jorge schement, dean at rutgers What's in a Name?

An Interview with Rutgers' Dean Schement

Mary Beth Weber, Rutgers University

After decades of discussion that centered on the name of Rutgers’ School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (SCILS), SCILS faculty voted to change the school’s name to the School of Communication and Information. The vote was taken of February 4, 2009, and passed by a 3 to 1 margin. All full-time SCILS faculty who were available signed a letter of support submitted to Rutgers' Board of Governors (BOG). Furthermore, the BOG approved a resolution on April 2, 2009 to change the school’s name. The new name will become official on July 1, 2009.

There are 57 institutions, including 5 in Canada and 1 in Puerto Rico, that offer ALA accredited Master’s programs. A comparison of program names revealed that 16 of those institutions (not including Rutgers) have dropped the word “library” from the program name. SCILS consists of three academic departments: Communication, Journalism and Media Studies (JMS), and Library and Information Science (LIS).

Shortly after the name change was adopted and the resolution was accepted, Library Journal and other publications reported on it. I received numerous calls and emails from colleagues who asked how Rutgers alumni were reacting to the situation. I took advantage of the fact I work at Rutgers and have easy access to Dean Jorge Schement, who was very responsive and discussed the decision and next steps. Schement became dean of the school on July 1, 2008. His previous position was at Penn State, where he served as a distinguished professor of telecommunications in the College of Communications.

I met with Dean Schement at SCILS on April 23, 2009. Our conversation follows.

ANO: You taught at Rutgers prior to accepting the position of Dean of SCILS. What made you decide to return?

Schement: Rutgers faculty are the most intellectually stimulating faculty with whom I’ve worked. I have an intimate familiarity with big schools and am delighted to have been given the opportunity to return to Rutgers. The student body here is a window on America’s future. We can help them to make a difference in the American dream.

ANO: An article in the February 10, 2009 Targum [a student operated newspaper at Rutgers] noted that the name change has been proposed for the last twenty years, and you noted that the main reason for the change is “to be fair to all of the school’s programs.” What was the impetus for the change? Why did it take place now rather than within the preceding twenty years?

Schement: The ratio of student numbers in SCILS majors has changed over the years. JMS produces far more students, and we wanted to draw more attention to them. Donors (communications, journalism) change over time, and concerns emerged that the name should be changed to something more reflective of the school. The name change proposal has been controversial from the beginning. The LIS faculty were very positive about the name change, and unanimously signed a letter of support submitted to the Board of Governors. They stood behind the resolution and strongly supported it.

When I arrived at Rutgers, the SCILS faculty asked to make the name change. It was a case of new dean, new opportunity. Claire McInerney, Dan O'Connor, and Kay Cassell were instrumental in helping to make the name change a reality. [McInerney and O’Connor made presentations at the BOG meeting; Cassel met with library associations and assessed their concerns]. There were some dissenters from the department of Journalism and Media Studies who made a motion to include “Media Studies” in the school’s name.

ANO: Fifty-seven institutions (including five in Canada and one in Puerto Rico) offer an ALA accredited Master’s program in library and information studies. Sixteen of these institutions (not including Rutgers) have dropped the word “library” from the school or program name. Was this a consideration in the name change decision?

Schement: Rutgers is careful to align itself within our peer group of Association of American Universities (AAU) for bench marks. AAU schools are more focused on research and theory.

The goal of the name change is to draw attention to the school’s unique characteristics. We want to tell the story of our uniqueness and that we’re a professional school with three programs (journalism, library science, and communication). We also offer courses in advertising and public relations.

ANO: Rutgers is the only member of the Association of American Universities that has a library program connected to a journalism program. American Libraries quoted you as saying “Both librarianship and journalism are facing challenges and each of them can draw on the strength of the other.” Please elaborate on this.

Schement: Journalism has seen a decline on the production side and there has been the emergence of “consumption journalism,” in which journalists use their own resources, and collect their own information from reference sources. Journalists are exhibiting behavior that resembles that of reference librarians. A colleague of mine asked to meet with Nancy [Schement is married to Nancy Kranich, a former ALA President and Rutgers faculty member] to discuss how reference work is conducted.

On the library side, librarians are reaching out more to public venues to share information. This is very similar to the work of newspapers. A phenomenon is emerging in that libraries are becoming the primary place for information as newspapers recede.

ANO: Please respond to the argument made by those individuals who opposed the name change, citing insufficient public discussion.

Schement: There were decades of very public discussion regarding the name change. There are records of faculty discussions on this topic. There were also times in the past when the faculty were opposed to the name change.

ANO: You met with student leaders to discuss the name change. Please comment on that discussion and the outcome.

Schement: I met with about a dozen student leaders. I received a mixed reaction from them. Some were indifferent to the name changes, while others were reluctant to support it. I didn’t hold many large “town hall” type meetings since faculty had already reached consensus about the name change.

The substance of the program is what counts. We need to consider the next generation of faculty ranks since we're an aging faculty.

ANO: When will the name change become official? The website still has the old school name.

Schement: The BOG’s proclamation contains a sentence “Effective immediately” that the school didn’t add. The name change is already effective but won’t be changed on the website until July 1 to honor the graduating students. The name change will also be implemented in a low-cost way, and existing stationery, business cards, etc. will be used before they’re replaced.

ANO: I guess you won’t need any additional publicity!

For more information, see:

Calabro, Kaitlyn. “SCILS Dean, Faculty Call for School Name Change,” Daily Targum, February 10, 2009 Available at: http://www.dailytargum.com/news/scils-dean-faculty-call-for-school-name-change-1.1370361

Harbatkin, Erica. “Librarians at Rutgers Protest Vote to Drop ‘Library’ from Name of School,” Home News Tribune, April 2, 2009 Available at: http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20090402/NEWS/904020390/1003/RSS01

Oder, Norman. “NJ Library Association Opposes Rutgers’ Dropping ‘Library’ from Name,” Library Journal, February 18, 2009 Available at: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6638444.html?industryid=47104

Schement, Jorge Regina. “Why Rutgers Faculty Agreed to Drop the ‘Library’ Name,” Library Journal, March 23, 2009 Available at: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6645612.html?industryid=47104