School of Informatics post-mortem

Update (6/16): The official word has come down. Communication will be going to Arts and Sciences, Library Studies will be housed in the Graduate School of Education. The informatics programs will continue, it seems, though where they will call home is still in the process of being discussed.

I’ve been at a couple of workshops lately, and I’m surprised at how quickly news travels. Last week, David Penniman, dean of the School of Informatics was promoted to teaching and research as regular tenured faculty, and an “Interim Dean” appointed. Speculation was rife that this was a prelude to dismantling the School, and the scuttlebutt is that this is–at least at this stage–the plan. Several people I’ve spoken with at other universities have mentioned that all it takes is me leaving and an entire college falls apart.

I was in another program that was scheduled for the chopping block, and the experience of that program, which is now often ranked among the top five communications programs in the US, demonstrates that the best laid plans of university administrators can sometime go awry. Nonetheless, the current president and provost were brought in largely to “clean house,” and as the newest college on campus, and (I believe) the smallest, it is hardly surprising that the School is caught in the sights of the administration.

More importantly, it is difficult to clearly articulate the successes of the School. I think that the Department of Communication improved in the time I was there, though–as I have noted in earlier posts–it took a direction that didn’t really mesh with my interests. One of the reasons that I came to Buffalo is that I was excited about the School of Informatics. I had seen what had happened at the iSchool at the University of Washington and at similar programs, and I always considered myself to be an informatics guy. So, when a Communication Department within a new School of Informatics sought me out and recruited me for the program, it sure felt like a perfect match.

Sure, there were some gaps in vision. I remember meeting with Gary Ozanich and explaining that I was excited about the Masters in Informatics program. I saw it as an opportunity to develop a professional program with a strong practical, creative component: a kind of MIT Media Lab, with a focus on social technologies. Not right away, of course, but that was the ultimate vision I had in mind. “No,” he said, “you’ve got it all wrong: the program is a cash cow.” The idea was that it would be a large-enrollment program with a set curriculum that would fund our Ph.D. program and keep everything afloat with tuition dollars. The provost at the time had placed a funding amount on the head of each new student we could bring in, and so emphasized large class size over anything else. Eager to please, we quickly grew our undergrad program in size and started up a Masters program on little more that a hope and a prayer.

The trick is, the program was never properly resourced. I was under the impression that it was something of a bootstrapping operation–we get things rolling and then hire a faculty to teach in the program. But that wasn’t the plan: the MI program never got a regular faculty, it had to borrow from the library school and from the communication department. As a one-year program, it didn’t do as much as we would have liked for the students, and there was always something of a disconnect between their expectations and our own. Perhaps worst of all, the capstone project (which was required by the state during the approval process) might have made perfect sense in a two-year program, but in a one-year program with little in the way of advising, it led to some really embarrassingly bad work.

I have a feeling that when I look back on my life in a few decades, the MI program will be one of my greatest personal failures, and Buffalo not the smartest move I could have made. As the Director for the last couple of years, I went from idealism, to merely wanting to shore things up and keep them running. Initially, I was to be taken off the tenure track for a couple of years to help administer the program, but was told by someone in the School that this wasn’t possible–once the paperwork was already filed. Luckily, thanks to this staff person’s willingness to step forward, I managed to move myself back to the tenure track, but it was a bit of a mess. Here I was alienated from the department in which I was appointed (Communication), spending way too much time teaching and trying to formalize a program that seemed to run largely on rumor and crisis. My own future at the university was tied closely to the success of the School, largely because I made the mistake of putting the School ahead of my own career from an early stage. We had a reputation in the Graduate School–well earned–of ineptitude when it came to managing the flow of students, and we didn’t have anything approaching a faculty culture within the program. Largely in spite of this, we have graduated some really excellent students. Particularly in the early years, we also graduated some people that had no business receiving a graduate diploma.

I gather that the faculty and staff of the School has made a united plea to the provost to keep them together as a School. Frankly, I think that would be great if, and only if, the university was willing to make a concerted effort to place social informatics at the core of its mission, and provide the necessary resources. That means faculty hires, physical facilities, and a new dean that is willing to make the School her mission. The university has not to done this so far, and instead arrived at a set of areas of focus that it thinks will make UB’s reputation. Good for the president; the university needed shaking up. Too bad that he, and the provost who is a computer science guy, missed the boat on social computing. There are some interesting people in this area at Buffalo, and they are not being well supported. If they are not going to fish, they need to cut bait. Dragging Informatics out while starved for resources won’t work.

