Texas A&M Restructures Library Roles, Rescinds Librarian Tenure

Texas A&M University restructured its University Libraries’ administrative system, including rescinding tenure—and eliminating the tenure process—for librarians. As of the fall semester, library faculty will be required to either give up their tenured status to remain full-time library staff members, or transfer to another academic department to keep or continue to pursue tenure, and teach credit-bearing courses with between 10 and 70 percent service in the libraries.

external shot of TAMU library
"West Campus Library" by Patrick Creighton is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Texas A&M University (TAMU) restructured its University Libraries’ administrative system, including rescinding tenure—and eliminating the tenure process—for librarians. As of the fall semester, library faculty will be required to either give up their tenured status to remain full-time library staff members, or transfer to another academic department to keep or continue to pursue tenure, and teach credit-bearing courses with between 10 and 70 percent service in the libraries.

The plan is part of a set of recommendations issued by MGT Consulting, which was hired by the university in June 2021 to conduct a comprehensive review of several areas of the university.

Critics of the plan cite the impact it will have on library-led research as staff who remain take on the work of those who left for other departments and worry that the TAMU libraries will become less competitive as employers. Concerns also include potential threats to academic and intellectual freedom, which is safeguarded at least in part through the protections of tenure. The plan was pushed through quickly last spring after an announcement from University President M. Katherine Banks in December 2021, and sources LJ and other media outlets spoke with cited a lack of transparency about the decisions made by university administration. Several library faculty members have already begun the process of moving to other departments or plan to leave TAMU entirely.

TAMU engaged MGT Consulting last year to “conduct a high-level, comprehensive review of major functional areas,” according to the firm’s report. After interviews with campus leaders and surveys of surveys of faculty, staff, students, and former students over three months, the final report was issued in October 2021. The consultant team found the university’s operational structure decentralized and inefficient in its use of talent and resources, and offered a series of findings and recommendations encompassing every area of campus life, from the Provost’s office to facilities.

Because none of the questions included on the surveys concerned libraries, however, “we were unaware that the libraries was going to be a part of the MGT report,” said Interim Dean of University Libraries (University Librarian and Assistant Provost of University Libraries effective July 1) Julie Mosbo Ballestro. The report stated that the university’s faculty-librarians, many of whom teach information literacy through library consultations, could better serve the university’s needs by teaching those skills in dedicated courses.

After several weeks set aside for feedback, Banks issued The Path Forward, a document outlining recommendations based on MGT’s findings, in December. Although early rumors on campus circled around a plan to digitize the library’s holdings and convert the physical building into office space, that was not part of MGT’s recommendations, and Banks vetoed the firm’s recommendation that the libraries be merged into the new College of Arts and Sciences as the Department of Library Sciences.

More than 40 working groups were formed to help move Banks’s recommendations forward; Mosbo Ballestro serves on the University Libraries task force alongside other members of the libraries and stakeholders across campus. The focus of the group, she told LJ, has been structuring faculty moves to new departments, as well as refining what it means to remain in the library.

Of about 80 library faculty members—including those located at TAMU branch campuses in Galveston, TX, and Qatar—24 opted to move to keep their tenure; destinations include the English, agriculture, and global languages and cultures departments, as well as the schools of Visual and Performing Arts and Veterinary Medicine. Some will have no service time in the libraries; others will spend between 10 percent and 70 percent of their first transitionary year working in the libraries as well as in their chosen department, with future workloads to be decided.

“A lot of department heads understand that some of these faculty want to finish up projects that they have, so they’re going to allow them to, whether it’s for the [fall] semester or for fall and spring semester,” said Mosbo Ballestro—although this will mean incorporating new faculty members who may not yet be teaching or producing research in their discipline. “Some of them are going to be teaching courses that are still tied to library pedagogy, information literacy, and research methodology. And there are others who are going to be focusing a little bit on the disciplines within their new departments and changing their focus completely. It varies from department to department, individual to individual.”

More than 50 have chosen to stay within the libraries, including librarians who were previously pursuing tenure-track positions, so that they can continue the library work they care about—or because they feel their chances of finding a home in a new department are slim.

 

CHALLENGING TRANSITIONS

Wendi Kaspar, who has been with TAMU for more than 26 years—and was at the Policy Sciences and Economics Library for 10—is a tenured professor of library practice who chose to move to the International Affairs department of the Bush School of Government and Public Service. The decision, she told LJ, was twofold: “I wanted to continue to do research. I actually welcomed the idea of having a more formalized role to educate students, and still get to do information literacy and research methods with them—that’s the curriculum I’ll be developing. And I also recognized that, given the rhetoric around the libraries as a service unit, it was probably going to be extremely limiting to remain in the library in the foreseeable future.”

