Summary of recommendations
After regular and extended deliberations that began on July 12 and ended on December 17, 1999, the Second Information Resources Task Force recommends the following actions to President Jamienne S. Studley:
- Retain the reporting relationship of the Director of Scribner Library to the Dean of the Faculty. The Task Force is persuaded that the Library is the traditional academic center for information for supporting teaching and learning on campus, and therefore it is vital for the Library to retain its position within academic affairs at Skidmore College.
- Retain the reporting relationship of the Director of the Center for Information Technology Services (CITS) to the Vice President for Business Affairs and Treasurer of the College. The Task Force concluded that this reporting relationship exhibits a history of effective management of campus information technology and therefore should be sustained.
- Assure exchange between the Director of CITS and president's staff, especially at those times when complex technical issues or specialized considerations of campus information technology reach the deliberations of the staff and influence strategic choices for the College.
- Increase the means that help faculty and staff gain the abilities that they need to apply information technology to the mission of the College. When people acquire these abilities, work within the existing College system to provide tangible recognition of their professional growth.
- Develop new means for building local support of information resources and technology; devise new means of cooperation between CITS staff and people devoted to local support of IT.
- Build upon existing collaboration between the staff of CITS and the staff of Scribner, and strengthen the working relationships between these two groups of people as they serve the students, faculty, and staff of Skidmore College.
- Convey the findings of the Task Force to the Information Resources Council by convening the two groups together early in the spring semester of '00.
Members of the Task Force
Paul J.Arciero, Assistant Professor, Exercise Science, member of CEPP
Philip L. Cifarelli, Director, Financial Services
Ruth S. Copans, Interim College Librarian (non-voting)
Robert P. DeSieno, Professor, Computer Science (chairman)
Leo D. Geoffrion, Acting Director, Center for Information Technology Services (non-voting)
Ann L. Henderson, Registrar and Director of Institutional Research
Mark E.Huibregtse, Professor, Mathematics, member of ACC
Mary C. Lynn, Professor, American Studies, member of IPC
Roy S. Meyers, Professor, Biology
Flip Phillips, Assistant Professor, Psychology
Cornel J.Reinhart, Director, University Without Walls
Kathleen A.Wiater, Assistant to the President (secretary to the Task Force)
In July 1999, President Studley and Dean of the Faculty Phyllis Roth assembled an Information Resources Task Force and presented it with a charge (see Appendix 'A'). The charge asked the Task Force members to assess the strengths and weaknesses of campus information resources in the context of how Skidmore delivers education and meets its institutional responsibilities. We were then asked to recommend a management structure that will assess the ongoing effectiveness of campus information resources, and assure that the College will use these resources as effectively as possible in support of its educational mission. On July 12, 1999, the Task Force met with President Studley, Dean Roth , and Karl Broekhuizen (VP for Business Affairs) to explore the charge, clarify related issues, and begin the business of interviewing members of campus information resource centers, studying related issues, and deliberating over our findings.
The task force met three times over the course of the summer, and assembled a large collection of material on the issues of information resources. We reviewed the means that other colleges used to manage integrated information resources on their campuses. We explored our own history, paying special attention to consultants' reports, earlier campus task force reports, and other important documents, as we prepared ourselves for weekly meetings during the fall term.
