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September 27, 2001

SIS dean search: There is no perfect candidate

If a consensus emerged from the open hearing held Sept. 21 by the search committee for a new dean of the School of Information Sciences, it was: No dean candidate is going to please everybody in a school as diverse as SIS.

Committee member Douglas Metzler, a professor in SIS's telecommunications program, said "there's probably no such thing as a perfect candidate" who excels in academic research and teaching as well as fundraising and management, with expertise in all three SIS disciplines: library science, information science and telecommunications.

"Provost [James] Maher has told us to look for someone who excels in two of the three [disciplines], with potential to grow in the third," Metzler said.

Pitt's administration has ruled out dangling a pot of money as a "sweetener" to lure candidates, committee members said.

"The provost has said not to recommend somebody who insists on new resources" as a condition for accepting the deanship, Metzler said. "Instead, we should look for someone who can get those resources through fundraising, or manage us within our existing funding level."

However, if a school can raise 7/8ths of the money for ambitious new projects on its own, the administration is likely to kick in the remaining 1/8th, said search committee chairperson Andrew Blair, who is vice provost for Faculty Affairs.

Committee members asked the audience for guidance regarding qualities they should look for in the new dean. Should he or she assume the deanship with a strong vision for the school, or be more of a facilitator of faculty-developed visions?

But audience members seemed more interested in hearing what the search committee had to say, and in defending turf.

Ellen Gay Detlefsen, of the Department of Library and Information Science, pointed out that the job ad for the deanship was worded in a way that will discourage librarians from applying. The ad says SIS was founded in 1962, when in fact it extends back a century to the old Carnegie Library school for librarians, Detlefsen said, adding that the words "library" and "librarian" appear only three times in the dean's job description.

The word "telecommunications" appears just twice, a telecommunications professor countered.

Michael Spring, of information science and telecommunications, praised outgoing Dean Toni Carbo but said SIS collectively has failed to communicate — to Pitt's administration as well as outside the University — the school's remarkable expertise in cutting-edge information science. "It's very easy for us to make 20-year commitments to physical infrastructure, for projects like the Petersen Center," Spring said. "And yet, in the digital world, we need to make 20-year commitments to our electronic infrastructure. I think we are in a position to advise and lead in achieving that goal."

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 34 Issue 3

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