Not every faculty member who wanted to transition to a new department has had such an easy time of it, she added, noting that several tenured or tenure-track librarians she knows of have had to approach three or four different departments before securing a position. One librarian LJ heard of was unable to secure a position in another department, and has remained in the library as non-tenured staff despite having already earned a full professorship.

 

REMAINING AS STAFF

In addition to helping librarians manage the transition, Mosbo Ballestro has also been focusing on the administrative side of running a massive library system cut by a quarter of its employees at once. As of the 2021 academic year, with nearly 73,000 students spread out among TAMU’s main campus in College Station and three branch campuses, the university’s student body is the largest in the United States.

“We already need to pay very close attention to how we scope all of our services to try to reach everyone because we are such a large campus,” said Mosbo Ballestro. “We’ve lost some of our subject specialist expertise, so we’re going to have to look at the structure of our subject specialists, and some of the support that we give to our graduate students and our professional students.”

This summer she will also be looking at the libraries’ hiring practices. The university has stated that it will support the libraries to fill vacated positions, but Mosbo Ballestro wants to first consider whether the same positions need to be rehired, or if this is an opportunity to rethink the organizational structure. In addition, she said, “we’re going to be working with each of the librarians who have stayed in the libraries to figure out if there are other opportunities that they’re interested in that we may now have available. We’re trying to be as open as we can.”

She acknowledges that these changes will likely impact TAMU libraries’ image as a desirable employer. “I’m hoping that people recognize that Texas A&M is still a great place to work,” she said. “We appreciate risk taking. We appreciate new ideas. I think that we really need to promote ourselves, what we do, and the new opportunities that we have in the near future.”

 

MISSION AND MESSAGE

Promotion of the libraries’ mission will be critical on campus as well, to avoid what several sources LJ spoke with see as a disconnect between their work and administration’s perception of it. “Libraries can’t take their standing for granted,” Kaspar pointed out. “There has been a feeling of, ‘of course people love the library, of course it'll always be around.’ And to that end, we did not do a very good job of demonstrating how we specifically contribute to university priorities.”

One of Banks’s messages in The Path Forward document—that the libraries need to focus more on student services and support and less on research around information practices—is not as straightforward as it sounds. “Research informs the practice and practice informs the research,” Mosbo Ballestro noted. “Those are things that go hand in hand, whether you have faculty status or not. Research will always play a role in what we do.”

But those who remain in the library will need to balance research, and their existing duties, with the need to fill in for library faculty who have left. “I’ve already been asked to take on additional responsibilities for someone who is going into a department,” said a librarian who wished to remain anonymous. “I think that that will be more common, that people’s job descriptions will change to include other job duties of people who have left. And then they say, ‘Oh, you can still do research.’ Guess what—you don’t have time to do research because you’re also doing your job.”

 

LACK OF STRUCTURE, INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT

Understandably, morale has taken a hit. “Change is hard,” said Mosbo Ballestro. “And without a structure to really help people understand the change, it makes it even harder.”

Those remaining in the library will see their workloads increased. And despite plans to fill vacant roles, noted Kaspar, “there are a finite number of resources, and even if the library is able to hire, they're not going to be able to get the kind of expertise and manpower they need by the fall semester.”

Concerns about a lack of support for intellectual freedom, particularly at a time when librarians may find themselves under fire, are also top of mind. Mosbo Ballestro has requested that TAMU provide academic freedom status—typically given only to faculty—to library staff. This will help protect the collection development process, among other issues.

“Faculty status and tenure historically have allowed the exploration of topics that may be somewhat controversial or question the status quo,” noted Kaspar. “I feel that that’s something that faculty, in terms of seeking new knowledge, have a responsibility to do, whether they’re librarians or in a classroom.”

Several sources LJ spoke with have been critical of the lack of transparency from TAMU leadership. “The President made the decision about organizational structure and not having faculty in the library without making it very clear what the purpose was,” said a librarian who asked to remain anonymous, noting that, rather than make structural decisions based on strategic planning, the reorganization came first, and the purpose behind it hasn’t been well articulated.

One librarian, who also requested anonymity, felt that “through all these proposed changes by the university president, I never felt like the [library] was willing to fight for us.”

As for filling those empty positions, she noted, “If there’s not that draw of a tenure track job, if there’s not the draw of the place and the support of the library, we’re going to have a really hard time with retention.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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