Former prof questions SLS's legitimacy

By Charles Ratliff

Arizona Daily Wildcat

A letter of resignation written in July raises allegations that the UA's School of Library Science distance learning program is not exactly what the director says it is.

Ellen Altman, self-described as "the last female tenured professor" in SLS, quit suddenly over the summer, stating in a letter dated July 20 and addressed to the school's director, C. D. Hurt, that she "will not return this fall."

Besides stating that she will no longer teach at the University of Arizona, her letter raised the allegation that Hurt has been dishonest about information concerning the distance learning program.

Distance learning programs involve designing courses for students who would otherwise not be able to take classes on campus because of distance. Some distance learning programs involve video and cable programming to transmit material and lectures to students in- or out-of-state.

Altman declined to comment about her resignation last week when contacted at her home in Tempe, saying, "My letter says all that needs to be said."

In the letter, Altman says, "My reason for leaving is that the SLS is turning into a diploma mill by selling video courses made by instructors no longer affiliated with the school."

Her letter also states that SLS was about on a "qualitative par" with the University of Phoenix and Nova when the school turned "the distance program into a 'virtual' correspondence school even at the doctoral level," and allowed doctoral students to take courses "from each other."

Altman also raises the concern that Hurt is claiming that 1,800 students apply annually to SLS's "virtual program" and counters that claim by saying that, in fact, 1,800 do not apply.

Hurt described the situation as "a personal and professional disagreement that has gotten way out of hand."

"I find it regrettable that Ellen seems to have deliberately timed her resignation to cause maximum disruption in the library school," he said.

Holly Smith, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, which SLS resides under, said that Altman does raise some concerns in her letter and Smith said she would be looking into them.

"The School of Library Science just underwent its academic accreditation and they found no problems," Smith said. "So going into it I don't think we'll find anything."

Hurt said he has not had a chance to discuss the situation with Smith and declined further comment until then.

Carol Bernstein, microbiology professor and president of the state conference of AAUP, said that it is very uncommon for tenured professors to leave suddenly because of reasons other than retiring or a better job offer. In this case, she said that Altman, who is highly respected among her peers, was very angry over the educational controls placed on her.

"Somebody made the Ph.D program at SLS into a distance learning program," Bernstein said. "That Ph.D program is not something that can be taught at a distance."

Bernstein said that in most Ph.D. programs at the UA, there is a certain amount of contact time that students need with professors in order to meet residency requirements.

Donald Dickinson, professor of library science said, "I taught one course in the program and I am a strong advocate of the distance learning program."

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