Part of this was that the School failed as an entrepreneurial project. While I like Dr. Penniman personally, his management style was not one of leading from the front, breaking new ground, and battling things out in public. His style was evolutionary change, and I think he may have tried too hard to make friends rather than to make waves. The success of other schools has required a rain maker, as well as a visible leader with a clear vision. Penniman knew we wanted a vision, but thought that it had to come organically from within. I applaud his democratic approach, but particularly for a School that was struggling to survive (and I don’t think the idea of us struggling was well conveyed), we needed a general, not a general manager. Too much time was spent trying to bring everyone under the tent–it wouldn’t have hurt if a few people got wet, as long as we were making good speed.

The other thing that I think would have helped very early on is a set of quantifiable performance measures. Strangely, for a department that prides itself on quantitative approaches, my fellow faculty in communication did not seem interested in charting our own progress. I think so much could have been accomplished if we clearly indicated what our goals were and measured progress toward those goals. This wasn’t done, though, and as a result the progress of the School seemed always to be measured in negatives. Why weren’t we attracting more funding? Why weren’t we publishing more? Why weren’t we doing more of everything? At the same time, we were sprouting new programs, a legacy in many ways of a previous provost.

It is much easier to think about this when no longer part of the School. As I noted, I came to UB in the hope that the School of Informatics would be the thing that people thought about when they heard “University at Buffalo,” and that the Masters in Informatics program would be the jewel in that crown. When I look at it now, particularly from the perspective of the university administration, I see redundancy, inefficiency, and lack of focus. I only wish that we could have gotten our own house in order when the writing was on the wall. I am sorry for whatever turbulence this causes in the programs, but in the end, it may very well be the best thing for each of them. UB will have missed its chance for a strong informatics program, and may, two decades down the road when they realize that they missed the boat, end up trying again. But what is needed now is either a commitment to excellence in social informatics, or to remove it from the agenda. Half-measures do no one–students, faculty, staff, or administration–any good.

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  1. Posted 6/15/2006 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the enlightening postmortem. I’ll miss asking the informatics students to explain informatics to me. I hope the current group of info students are able to complete their degree programs without too much disruption.

  2. dianeg
    Posted 6/15/2006 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Yikes! Does this mean that I need a new graduate degree?

  3. Posted 6/15/2006 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, I shouldn’t be so alarmist.

    First, I probably know less about what is going on than you two do, since I am several hundred miles away and no longer officially associated with the university.

    Second, things happen very slowly in a university. Tenured professors have a guarantee of continued positions (generally), and the obligation to students who are in a degree program is taken very seriously. So even in the worst of cases, if degree programs are killed (and I would suspect that a far more likely scenario is that they would be moved to a new administrative home), I think you can be pretty confident that you will be able to finish your degree at UB.

  4. Posted 6/16/2006 at 7:30 am | Permalink


    I just heard the same rumor about the program here at University before reading your blog. I wish the administration would spend some time with students and see how they can explain.

    It sounds more politically than anything else. Why should poor students like me be affected by the school politics?

    Now I wish I had taken my summer class to get out as soon as possible.

    In any case, I got a lot out of the program and I would never regret for taking the program.

    May be you need to come back and shake things up….. (as dean ?) Don’t forget that some students stayed in the program because of the first impression in INF507

  5. Posted 6/16/2006 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    A dead on set of comments. Failed leadership and chaos is the reality.

    “When I look at it now, particularly from the perspective of the university administration, I see redundancy, inefficiency, and lack of focus.”

    It looks like that from below as well. I have felt this way for a long time, and I’m not the only one.
    The program does need a focus, a purpose and quite simply a reason for existing (a raison d’etre).

    “the program is a cash cow”

    I have to agree with that as well. The program is like a vending machine that sells hot air with the occasional whiff of cologne thrown in for good measure.

    As for graduating substandard students… That still happens.

  6. Posted 6/16/2006 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Fabio: I understand you are upset with the program. And as I said above, I think there are significant problems. But I have to disagree with your general characterization.

    The top students in the program *have* gotten a lot out of it. They have been our best recruiters. The least qualified students have gotten the least out of it. I think that’s largely a matter of how they approached the program. The program was initially designed to cater only to mid-career professionals, and students who have been away from the university a while tend to do better in graduate programs in general. In practice, we ended up promising the wrong things to applicants, and admitting students who were not ready for graduate study.

    Our biggest mistake was admitting too many students, and not being careful about quality. Had we cut our admissions in half, we would have ended up with a much better program. (Of course, we were worried that doing so would put us in a bad light vis-à-vis the administration.) No, this wasn’t the only problem–we still needed a regular dedicated faculty. But I think if these two things had been addressed, we would have a very strong program.