We developed our understanding of campus information resources by meeting with representatives from many of the offices which rely on information resources and technology at Skidmore, and with a representative selection of faculty and students. Initially, we listened to lengthy and informative presentations by Ruth Copans from the Library and by Leo Geoffrion from CITS. During the fall semester, we listened to presentations from the following people:
Karl Broekhuizen (VP for Business Affairs), Barbara Beck (Human Resources), Philip L. Cifarelli (Business Affairs), Ken Hapeman (Director of CITS), Ann Henderson (Registrar, Office of Institutional Research), Kent Jones (Enrollment & College Relations), Marny Krause, Kim Berry (Development & Alumni Affairs), Pat Oles, Barb Schallehn (Student Affairs), Mike Profita, Alison Doyle (Career Services), Phyllis Roth (Dean of the Faculty)
Students: Erik Benson (Sociology), Joe Shomphe (MA&CS), Abby Swormstedt (SGA, American Studies), Amanda Weyerbacher (Biology), Sarah Winslow (Sociology)
Faculty and staff: Michael Arnush (Classics), Phylise Banner (CITS), John Danison (CITS), Terry Diggory (English), Bill Fox (Sociology), Corey Freeman-Gallant (Biology), Bob Jones (Economics), Rob Linrothe (Art History), Michael Marx (English), Leslie Mechem (Classics), Mehmet Odekon (Economics), Greg Pfitzer (American Studies), Jennifer Taxman (Scribner), Joe Thornton (Scribner), Joanna Zangrando (American Studies).
At two points during our deliberation, we suspended our information gathering and responded to requests to allow searches to begin, first for the director of Library and then for the director of CITS. We endorsed those requests. In November, we deliberated over the meaning of the testimony we heard, and in a series of long meetings in December we reached our final conclusions and recommendations.
History of Skidmore College information resources
Skidmore's Scribner Library and the Center for Information Technology have very different origins; one might almost see them as developing in different centuries, if not millennia. In 1911, as part of the establishment of the Skidmore School of Arts, the trustees allocated the munificent sum of $1000 for the purchase of a "library," to fill the shelves in one room in Skidmore Hall. It was not until 1940, however, that the then eighteen-year old Skidmore College built a proper library, and that one was only the nucleus of the much larger building the architect had originally planned. Open only until 10 on weeknights (and hardly at all on weekends) the Library was a source of ongoing undergraduate complaint, to which the librarian invariably replied that since the students were noisy and took out only an average of 19 books a year per capita, they deserved nothing more.
In 1959, the College began to plan a fund-raising campaign to build a new science building and finally complete the Library. Erik Jonsson's dramatic gift of the Woodlawn estate, and the plan to build not just a library but a whole new campus there, overshadowed the first presence of electronic information technology on the campus. The business office acquired a bookkeeping machine and the admissions office bought an automatic typewriter, at about the same time several faculty, approached the trustees with a proposal that the college purchase an IBM 1620 computer. After some consideration, they were turned down, and our first computer came some years later, along with an arrangement to share time on a computer at the Rome Air Force Base.
The Scribner Library on the "new" campus at first seemed spacious, and librarians worked to expand its collection of books, periodicals, and slides; it was also a government document repository. In the early 1980s, the Library began to make use of electronic databases such as OCLC, and offered faculty, and some senior research students access to electronic searching. But most of the Library budget was spent on traditional print resources, and there was grave concern on campus that the Library budget, cut during the financial crises of the 70s, was far too small, and frozen too frequently.
Renting time on a far away computer allowed the College to schedule classes electronically and offer some limited courses in computer science; our own computer could be used for scholarly research and even electronic mail. In 1981, the College hired its first full-time director for what we then called the Computer Center, Ken Hapeman, followed by Leo Geoffrion, who directs academic computing, and Stan McGaughey, who directs administrative computing. We purchased two Digital Equipment Corporation VAX computers, and a number of desktop computers, and established two user rooms, one for Apple users and the other for those who used DOS machines. More classes began to use electronic resources, and more and more students came to campus having acquired some computer skills either at home or in school. By the fall of 1985, 1207 students had accounts on one of the College's two VAX computers.
Computer Center Director Ken Hapeman reported to David Marcell, Provost of the College. In 1988-89, David Porter, a new president, restructured the administration. The position of provost was eliminated and the Dean of the Faculty became the chief academic officer. Responsibilities of the provost were divided between the dean of the faculty and the president, but there was much concern about the heavy responsibilities each carried. Although the Library continued to report to the dean of the faculty, as did the other academic departments, the Computer Center began to report to the vice president for business affairs, which made some faculty concerned that what was at least partly an academic support operation was being governed by a non-academic administrator.
