If I read the signs correctly, Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) is likely to join the Columbia University School of Library Service (SLS) as dead institutions,
From BSC I received a BA in English in 1961. From SLS I received my Masters in Library Service in 1966. It is possible that soon all schools that have granted me post-high school degrees will be defunct.
Columbia University announced in 1990 that a decision had been made to close the library school in 2 years, giving new students a chance to complete their degree. A review commission by the University cited a "lack of a research agenda, and a lack of a base of professional knowledge.” I’m; not sure I can disagree with that.
I recall a meeting in 1988 before I left Columbia with a couple of friends who were fairly high-ranking member s of the school staff. Already they were under warning. The University had strongly suggested that the school needed to form alliances with other schools at Columbia with cross-listing of courses, examples given being courses in the Business School on management of non-profits and (obviously) various courses in the School of Computer Sciences. They totally resisted the idea: that would pollute our commitment to pure library service! And besides, it’s just Pat Battin (university vice-president for library information and computer sciences) wanting to take over our space!
No doubt she did, but already it was apparent in her hiring staff that she valued subject expertise over a library degree. She would prefer Middle-Eastern bibliographer to have an advanced degree in that field instead of library science. Increasingly postings for positions had not required a library degree.
My friends were adamant, and I believe their purity of vision led directory to the final decision to close the school, which took place in 1993. I was not surprised. When Administration gives you a strong suggestion for the future, you are wise to take that seriously. Even I knew that.
BSC was formed in 1918 with the merger of the old Southern University in Greensboro, Alabama with Birmingham College. Over the years it had achieved national prominence in rankings of small liberal arts colleges. The staff was remarkable when I attended from 1957 to 1961. In the recent decade it has slipped a bit in those rankings, and I’m not sure why. Maybe those doing the rankings knew something I did not.
The endowment was damaged seriously by the 2008 financial mess, but there were other contributing factors, I believe. In 2006 a decision was made to expand the college’s football program, with improvements to playing field and sports facilities. At the time I thought this a terrible idea: Alabama has its Tide and its Tigers, and one more little bitty football team struck me as totally unnecessary. Too, there seem to have been major accounting problems. It has been reported, for instance, that funds earmarked for scholarships were included in the line for funds available for other purposes, thus disguising the severity of the problem. This had continued over several years, which seems at best bizarre.
Late last year BSC made an urgent request for some 40 million dollars from state and local governments to guarantee getting through the spring semester, using the hook of the economic impact and social value of the school to the area. As far as I can tell this was hoped to be a gift, not a loan, and the state has pretty much turned down the request using as reason a disinclination to fund private institutions with public funds.
Somehow BSC has found funding to cover staying open at least through the 2023fall semester.
I wonder: If I were a high school graduate in 2023 would I seriously consider a school with a future so uncertain? If I were a faculty member at that school, wouldn’t I be searching desperately for other employment? BSC has announced that it is hiring new faculty for the fall: Aren’t they going to get something other than the best qualified?
I hope the school finds a way to succeed. But hopeful for the long term? Not really. Even it present efforts succeed, I believe it will be a long time before the school can attain its former prestige.
Should it close, it will be the second important small liberal arts college in the state to do so in a decade. The first was Judson College, a Baptist-affiliated historically women’s college in Marion, Alabama. I believe that Judson produced a great crop of teachers and social service workers and nurses along with well-educated wives and mothers, not the types to make major financial contributions to their former school. I thought possible Birmingham-Southern, which produced a large crop of graduates who went on to professions in business, law, and medicine, might be in better shape. Now I fear that the hole dug is simply too deep.
Don’t forget this from the Book of Ecclesiastes. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”
Institutions are not exempt from that.