    As it stands, there are a lot of things in the MI program that need fixed, and I suspect relocating the program in GSE (since I can’t imagine it going over to Arts & Sciences) will really help give it an academic home. I don’t expect that they will make the entrance requirements higher, but I do suspect, knowing a bit about the current director, that a large number of students will be tossed out in the first semester if they fail to impress. I also expect that the Library program will take a more active role in the MI program, and that it will be integrated into their much less chaotic worldview.

  7. Posted 6/19/2006 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    This is sad news. I think the program has potential, but the issues are manifold. First, low standards for admission. I think this is what Alex was implying by his “cash cow” statement; fill the seats, generate some cash, and it’ll all come out in the wash, eventually. You know, once we have enough money to really make the program good.

    Second – qualified faculty. There are some brilliant minds teaching in the program, but they have no business teaching the subjects to which they were assigned. My measure of a good teacher is wheather or not I know more about the subject matter than they – this happened more than once and made the courses feel like an exercise in frustration.

    Third – lack of direction. What is the purpose of the degree? What can you do with it when you’re done? Design a website? Perhaps extending the program to two years and adding concentrations (information management, an “MBA-type” track, and a information architecture track immediately come to mind) would help students develop a focus on what they want to get out of it.

    I could go on – I had many personal frustrations in dealing with the lack of direction of the program’s curriculum, rampant plagarism and students who had no business being in the Informatics graduate program, or ANY graduate program for that matter – however, I think, to some degree, these issues can be found in any graduate school.

    Best of luck to you Alex, I enjoyed our conversations in the Capstone seminar – feel free to keep in touch if you’re so inclined.

  8. Andrew Kwiatkowski
    Posted 6/19/2006 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Hi Alex,
    I agree with you that it was a matter of how the program was approached that resulted in good/bad students. I felt that while some classes were really lacking in focus/workload, others challenged and enlightened students. I got a lot out of this program and still do. I dig through my Information Systems text book at least three times a week at my job. However, I felt it took too long for me to realize what the program could do. Whatever form the program takes, I hope the goals and focus are in place for students to understand what is expected of them and what they can expect to get out of it (strong background in social informatics).

  9. DianeW
    Posted 6/19/2006 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Alex, How sad it is. I like to think of the MI program in terms of what I learned from you, Drs. Ozanich & Goldhaber, etc. I felt in my first class with Gary Ozanich that I was a part of something special and rewarding – Informatics had a business flavor. I will never regret the decision to get an MI since it afforded me the ability to focus on research opportunities I never would have had without the Program. At times, courses were frustrating because it seemed the spread of student’s expectations and ambitions widely varied. I felt the instructor’s pain at trying to find balance within this spread while teaching an Informatics elective: Some students were set on a business-path or health informatics, others interested in fields like game-theory or web design. All seemed valuable and exciting and I think in hindsight the School of Informatics could have done more to publicize this potpourri and find strength from it. Alex, you single-handedly helped most students through this program and your efforts are rewarded by the many that found jobs relating to what they learned. I just feel so horrible for the students that now have to “wonder” about the longevity of the Program or waht their masters will mean in the future. I sincerely hope Informatics does not disappear from the UB radar.

  10. Posted 6/19/2006 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Halavais,

    I may never understand how indifference can be seen as talent, but I would like to comment on your response:

    “The least qualified students have gotten the least out of it.”

    So I’m unqualified?

    “In practice, we ended up promising the wrong things to applicants”

    Yes, like a graduate level program.

    With all due respect, the condescending and patronizing attitudes and teaching methods of some of the faculty has made the MI look like an undergraduate program to me. I disliked the idea of core courses designed to meet the needs of the least able and the hurdle placed in the way of taking challenging electives such as some of those in the School of Management.

    In sum, I dislike students being blamed for failing to make the program a success for the school. If able students dislike important aspects of the program, shouldn’t the school make changes? Asking a student to embrace boredom is like asking a lactose intolerant person to compete in a milk drinking competition.

  11. Joe P.
    Posted 6/19/2006 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    While it’s true that change in academia is glacial, when there is change it is like an ice floe crashing into the water.
    When I was at SUNY System a few weeks ago the former provost announced that she was heading west. I would’ve welcomed a conversation with you on the genesis of the School–I guess it’s true that some things are better off not being discussed.
    Strange that I have to read your blog to keep up on what is going on at UB.

  12. Posted 6/19/2006 at 8:32 pm | Permalink


    It looks like this entry is attracting a lot of your former students.
    Doesn’t this make you wonder what impact you made on MI program?