Two committees guided the expansion of computer resources on campus: the Academic Computing Committee, a faculty committee, and the College Computing Committee, in charge of administrative computing issues. Although the use of computers was growing rapidly, the important Commission on the 90s, which set the agenda for the Porter presidency, did not mention information technology or computer resources.
The years between 1989 and 1994 saw the most dramatic increase in computing resources at Skidmore. In 1993, the creation of the first Information Resources Task Force by acting president Phyllis Roth led to an ambitious plan to wire the campus and use electronic information resources throughout the curriculum. The dramatic growth of the internet during this period meant more demands for computers and for internet access. A computer cluster and a satellite office of the computer center were opened in the Library (complementing a smaller cluster of computers that had been deployed in Scribner since 1984). A survey of students in the spring of 1994 found that 2/3 of the respondents owned computers and 87% used computers either always or very often to complete course assignments. The faculty also, by the mid 90s was overwhelmingly computer-literate: all but two full time faculty routinely used e-mail and many used computers in their courses. By 1999-2000, there were 375 desktop computers in public clusters and in departmental teaching laboratories; all of our students had computer accounts; and the staff of the Center for Information Technologies numbered thirty people. In 1996, the College was listed as one of the 100 "most wired" campuses in America in part due to our having wired every residence hall room on campus.
Because it had been designed and planned before the information revolution, the Library was not properly wired to make full use of the new information technology. It was also nearly full. The fourth floor, constructed at a time of tight money, was not strong enough to bear the weight of stacks, and there was less available shelf space every year. Students complained that there were not enough places to study in the Library, a particular problem during midterm weeks and before final examinations. By the early 1990s, the library staff was arguing that the building needed to be substantially expanded.
In 1994-1995, the library reconstruction project closed Scribner Library for gutting and expansion. The entire collection was moved to a newly constructed auxiliary gym at the east end of the Sports Center, with closed stacks and only a small space for study and reference. Our students called this arrangement "the gymbrary." Veterans of that year, especially those who were heavy library users, referred to it as "the year from hell." But electronic information resources made that hell barely tolerable, and marked for many on campus a milestone in the integration of traditional and electronic information resources.
The Library had acquired its first CD-ROM reference in 1988. In 1991, the Library installed Lucy, an electronic card catalog, whose terminals sat atop the traditional index card catalog. For several years the two systems existed together, although the card catalog was no longer being updated. The card catalog was retired as part of the reconstruction of the Library, and faculty offices were wired into the campus network and into Lucy. A satellite library office was opened in Case Center, and faculty could order books from the stacks to be delivered there daily during the construction relocation.
Increasing numbers of electronic databases, for government documents and for specific subject areas, became available to faculty, and were eventually connected to the web, so that what had been done in the past by reference librarians could now be done by individual faculty and eventually by students. Lucy, the original electronic card catalog, was replaced in 1998 by Lucy 2, a web-based catalog which included links to a rich variety of on-line resources. As the web grew around the world, faculty faced challenges in finding ways to teach students to use this new resource effectively. These developments were of course not limited to Skidmore. Most other colleges experienced similar changes, though at different speeds. Some colleges responded to the increasing popularity and availability of information resources by working to more closely integrate libraries and computer centers. The Information Resources Council, established in 1995 by the first Information Resources Task Force, saw this need early on, establishing the Information Resources Managers group so that the key players in IT in both CITS and the Library would meet and work together on a regular basis. Most recently some colleges--for example, Bucknell, Mt. Holyoke, Wellesley, and Connecticut College--have merged their libraries and their computer centers, though at least one -Gettysburg- has discontinued such a merger.
In the spring of 1999, the College faced searches for a new librarian, a new director of CITS, and a new director of administrative computing. It occurred to college leaders that this was a golden opportunity to examine the relationship between CITS and the Library, consider structural changes between the two, and investigate the development of other administrative structures for all information resources at Skidmore, both print and electronic. Furthermore, it had been five years since the report of the first Information Resources Task Force, which seemed to IRC and others to be the right time for another wide-ranging look at information resources and information technology at Skidmore. Hence, the formation of the Information Resources Task Force II in the summer of 1999.
