UW News

August 24, 2017

A dean looks back: Harry Bruce reflects on UW ‘iSchool’ past, future

UW News

UW Information School Dean Harry Bruce

UW Information School Dean Harry BruceDennis Wise / UW Photo

Harry Bruce has been a professor with the University of Washington Information School since he was recruited in 1998 by former dean Mike Eisenberg. Bruce was named dean in 2005 and reappointed to the position in 2012. As he looks forward to stepping down from the deanship in September, he answered a few questions about his work and the “iSchool.”

As you end your tenure as dean of the UW Information School, of what achievements are you most proud?

I feel proud that I have played some role in leading and modeling values for a school that is welcoming to all and celebrates diversity — where all members of the community feel joy, belonging and deep satisfaction as they work and learn together.

There is a wonderful sense of shared purpose and commitment underpinning the growth, success and impact of the iSchool. Our faculty, staff, students and external supporters feel a strong bond with one another because they are certain about the importance of our work together and its capacity to produce positive change in the lives of people. I am extremely proud of what we have achieved together.

Prof. Anind Dey, of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, has been chosen as the next permanent iSchool dean. What strengths do you think he will bring to that challenging role?

I am very excited about the appointment of Professor Dey as the next dean of the UW iSchool. A number of my colleagues who are long-serving deans of iSchools around the world have commented to me that it is a testament to the quality of the UW iSchool that the deanship would attract a candidate with Professor Dey’s credentials.

He currently leads Carnegie Mellon’s Human Computer Interaction (HCI) Institute. HCI is one of several signatures of excellence in the UW iSchool. The UW is world-renowned in this field because we have faculty and student researchers from numerous schools, departments and colleges working together as the Design Use Build (DUB) group. The HCI world sat up and took notice when it was announced that Professor Dey was appointed dean of the UW iSchool, and would be joining the UW HCI team.

Professor Dey has experience in leading a multidisciplinary faculty and he will bring this background to his deanship of the iSchool. One of the iSchool’s core values is that we are a “School of One.” This relates in part to the shared sense of purpose and commitment that I spoke of earlier in this interview. Beyond that, it refers to the quality of the interactions occurring between iSchool researchers and instructors who confront scientific and professional problems from a broad range of different theoretical and methodological perspectives.

Our faculty are drawn to work more deeply on their research because they do so in partnership with their colleagues who challenge them to develop solutions from alternative ways of thinking and knowing. Professor Dey is well-equipped to lead such a community and to facilitate and support its capacity for important and high impact work.

The UW is seen as among the world leaders in the information school movement, which dates back to the exponential growth of information in the 1980s. You were among the leaders in this movement through a caucus of deans nationwide. What is the movement and what has its effect been on higher education?

The iSchool movement began in the United States when a number of schools that were offering degrees in the library and information sciences realized that their teaching and research programs had capacity to reach a broader audience of students and to prepare professionals for work beyond libraries.

The term “information professional” was being used to describe people who were working in settings that were emerging from the growing information, technology and knowledge economy. The need for research related to the increasing role that information was playing in the lives of people, communities and institutions was also apparent.

The original schools in the information school (iSchool) movement predicted an increasing need for schools that could respond to these research needs and to changes in society and the workplace. They began hiring additional faculty with relevant expertise and developing new academic and research programs. The UW was at the forefront of this phenomenon.

Indeed, the need for a school of this type was outlined by a UW Futures Committee in 1997 and what resulted (the UW iSchool) can be described as a great strategic success for our campus. We developed the brand iSchool here at the UW and the term “iSchool” is now used to describe schools and colleges like ours on campuses around the world.

From a small group of schools in the U.S. this movement now includes over 80 schools from all parts of the world. In all regions of the world, researchers in iSchools are focusing their attention on enhancing the lives of people, the productivity of companies, the innovation cycles of industries, the design of technologies, the policies that govern technology and information use, information services to communities, and much more. I am extremely grateful that I have been blessed to play a leadership role in this movement and that the UW iSchool has become a role model for other iSchools around the world.

A recent iSchool tweet showed you entertaining children at a summer reading camp. You look pretty comfortable with a guitar — what might you have done had you not become an academic?

I would have loved a career with music – performance, composition, or production. Music has been an avocation for me all my life. I am deeply moved by music and I am inspired by musicians. I love sharing music with my family and friends. I will continue pursuing my passion for music for the rest of my life.

  • Learn more about the UW Information School at its website.