    Some of us are wondering if you knew what was coming down… and then …

  13. Posted 6/20/2006 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    The funniest thing about all this is that we’re in the business of communication, yet we don’t practice it. Students are literally last to know, even though we’re the most important clients in this so-called business of education.

  14. Posted 6/20/2006 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Quit complaining. Quit blaming the curriculum, faculty, administration, course content and other students. Suck it up. Do the work. If it’s “boring” to you, challenge yourself. I knew a lot about web design coming in to the program, so yes, some of the classes weren’t as exciting as I’d have liked. So I went out on a limb, I worked with technologies and development methods I’d not explored before, and it made the experience fulfilling. Maybe some folks should stop telling everyone how brilliant they are and show us, instead.

  15. Andrew Kwiatkowski
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    If you felt so intolerant of the program, why did you stick with it for so long? For me, for every bad experience I had with a class, there were two rewarding experiences. Shit or get off the pot.

  16. Brian
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I agree wholeheartedly with Dan’s comment. The MI program, perhaps more than other grad programs, was what you made it. Even in the classes that didn’t exactly knock my socks off, we were given some freedom to explore new territory. This is especially true with the Capstone. The definition of Informatics is so broad, that we were free to take the project into whatever realm of Informatics we wanted to. That was both fun and challenging. Sure, the program wasn’t perfect. But, if you feel that you received nothing from this program, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

  17. Posted 6/20/2006 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Just a quick response to Kevin:

    We have always had a problem with communication in the MI. It always came up in the feedback sessions. Heck, most of the people commenting above went through the program without as much as a student handbook. Improving communication was my top priority, but it kind of fell apart in my last year there. Part of the issue was that there wasn’t clearly anyone who would continue a regular communication path (e.g., monthly newsletter) during the year.

    Kevin, who is in the Ph.D. program, knows that communication is *always* an issue in grad programs (pick up a book on graduate studies, and that confusion as to what you are supposed to be doing is endemic to all graduate programs), but it was particularly acute in the MI.

    That said, I totally understand why you are not getting an official word right now. I feel OK about posting because I’m no longer there, but it is a volatile and up-in-the-air situation. I still think it would be worthwhile to send something out to students saying “it is a volatile and up-in-the-air situation,” but I am sure that many would feel like this would cause more problems rather than less. They are waiting for some degree of clarity before committing themselves to a path to the students. They don’t want to say something now, only to have the rug pulled out from under them and have to say something different in a few weeks.

    I think it’s part of crisis communication to say something even when it’s not clear what the outcome will be. Even if it is something as simple as “The faculty, staff, and administration are currently meeting to plot out a future for the Informatics programs. We hope to arrive at a plan in the next few weeks.” But I also sympathize with the faculty and administrators who are at this moment trying to figure out where they themselves stand.

  18. Posted 6/20/2006 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Oh, and Epa, if those ellipses are to suggest I was jumping a sinking ship… generally, no. I don’t think anyone in SOI could have reliably predicted this was going to happen.

    There were a lot of factors that led to my leaving Buffalo: my spouse’s career high among them. But as I allude to above, had the SOI succeeded in the ways I hoped–and more to the point, had I succeeded in the SOI to the same degree–I probably would not have moved. You saw me at my worst in that last year–still hopeful, but pretty disillusioned with the School and the program.

    In COM, faculty that had provided a diversity of ideas and approaches had dwindled over the time I had been there, and the core worldviews reinforced. I got a hard time for harping on the fact that we hired two of our own graduates into COM, and had another visiting, something that–regardless of the considerable strengths of those faculty members–made us narrower in experience. I didn’t have so much of a problem with that, except that during the same period, we lost some of our “squarest pegs” (Ozanich, Jacobson, Goldhaber).

    So, if I don’t read too much into those ellipses, and the question is if I jumped from a sinking ship, the answer is “no.” I did, however, jump from a ship that was making way for destinations that didn’t interest me, or look to be especially profitable. And there ends a very tortured metaphor.

  19. Greg
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    “the condescending and patronizing attitudes and teaching methods of some of the faculty has made the MI look like an undergraduate program to me.”

    I believe a prerequisite of having an opinion, is knowing what you are talking about. How do you know what the program looks like, you only came to the last half of class everyday. It is a slap in the face to the rest of us who are working our asses off to be lectured by some one who complains about everything based upon a pretentious and delusional intellectual vanity.