Major concerns that influenced our choice of recommendations
The Information Resources Task Force began deliberations in July of 1999 without preconceived notions about campus information resources and aware that it needed to educate itself on this complex and important aspect of Skidmore College. We knew that information technology summoned change to the campus, and we were concerned that accommodation of such change be tempered by sensitivity to the traditions and working styles of the College. Our faculty, our students, and our staff will use information technology increasingly, no matter what the recommendations of this Task Force are. In light of this consideration, we sought organizational structure for management of information resources, structure that would foster communications, planning, and action needed to assure reasonable balance between concerns for change and concerns for the traditions of work on our campus.
We moved toward that objective, and encountered a compelling issue: Scribner Library expressed strong reservations at the prospect of organizational change that would impose greater integration of the Library and CITS than that which exists voluntarily. Scribner faculty and staff believe that the Library serves the College well and endorses its own tradition of voluntary response to the responsibilities and tasks that accompany information technology within the Library. The Task Force heard this message clearly. We approached with caution consideration of new organizational structure for managing information resources that might impact the Library.
We worried about several groups of people who work with information technology, for example, the IT staff, who are lured away by lucrative opportunities and upon whom so much depends. We thought about staff, faculty, and administrators who are becoming "local experts" and yet are not being properly compensated/recognized/rewarded for their labors, even though they are increasingly essential to our operations.
We reflected frequently upon competition for resources at the College. The Task Force noted that our major information resource centers (CITS, Scribner) consume approximately 5% of the College operating budget and approximately 36% of the capital budget (inclusive of library collections; exclusive of new construction). These issues inhibited us from recommending management structure for information resources that intensified an already keen competition for College resources.
The Task Force leaned towards adopting a grass-roots model for fostering change rather than one that emphasized central planning. The members worried about imposition of information technology upon faculty and librarians, and upon their modes of teaching and working. We also considered new management structures for information resources, one that had a chief information officer (CIO) and one that had the Director of CITS serving on president's staff. We thought about how such structures might impose top-down directed change, might create dissatisfaction among other operations that are not represented directly on president's staff, or might diminish the influence of the chief academic officer at that table. Whatever means we select for strategic planning, one thing is clear: our planning must accommodate cooperation, and when necessary, thoughtful competition for resources so as to assure that campus information technology continues to serve the College mission effectively.
In its fact-finding operations, the Task Force observed diverse uses of information resources to serve the multiple facets of the College mission. We quickly realized that within our Library, classrooms, faculty offices, computing clusters, administrative offices, and residence halls, there existed extensive and growing demand for information technology and for effective support of its operations. How do we assure that this complex network serves people and the mission of the College to the best of its capacity? We will do so through sound strategic planning by campus leaders who are responsible for information resources, and through the initiative of people in academic and administrative departments who are eager to employ information resources to the best of their abilities. This shaping of information resources by way of top-down and grass-roots influences is consistent with tradition at the College for engaging and managing change of all kinds on our campus. The Task Force values this tradition highly and urges the College to extend its operations in the arena of information resources.
Faculty on the Task Force spoke passionately about sustaining balanced support of traditional and electronic information resources. They worried that the costs of digital information resources could, if not checked by sensitive leadership, erode our capacity to invest in books and journals, an outcome that would be particularly unfortunate for faculty in the humanities and in the sciences.
The Task Force expressed concern for the increasing demands upon faculty that the Oracle database project will engender. In particular, the new Student Information System (SIS) will envelop faculty in new web-based methods of advising students and preparing them to register for courses. How will the leadership of campus information resources help the faculty prepare to use information technology in support of work outside of their responsibilities for teaching?
Finally, the Task Force knew that searches for a new director of Scribner Library and of CITS were about to be launched. We were concerned that our work proceed, yet not interfere with timely release of announcements that would attract an excellent pool of candidates for each of these positions. We advised the Library and CITS to proceed with their searches before we completed our work, a choice that was viewed as unwise by an unpersuasive minority of the Task Force.
