The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Analysis: University Libraries are under siege

MGT+of+America+Consulting+released+a+report+on+Library+Redesign+for+A%26amp%3BM+on+May+2.
Photo by Cameron Johnson

MGT of America Consulting released a report on Library Redesign for A&M on May 2.

Editor’s Note: The names of sources who requested to be anonymous have been altered or removed to protect their identities.
A few weeks ago, university leadership threatened the autonomy of The Battalion. Student leadership faced an ultimatum — either lose resources including its office in the Memorial Student Center or join the proposed journalism department and risk relinquishing journalistic independence. While these demands have been rescinded for the time being, it should be noted there are more efforts to strip other institutions of their autonomy on campus.
President M. Katherine Banks’ response to the MGT report, “The Path Forward,” outlines major administrative changes to the library system which would reorient it into a “service unit.” As part of the process, the dean of libraries would be replaced with a “University Librarian” who would answer directly to the Office of the Provost. Additionally, the library will “no longer serve as a tenure home for faculty.” But, what exactly does that statement entail?
According to an informational PowerPoint — originally distributed via email to library faculty — obtained by The Battalion and authenticated by faculty, tenure-track faculty would have the option of either moving into another department within the university or reverting to staff positions within the library. Non-tenure track faculty will be completely stripped of their faculty titles.
Many staff and students have expressed concern these changes will endanger the library’s autonomy. The library, without any faculty or dean, would be without meaningful independence and be governed by the university administration.
“[Faculty] status provides us at least some kind of shield to resist censorship,” one anonymous faculty member, who will be referred to as “Dr. E,” said.
“[Faculty status] also affords [the library] a seat at things like Faculty Senate and Honor Council and all of those kinds of responsibilities that librarians contribute to,” another library faculty member, who will be referred to as “Dr. Y,” told The Battalion. “[Library faculty] value that contribution because it keeps us closely connected to the academic mission of the university.”
Under the incoming changes, the ability for faculty to contribute to the university’s future in meaningful ways may be lost.
While undeniably serious, if there is anything more egregious than dismantling the library’s autonomy, it is how its people are currently mistreated. Faculty have been mostly in the dark and communication has been scarce regarding these changes, which is made all the more troubling due to this proposal’s large scope and small timeline.
“Yes, [there is] a lack of communication and a lack of, frankly, forethought,” an anonymous source, who will be referred to as “Dr. O,” said. “These big sweeping changes are being presented, but no communication on how they’re gonna happen, how they look at the end or understanding of what the purpose is. And I think, like most people, you kind of need to know why change needs to happen to know what the change needs to look like.”
Rehiring these faculty members into other departments will likely not be a straightforward process. Because library positions are typically employed 11 months of the year, while most other faculty positions are nine months, these changes will probably come with a significant pay cut for those switching departments.
This option would likely coincide with a change in duties, and likely teaching roles, while alternatively taking a staff position will mean signing over tenure. It is unclear whether other departments have the desire or resources to accommodate faculty from the libraries, and many tenured faculty could be left with no place in Aggieland.
As a result, many faculty and staff feel marginalized, undervalued and nervous about the future. In fact, not a single faculty member was willing to speak to The Battalion without the protection of anonymity due to fear of retaliation. Change is underway, but those with the most to lose are the most afraid to speak out.
Make no mistake, the ramifications of these developments will extend far beyond faculty. In order to properly serve the student body, faculty must be able to function in a healthy and welcoming environment.
If Texas A&M develops a reputation of disregarding faculty and their contributions to our university, how are we supposed to recruit top talent in the future? Why would any accomplished scholar choose A&M if they know other institutions will value their service, knowledge and tenure?
They wouldn’t. In fact, many are already looking to leave.
These developments are much more than a staffing issue — the treatment of faculty is a matter of integrity, and one that inevitably affects all levels of the university.
Our institution does not exist to be the ideal, efficient machine a CEO may desire; rather it is a living, breathing bastion of knowledge and community. The MGT report and administrative actions do not reflect respect for faculty and the independence of our libraries.
We should not be giving deference to a consulting group, but the needs, betterment and sense of respect our Aggie family deserves. The atmosphere of fear suffocating faculty amid these changes is appalling, and conflicts with A&M’s commitment to foster an excellent educational environment and community.
If these values require we tolerate some degree of inefficiency or redundancy, then so be it.
In a Feb. 21 emergency Student Senate meeting pertaining to the recent controversies surrounding The Battalion, Fish Camp and Draggieland, Banks addressed concerns that student voices were not being considered in upcoming changes.
“We will focus on increasing communication and cooperation with students and look forward to taking the next steps with student leaders to achieve that goal,” Banks said to the Student Senate.
She, along with Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Ramirez, have reiterated their commitment to ensuring that the student body be consulted in the face of change.
So, President Banks: if you truly think students are the “heart of this university,” then it is time to transform your pledges into actions.
On that note, undergraduates, graduates, faculty and any others willing to lend their ear: it’s time to make some noise. Not just to preserve our library system, not just for the proper treatment our faculty deserve, but so we can ensure we hold our leadership accountable as well.
 

Caleb Elizondo is an engineering freshman and opinion writer for The Battalion. 

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