  20. dianeg
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Wow, I missed a lot of good dialogue here. I have to admit, when first entering the program I was doubtful, however, I’ve been actively job searching and been to conferences in which many employers were seeking just exactly what the program was teaching. My cohort consisted of very good students with the exception of a couple which eventually dropped out. Its upsetting that the program might come to a halt because I think it was definitely on the right track. Its just a shame that sub standard students like Fabio are the ones doing all the talking. Many of the good students have gained a lot from the program and Buffalo could have been on the cutting edge of defining a new field. Part of the problem could also be from the part of both departments which seemed to half-heartedly want to participate in the School of Informatics. I think the strategy to “bring everyone under the tent” was used to not alienate the faculty from the two departments. To get the faculty involved in the Informatics program must have been difficult but a necessary step. That being said, it was clear from the COM professor (not Alex Halavais)I had that he didn’t care about Informatics nor us as a group. When you have this type of dynamic, it seems impossible that a School could hold it together for too long. The fact still remains that the SOI was still young and still had room to bloom and flourish.

  21. Posted 6/20/2006 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Wouldn’t be a great idea to have someone from the admin post on this entry?

  22. Posted 6/20/2006 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Wow, look at all the love here. Aren’t my fellow students a mature bunch.

    Dan: The Informatics program has no means to reward you for “challenging yourself”. I also did not sign up to challenge myself. I signed up to be challenged by the faculty, and that did not happen often enough. My bed challenges me well enough if I want to sleep.

    “Maybe some folks should stop telling everyone how brilliant they are and show us, instead.”

    Give me a job and I’ll show you.

    Andrew: I was, believe it or not, trying to blame myself before blaming the school. By the time I realized that the core classes weren’t “my bag” I had already spent too much money to leave. Wonderfully mature analogy, by the way.

    Greg: Who’s being condescending now? Please remove your head from your rectum before addressing me personally. I do know what the program is like and only resorted to renegade tactics when I felt ignored. If a class puts me to sleep week after week I don’t see the need to honor the blind with a 100% attendance. Ultimately I’m also more interested in what professors think and not others who suffer from delusions.

    “Its just a shame that sub standard students like Fabio are the ones doing all the talking.”

    And the hipocrisy continues. Diane, I would appreciate it if you too could refrain from baseless attacks. Also, if you consider the standard to be being a goody two shoes and a teacher’s pet, then yes, I’m proud to not be that and that has nothing to do with immaturity.

    Also, I never said I got nothing out of the MI. I will always be grateful for getting useful advice on quite a few subjects, but I maintain that I could have gotten all of that in one semester and not three.

  23. Andrew Kwiatkowski
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    You speak of maturity Fabio and yet how mature is it to show up completely unprepared for a capstone defense and then blame the program for your own failures? It would be difficult to give you a job so you can show us how brilliant you are when we see the type of results that you produce. Again, you can blame boredom all you want but in the end you failed to rise to the challenges set by even the “core courses designed to meet the needs of the least able.” Just to be clear to everyone, I am not saying that I am brilliant or perfect; far from it. However, I know my limitations, I know my weaknesses, and I know when I am wrong. This is not one of those times.

  24. Posted 6/20/2006 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    “It would be difficult to give you a job so you can show us how brilliant you are when we see the type of results that you produce.”

    You may want to consult with some of my former employers. I can almost guarantee that they will disagree. They will confirm that my professional work indeed conforms to a high standard.

    As for the Capstone, I can only repeat my opinion that work of a standard equal to mine was termed as above standard by some of your idols.

  25. dianeg
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    It was a pleasure to watch you commit academic suicide at your capstone defense. Your insulting presentation consisted of screenshots and a long list of explanations of why your project was a failure.

    The fact that you continue to blame the Informatics program, faculty, and peers clearly demonstrates your own refusal to take responsibility for your actions and lackluster performance as a student.

    Hurl your ridiculous insults to us as you wish, but we will continue to be successful in the realm of academia and you will most likely end up working for one of us some day. But, not for long, because we are familiar with the kind of “work” you do.

    Always a pleasure,
    Diane G.

  26. Posted 6/20/2006 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Fabio, because other people did crap work you thought you would too? I call BS. People do crap work in every school and every job, because that’s all they are capable of. You already showed us what you are capable of. One of the biggest problems with the program is that it is too forgiving to mediocre work like yours. If you were trying to prove that they let crap through, you chose an interesting way to test it. And what did we learn from that test? Some folks just can’t cut it.

  27. Posted 6/20/2006 at 5:56 pm | Permalink


    I generally only censor comments on my blog if they are obviously spammy or obviously off-topic. I would, however, prefer that commenters stay away from ad hominem attacks. There are people who hate the program, and people who love it, and lots of people (myself included) that both love and hate it, but there is no need for that to devolve into name-calling.