Major issues that frequented our discussions
During the course of the Task Force’s deliberations and meetings with various campus constituencies, numerous information resource related issues surfaced. While these issues were diverse, three major themes became apparent –technology’s ramifications on our people, financial resources, and culture.
The effect of information technology on our people is profound and complex. The advent of the World Wide Web combined with the College’s investment in new information systems and technologies (Oracle chief among them) are transforming peoples’ jobs in many different ways. This is true for administrators, faculty, and support staff alike.
Technology has necessitated the development of new, higher-level skill sets among our employees. An oft-repeated phrase is that "the bar has been raised." Many have embraced these challenges and have thrived, but some have been unable to adapt. The latter circumstance has been particularly apparent among our support staff. Is the College prepared to put the training in place to provide the requisite skills for its networked employees to meet the new challenges?
Technology has had a varied effect on workload. In many areas it has served to increase individuals’ workload because often the "new" is done in addition to the "old". For example, faculty who wish to develop and maintain course web sites frequently do so on their own because staff is not always available to assist them. Although it’s typically a labor of love, it ends up being a net addition to their workload. This is true for many administrative and academic support areas as well. Nowhere is this struggle more apparent than within the Library, where the staff is clearly betwixt two worlds – the traditional and the digital.
In some areas, workload has increased to the point where "staff burnout" was cited as a serious concern. For example, within CITS and departments that are in the process of implementing new systems, such intense long-term efforts have been undertaken with little, if any, off-loading of other responsibilities. Resources have not been available to back-fill for people who are responsible for bringing up new systems. A great deal of "sweat equity" has been invested in the new management systems.
Similarly, "local experts" have emerged in many academic and administrative departments, people who troubleshoot local issues and teach and mentor their colleagues on the use of information technology. This is particularly apparent among our faculty, some of whom have taken on the care and maintenance of computers in departmental labs and offices. In addition to these "local experts" there are "pioneers" among the faculty, who have assumed leadership for introducing technology into pedagogy. All this work places extraordinary demands upon the faculty and the staff. The College has become dependent upon these dedicated individuals; yet there are limited means within our human resource policies to recognize or compensate these people for their contributions. The College must continue to devise better means for assessing these newly acquired skills, for evaluating their importance in the work of staff and faculty, and for acknowledging the new work of the people in this community.
In areas that are more "process driven" (e.g. payroll), technology has led to noticeable efficiencies that have allowed for a reduction of staff. This, however, is a two edged sword. While on the one hand, such efficiencies free up precious resources that can be redirected to direct support of academic programs, they can negatively impact staff morale. Anxieties and fears of "downsizing" are very real consequences of our increased dependence on technology. As the College continues to implement more sophisticated systems, there will be more opportunities to reduce staff through the re-design of administrative processes. This will present the College with very difficult choices.
The Task Force heard that it is becoming more difficult to attract and retain strong staff, especially those with technical skills. This is particularly apparent among IT professionals, but is also becoming an issue in functional areas. The College’s move to mainstream technologies such as Oracle has increased the probability of losing employees to the marketplace. It has also served to increase significantly the personnel costs of those we wish to attract and retain.
The overall competition for financial resources and the share of those resources allocated to information technology was probably the issue that was raised most frequently throughout our discussions. Assessments spanned Goldilocks' continuum - from too much, to too little, to just right. Although not supported by the data (see the financial materials in the Appendix 'B'), there was a persistent perception, among some members of the Task Force and among some people who visited the Task Force deliberations, that more money was spent on supporting administrative information resources than on the academic information resources.
Making such a judgment is difficult to do; the increased capacity of information resources supports a broad range of work, and often it is difficult to say whether that work is administrative, academic, or a mixture of the two. One thing is clear: the College has increased operating and capital expenditures for information technology throughout the 1990’s, and spending in this arena has increased at a faster rate than in any other, except financial aid. And, despite the protests of those who believe we are investing too much in technology, it is clear that the demand for these resources continues to grow. Summed up, the need is continually being expressed from offices and departments across the College for more – more support and more equipment. The list is daunting, and the financial implications are serious.
