus each semester, GSLIS will ensure that our top-ranked master’s program remains accessible and affordable to students around the world for generations to come.”

CC BY 2.0 | Colin_K

Change is hard. It’s worse when you don’t know what is going on… (CC BY 2.0 | Colin_K)

And with that, the tradition of LEEP weekend was ended. Students in the Graduate School of Library & Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois received this email on October 7, 2014. I found out later that this move – to do away with the required on-campus weekend for LEEP (online-program) classes – had been in the works for some time. However, many students and faculty (adjuncts, mostly) were shocked to discover the news. Though the change will make the online program more financially accessible, the “hybrid” nature of our online program (which included a 2 week on-campus “boot camp” at the beginning and mid-semester on-campus days for every online class) will now be severely limited.

As someone who is graduating soon this will not have a huge affect on me since the LEEP weekend will not actually be discontinued until Fall 2015. And I can recognize and debate the pros and cons of its existence:

  • It is expensive for many students to drive/fly to central Illinois every semester.
  • It also often requires students to take off work, schedule extra childcare, etc.
  • Some on-campus days felt like wasted time – e.g. hours of presentations that could have just as easily occurred in our synchronous online classroom.
  • However, many on-campus days were invaluable hands-on learning experiences that could not be replicated online (e.g. touring a preservation lab, practicing in-person reference interaction techniques, etc.).
  • Our on-campus days are one of the defining features of our online program, and the reason that many students choose Illinois.
  • Meeting your professors face-to-face is invaluable for networking and the type of relationship-building that results in asking for letters of recommendation.

However, my main frustration comes from this: despite the fact that as students we can effectively argue both sides of the issue and come to our own conclusions, we were not given that privilege. Students were not consulted in this decision, despite it affecting us greatly. I had similar feelings last year when another email was sent about the possibility of GSLIS merging with another college. In both cases, there seemed to be a lack of transparency and communication with students. My personal conversations with friends and colleagues illustrated a portrait of students feeling like these large administrative decisions are often made without our input, or even our awareness. And granted, we aren’t administrators or professors, but we are important – if we weren’t here, the school would cease to be.

I do not know what the solution is to this feeling of dismay over a lack of communication. It seems like an ever-present complaint from students at most higher education institutions. One solution I’ve heard from various administrators is that we should use our student representatives more often. These kind souls devote their time to committee meetings and supposedly give students a voice. But there are multiple problems with this: (1) many students don’t know who the students reps are, and (2) many others feel like contacting a student rep would not result in significant change. I’ve chatted with friends and colleagues who’ve been in these representative positions and many of them confirm that they had little power/say/influence over decisions.

And with that, I open up the floor to all of you: What do you think can be done to improve administrative transparency/accountability/communication? Do you think an improvement is even necessary, given the fast turnover of LIS programs? Is there any aspect of your program about which you wish student opinions/input were more highly valued? What is the best way to get student opinions and input?

7 replies

  1. Thanks for writing this Nicole! As a student in the LEEP program, that announcement definitely came as a shock. On the one hand, I was relieved I didn’t need to travel to and from Urbana so frequently; on the other, I know I will miss the benefits of on-campus days, such as critical networking time. You’re totally right – administration should have kept students involved in this decision.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the input, Brenna! It’s something I’ve discussed with a few on-campus students, but I feel like the voice of the LEEP students is unfortunately largely absent. 😦 I’ve heard whispers that there will still be optional/voluntary gatherings for online folks. I hope those actually happen…

      Like

  2. This is almost exactly what happened at CUA when the school of LIS was “downgraded” to a department within Arts and Sciences. There were (apparently) meetings and meetings and meetings, and then when the decision was all but made, they had a town hall with students and alumni. I don’t have any faith that the powers that be took any of our opinions into consideration.

    That said, the frustration felt by the students encouraged our department chair to actively solicit student input. I hope that someone in a position to listen hears your calls for input.

    Liked by 1 person

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