  28. Posted 6/20/2006 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Tim and Diane,

    Despite your scientifically invalid opinions of me, I am actually capable and I have proof that professionals agree with me on this.

    And no, I probably will never work for you, I’ll compete against you and win.

  29. Brenda
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Wow, Alex. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you feel the need to moderate a thread on your blog… Despite some of the opinions expressed above, there have indeed been a number of successes in the MI program. I work with one individual who, thanks in part to her experience in the program AND her own initiative, is now writing books in her field of spcialization (and getting paid for it.) It is unfortunate that there are MI whiners along with the winners.

    While the demise of the SOI is not surprising, it is disappointing in that there was obviously no willingness by UB administrators to even put for an effort to improve the program. It’s only beem 5 years–give it a chance for crissakes!
    I suspect that in 5-10 years, UB will once again find itself behind the ball in an area where it might have done great things.

    By the way, were there any familiar names among UW administrators back when its COM department was nearing the chopping block?

    Just curious…

  30. Posted 6/20/2006 at 9:44 pm | Permalink


    Hmm. Funny you should ask…

    December 29, 1994, Thursday , FINAL


    BYLINE: Robert L. Jamieson Jr. P-I Reporter

    BODY: In naming a new head yesterday for its massive College of Arts and Sciences, the University of Washington didn’t look far.

    It chose John Simpson, a UW psychology professor and a researcher by training, who as acting dean of Arts and Sciences has guided the UW’s largest college through an era of severe budget cuts.

    He has also marshaled key support from associate deans and department chairs since being appointed to acting dean in March.

    “John has already demonstrated his capacity to make hard decisions and to think creatively about the future of this core element of the university,” UW President William Gerberding said in a statement.

    Simpson’s appointment will go before the Board of Regents next month for formal consideration.

    Gerberding called Simpson a leader in the face of criticism springing from his controversial plan to eliminate six departments from the College of Arts and Sciences.

    Those academic areas are fiber optics, systemic musicology, Slavic languages and literature, speech communication, applied mathematics and the School of Communications. University committees were formed last week to begin final reviews and issue recommendations on the fate of those programs.


    I suppose I should watch my back. If Simpson comes to any of my future schools I’ll know I need to duck!

  31. Greg
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    While I would love to continue this “discussion” as I am having a great time with it I will respect Alex’s wishes. Although shooting fish in a barrel is quite entertaining, I suppose time will illustrate where unwarranted narcissism will get you versus competence and even a bit of a work ethic.

  32. Dan
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    First, to all Fabio-bashers: understand this about a troll – feed him and he’ll just come back for more. Keep in mind that Google has a long memory, Fabio has a unique name, and potential employers do their homework.

    On to more productive discussion – can we, as students and alumni, save the program, or better yet, mold it in to the thing we know it can be?

    I (very quickly) put up a messageboard where we can discuss this all at length. Go to and register. I’ll be moderating these boards like a rabid ninja, Alex was right – the personal attacks are wrong in a hundred different ways, and I apologize for feeding the troll and getting the ball rolling in the wrong direction.

  33. Posted 6/20/2006 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    In partial response to Dan (and because it was in an open Lexis-Nexis window), here was the outcome of Simpson’s last cut:

    April 6, 1995, Thursday, Final Edition





    The proposed cuts endured a lengthy committee-review process, as prescribed by the UW’s code. The committees not only found that six of the units should be saved, but gave them rave reviews. Those units were the School of Communications, the departments of speech communication, applied math, Slavic languages and literature, the fiber-arts program and the Institute for Environmental Studies.

    The decisions to cut programs in radiological sciences and systematic musicology were upheld.

    The committee reports said the School of Communications is considered by many “to be among the best of its kind in the nation.” The applied-mathematics department is “stellar.” The Slavic languages department “is likely to emerge as one of the top five centers of Slavic studies in the United States.”

    Deans were to factor in these findings in making their final decisions. Several chairmen are optimistic their departments will survive.

    Of all the cuts proposed, the School of Communications was the largest and most controversial. Hundreds of students, alumni, community members and professionals around the country protested the plan to eliminate the school.

    Several department chairs, though quite pleased with their review committee’s work, are mystified and disenchanted with the administration’s handling of the cuts.

    “I’m disappointed with the larger process. It was not well-conceived,” said Tom Scheidel, chairman of the speech-communication department.

    “It’s been a grueling experience. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I don’t think the process is fair,” said Karl Kramer, chairman of Slavic languages and literature. “We never did hear from the higher-ups why we were put on the list.”


  34. Dan
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    So are we at the committee stage? Has it gone beyond that?