To review some of the specifics, the Task Force heard concerns over the level of support provided to both the academic and administrative sides of the house. Many folks expressed the opinion that more technical staff are needed to provide support for users of IT both within CITS and within the departments. By necessity and with varying degrees of success, "local experts" and "pioneers" have emerged to fill the void in staff resources. While there was a general consensus that the grassroots initiatives and support provided by these people were essential for successful use of technology in the curriculum and in our administrative processes, there was an equally strong consensus that we need to provide more direct planned support for operations. There was not a clear consensus on whether this support should be provided centrally or through the addition of capable staff within the departments.
In terms of central resources, there was a clear consensus that "we do a lot with a little" in CITS. All of the CITS departments are stretched very thinly. Special mention was made of the demands placed on Media Services, which is evolving into a seven day a week operation. Numerous concerns were also raised about the adequacy of the Help Desk operation, which is largely dependent on student labor.
The fact that we are migrating to mainstream technologies is allowing us to put the appropriate technological infrastructure in place to meet the expectations of our various constituencies, especially our students. However, maintaining and enhancing those systems is very expensive, and retrenchment is not a viable option. By way of example, as many are aware, we were cited by Yahoo Internet Life magazine a few years ago as "one of the 25 most wired campuses in America" – a wonderful accolade largely due to our decision to wire our residence halls in 1993. However, that cable plant is rapidly becoming obsolete and in need of replacement. The cost will be at least several hundred thousand dollars, but in terms of replacement do we really have a choice? Can anyone imagine not providing Internet access to our students to support their education and to allow us to compete with other colleges for these students?
Perhaps one of the most critical issues that we will need to address is access to our network for off-campus students. Approximately, 450 (20%) of our students live off campus (mostly juniors and seniors). Currently their access to our on-line resources is limited to Telnet (character mode) sessions to fetch e-mail. As we move more of our administrative processes out to the web, and more importantly, as the level of academic content grows within our network, it will be essential for these students to gain access to these resources from off campus.
On a related issue, student representatives expressed concerns about the "digital divide," the growing disparity between those students who can afford computers and those who cannot. As computers become increasingly essential in higher education, what, if anything, is the College prepared to do to ensure that all of our students have access to these machines?
Like the financial theme, the cultural theme seemed to revolve around the question of balance, how much technology do we use and how rapidly do we deploy this technology to serve the College most effectively. Interestingly, and perhaps not unexpectedly, the concern for the impact of information technology seemed more prevalent on the academic side of the house. Administrative constituencies almost without exception did not question either the need or benefit of the use of technology in their areas. In fact, the opposite was the case. Many said that more sophisticated and highly integrated systems were needed to meet the needs of their constituents.
We are installing an increasingly integrated institution-wide information system (Oracle) that is an issue in and of itself. The Oracle financial and human resource modules have required departments to work much more closely together. Given the system's highly integrated nature, the boundaries where one department's work ends and another's begins are no longer as clear as they once were. To serve the College in such an environment, offices have had to look beyond parochial concerns and consider how their practices affect colleagues in other departments. Among those who have worked with this new system, there is consensus that this has been a very positive development. The experience reported to date has been very gratifying – staff have been very open to change and very respectful of the needs of their colleagues. And yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg. To date, this phenomenon has largely been limited to a handful of administrative and academic support areas of the College. As we implement the Oracle (SIS), not only will many more offices be affected, but faculty, too, will work in this new information-sharing environment. Web-based processes will support and facilitate student advising, student registration, the submission of grades, etc. The College will need to provide guidance and training for our faculty, assisting them to become facile and effective in their application of this system
The division of thought among our faculty on the use of technology was striking. Opinion in this area ranged from concerns that IT was being forced upon them to concerns that the College was not adequately integrating IT into the curriculum. For example, concerns were expressed that undue pressure was being put on untenured faculty to keep pace with technology, and that not doing so might negatively effect their chances for tenure. It was also recognized that integrating technology into pedagogy is a lot of work, and is especially difficult for junior faculty who experience pressure to publish. There were also sentiments expressed that faculty development projects with a technology component stood a much better chance of being funded.
