The Closing of the Library School at Brigham Young University

By Marchant, Maurice P. | American Libraries, January 1992 | Go to article overview

The Closing of the Library School at Brigham Young University


Marchant, Maurice P., American Libraries


In May 1991, the faculty of the Brigham Young University School of Library and Information Sciences (SLIS) received word that the school would be phased out within two years. The school's closing contains some elements common to other closures, and some observations about our experience may be useful to extant library schools.

At the beginning of the 1990-91 school year, SLIS was informed that an ad hoc faculty committee would study whether the library school should be retained, strengthened, or closed. The anticipated retirements of four of the seven SLIS faculty in the next few years were the excuse for the review.

BYU is owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church. The church funds about 70% of the university's educational budget. General church officers, who determine the expenditure of church funds, make up the university's board of trustees.

Rapid growth of the church has resulted in more student applicants than the university can accept. The board set an enrollment limit of 27,000 full-time-equivalent students and capped employment of full-time faculty and staff. They have also chosen to emphasize undergraduate education, are opposed to any substantial increase in tuition, and have directed that departments and colleges will receive no additional funds.

These decisions reduced the options open to a new president assigned to implement board policies. Closing programs (especially graduate programs) considered to be weak or not central to BYU's mission became a primary available strategy. Closing SLIS would allow the transfer to other programs of seven faculty and two staff positions, 150 student slots, and about $750,000.

An a priori decision

Before announcing the closure, however, the administration initiated a study to justify the change. The study was flawed in several ways:

* faulty research methodology was used;

* the review included inaccurate information;

* SLIS was denied such due process protections as the opportunity to represent its point of view during the study, to correct errors while the report was in draft form, and to appeal the decision;

* principles of good management and collegial governance enumerated in accreditation standards were violated.

The need for the ad hoc committee was questionable. The graduate council reviewed SLIS during the 1989-90 academic year, concluding that the school was performing well and should be retained. One year earlier, the ALA Committee on Accreditation (COA) had carried out a very positive study that continued the school's accreditation.

What additional information the ad hoc committee might gather was not explained. If reservations existed regarding the methodology used in earlier reviews, an experienced team could have been appointed and given detailed directions to assure the quality of the study. This didn't occur. I believe the study was undertaken to get faculty support for a closing that had already been decided.

The methodology used in the review resulted in several errors. The academic vice president and two of his associate vice presidents are competent social scientists; their failure to recognize the weaknesses and possible bias that were likely to result from them is hard to imagine. If objectivity in the review had been important to them, they had available the principles that accreditation associations apply, which are eminently appropriate.

The COA standards, for example, assure that all the major components of educational quality are addressed. They also provide the safeguards against bias that come with well-structured accreditation procedures:

* establishing standards that are well understood and have general disciplinary support;

* requiring a self-study that responds to those standards and provides documentation;

* sending an experienced visitation team to check the data and to interview relevant personnel;

* inviting program personnel to review the draft report for factual accuracy before the report goes forward for action;

* and providing opportunities for appeal. …

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