    If only I’d studied fiber-arts.

  35. Posted 6/20/2006 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Brenda & Alex H: Holy Cow! You don’t need complexity theory to recognize a pattern here…

    * * * * *
    conspiracy theory warning
    * * * * *
    While the School has had its fair share of problems, looks like whoever’s in charge (same top dog) might not have any preference for Communication or Informatics right from the start! :P

  36. Shanny
    Posted 6/20/2006 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi Alex,

    It’s sad to hear this news and yes, as a student still in the program I feel worry. But then again, worry alone won’t do any good. Sorry Dan, I have not come out with any idea yet on how to improve/fix the program (I actually visited the site you posted). I would like to take this chance to thank Alex for his hard work especially in keeping us informed (capstone information etc) when he was still in SOI and now too. It’s always nice and interesting to learn things from you (more views/perspectives) about news at UB rather than just some regular mass email announcements. I have to agree just as some of you have mentioned that how much you get out of the program is depended on how you view and approach them, which Alex has already emphasized it during my first semester’s INF 507 class. I’m glad you did because I stopped wondering about it and it helps me to go through the program easier (at least I think) compared to some peers who maybe at this point still wondering about it. Instead, I try to spend more time exploring things I still don’t know about and things I would like to master on. There’re always so much to learn and I feel the challenge to be/stay productive and keep up. Sometimes it is frustrating and sometimes it is exciting because it keeps me interested. Is that normal? I certainly hope so.

    I also want to agree on Alex’s comment for the program is lack of resources. I realized there are many incidents that I have hard time finding information/resources I need about the program. In a way, it trained me not to be spoon fed and it also pushes me to be more independent in finding out resources either by searching on the web or talking to instructors and classmates (I found out most MI information verbally). For instance, I just got an email about submitting capstone proposal for those graduating this fall and being curious about who are defending, I thought to do a quick search on google. Next thing I know, I’m in this blog :-) due to one of Alex’s entry about the defend this past April. I think I need to dig in my email inbox, I’m sure I saw something about it.

    Last but not least, I really hope this program will continue and improve for years to come despite all the obstacles that are mentioned here. This program certainly has its potential and I do see many job opportunities that match what I learned and will learn in this program. From what I read here and my experience as a student in this program, I felt the major problem is the lack of faculty and program administration/management. I started to see an increase in repeating instructors in multiple MI courses and a decrease in MI course offerings. This is just how I feel.

    I apologize for this lengthy post, just thought to say thanks to Alex and it ended up expressing my general thoughts about almost everything :-P.

  37. Posted 6/21/2006 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Buffalo News article: UB Dissolves School of informatics .

    Provost Satish K. Tripathi, the No. 2 official at UB, informed faculty members last week that the department of communication will return under the umbrella of the College of Arts and Sciences, while the department of library and information studies will become part of the Graduate School of Education by the end of the fall semester.

    Tripathi called it a realignment of academic programs. This arrangement makes more sense, and allows for more collaboration among departments, he said.

    The same academic degrees will be offered, including the degree programs in informatics, he said. About 50 graduate students currently are in the master’s program, while an undergraduate degree in informatics was set to be offered for the first time this fall.

  38. Brenda
    Posted 6/21/2006 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    “Tripathi called it a realignment of academic programs. This arrangement makes more sense, and allows for more collaboration among departments, he said.”

    Now isn’t that a typical line of bureacratic BS. How does splitting two departments formerly under one administrative umbrella into entities answering to DIFFERENT colleges, make it easier for the departments to collaborate?


  39. Posted 6/21/2006 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    He didn’t say with each other :).

  40. Posted 6/22/2006 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Some constructive and not-so-constructive discussion here! As a recent LIS grad I’d like to second the thoughts of Diane G in a comment above: “The fact still remains that the SOI was still young and still had room to bloom and flourish.”

    I think that sums it up well and though Diane and I may not have always agreed on everything (smile) we agree on this. The classes we shared allowed for scholarly discussion and discourse…. much like this thread if we should choose to use it thusly… I only wish I had explored some of the better INF classes while I had the chance.

    Diane: best of luck to you out there! You knock ’em dead. You have the skills, and can articulate your vision. Your skills and the content of your work are what count :)

    Alex: Thanks for giving some insight as to what the heck happened here. I’ll link back to this post, if it’s ok.

    jenn graham

  41. Dawn
    Posted 6/23/2006 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Well, I guess I better change my resume! I’ve been using “School of Informatics” since I graduated w/ my MLS a few years ago. Hope others know to do the same!

  42. Posted 6/23/2006 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Dawn: I guess that’s up to you, in some ways. It might be best just to say “MLS, University at Buffalo (SUNY).” “School of Informatics” will remain on my resume. After all, that’s what it was while I was there. I know I’ll need to explain that it doesn’t exist any more (and that it isn’t my fault!), but people put dead degrees, programs, schools, companies, and associaitons on their resumes all the time.

    Same deal for the MI folks. The school or department is less important on the resume, I think, than the university. There is nothing wrong with “MA in Informatics” or “Masters in Informatics, University at Buffalo.”

  43. Posted 6/23/2006 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Interesting article on the Front page of Buffalo Business First entitled ” Changes in Informatics program strain UB realtionships”

    Too bad I can’t find the link for the electronic version.

  44. Brenda
    Posted 6/26/2006 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Here is the link to the Business First of Buffalo article “Changes in informatics program strain UB relationships

    From the article:

    “Michael Sellitto, a UB adjunct professor for the last 20 years and chairman of the School of Informatics’ Founders Committee, said UB’s involvement in the community has long been weak. Any changes made in recent years through UB’s partnering with the likes of AT&T and other corporate partners in the School of Informatics, is jeopardized by the way the school was dissolved, he said.

    ‘For this action to have taken place unilaterally in the way that it has I think has really put a black eye on the university,’ said Sellitto, a senior director in business process services at Rich Products. ‘The names have changed, but the attitudes and behaviors and actions haven’t.’

    Sellitto says though the provost has been careful to describe the changes as just a reorganization, in reality he has delegitimized the programs by leaving students with no true support system. Without the full structure it had as a school, the program will not last long, he predicts.

    ‘Essentially, the program will die a fairly rapid death,’ he said.”

    I wonder if the consultants from AVCOR bothered to interview any of the businesses with a stake in the school…

  45. Posted 8/4/2006 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    As an outsider, I am obviously not aware of the many political battles that most likely went on over the past 5 years at UB. However, it would appear to me that the lack of an established true technical component in the school (e.g. computer science and/or info systems) at the very beginning had to cause some pretty serious political problems – no? I mean it could not have flown well with us CSC types when INF courses began to pop up and the inevitable confusion of the term “informatics” began to hit the local newspapers. Am I missing something? Here, we have brought together Comp Sci, Info Systems and Communication and although the battles were fought up front, at this point we feel we have a pretty solid vision and ability to deal with a broad definition of informatics.

    Was it the case that the lack of comp sci or info systems involvement led to claims of over-lapping missions, and redundancies? If this violates any personal sense of what should or should not be spoken of feel free to ignore my question but I am obviously interested in this general topic of informatics schools/colleges.



  46. Posted 9/28/2006 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Sad news indeed. I will always remember the good times i had when i attended the program, and the good friends i made.

    It might be true that the administration was in chaos but as a student it didn’t really affect me all that much.

    I enjoyed the classes i took (most of them), and i took alot out of the program. The program prepared me to handle a good related job as an Interaction Designer for Advertising Age’s 2005 Interactive Agency of The Year, R/GA in NYC.

  47. Posted 12/18/2007 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    The first day of ICM501 you mentioned that it was hard trying to explain what it is that we’re studying. In Quinnipiac, it’s now ‘Interactive Communications’, at Buffalo it was Informatics. Apparently the program ended with some mixed feelings among students, faculty, and administrators alike.

    It’s good to see that my confusion as to exactly what it is that I’m studying isn’t limited to just me. I think that the QU program is definitely worthwhile, and I got a lot out of the coding class, but I can’t help but wonder whether or not the Masters will mean anything in and of itself. Which is fine by me… I’m one of those “mid-professional grad students” who’s been away from school for a while, so I’ve got a fairly entrepreneurial “take” on this knowledge to begin with. I often wondered this past semester (first one in the MS) just what, exactly, some of the younger kids were taking away from -any- of the classes, not just Alex’s Intro course.

    I hope QU ends up being a better experiment in the evolution of this kind of program. I’m still waffling on the question of whether or not to continue past QU… I guess it just comes down to connecting with a subfield and figuring out how to stack the program to my own needs. Which seems about par for the course for a Master’s level program to begin with.

    Ah well. Here’s to hoping the errors of the past become the wisdom for the future. For all of us involved in this avant-garde academic field.

One Trackback

  1. […] Why was the School of Informatics dissolved? There are many ideas on this, but there’s no one better than the last director of the program to talk about the plight of the school. This brings us to Professor Alex Halavias who left UB months earlier. He recently provided a great post-mortem on the School of Informatics. To peak your interest, you should read it and see why he had this to say… […]

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