It is clear that deeper philosophical issues are at play. Fears were expressed that traditional teaching would suffer as the College increasingly incorporates IT into its pedagogy. Some are concerned that IT is diminishing the "culture of the book". The nature of digital content was also cited as cause for concern. The World Wide Web is very seductive and deceptively easy, making it difficult for students to separate the "wheat from the chaff."
On the other hand, both students and faculty expressed concerns that the College needed to do more to integrate IT into the curriculum. Several stressed the need to impart basic, practical IT skills in a more comprehensive and coordinated manner. Expressed needs ranged from bibliographic training to basic desktop computer skills (use of word-processing, spreadsheets, etc.). Discussions with Student Affairs administrators made it clear that student behaviors (and by extension their expectations) are changing rapidly. For many, the Internet is becoming an integral part of their world. To underscore this point, Dean Oles cited two suicide attempts last year where students at another college notified him of impending tragedy. This was possible because these students were in chat rooms with our students and became aware of impending crises.
It is becoming clear that students expect the College to keep up with them in cyberspace. There is increasing pressure to move more of our administrative processes to the web, to create and maintain course web pages, to provide interactive digital forums, and to expand the quantity and quality of digital content in the Library. The expectations don’t stop with our students. Increasingly, external constituencies such as alumni, vendors, foundations, and governmental agencies are joining our cyber-community both via e-mail and the web. Because of these expectations, the stakes are high as we consider the proper balance between working with digital technology and using traditional means to achieve our objectives. Ultimately, how we strike this balance will influence our competitive position in the marketplace and shape the effectiveness of the environment in which our people work.
Fortunately, the Task Force was not charged with resolving this myriad of issues. Nevertheless, it was imperative that the members develop an understanding and appreciation for everyone’s perspective. These issues served as a constant backdrop and touchstone throughout our deliberations.
Recommendations more fully considered
Reporting relationship for the Library Director
The Task Force considered several reporting relationships for the Director. The issue was shaped, in part, by consideration of how formal the working connection between Scribner and CITS should be. We knew that Bucknell and Gettysburg, and Connecticut College among others merged library and information technology center operations, and that the results were mixed. Contrasting traditions and cultures often made it difficult to assure effective convergence of these campus operations. When we combined these observations with the apprehensions exhibited by Scribner for merging the Library and CITS, we concluded that fusing these operations under the leadership of a single person was unlikely to work well at Skidmore College. Persuaded that Scribner should continue in an autonomous operation, the Task Force concluded that the Library, acknowledged across the campus as the critical academic information resource center, should continue to reside in academic affairs, and its director go on reporting to the Dean of the Faculty.
Reporting relationship for the CITS Director
The Task Force explored the virtues and contradictions of dividing the reporting relationships for the Directors of CITS and of Scribner. On the one hand, we observed that this division had worked, that CITS in its reporting relationship to the VP for Business Affairs had been a successful agent of change and of support for faculty, students, and staff. On the other hand, we wondered if this arrangement would work as well in the future when the complexities of change in information technology will be far greater and more rapid than they have been in the past. We asked if the present reporting arrangement for the CITS Director will afford timely and sufficiently informed discussion among the leaders of the College and especially at president's staff. We considered recommending that the CITS Director serve on president's staff, but rejected that arrangement troubled by a role for the Director on staff that we could not adequately foresee, by revision of staff composition that invited political turmoil, and by apprehension that such an assignment would invite more aggressive commitment to investment in information technology than appeared prudent. In the end, we adopted a position of "If it isn't broken, don't fix it." and recommended we retain the present reporting relationship for the CITS Director.
We do urge that the Director serve president's staff more extensively than at present, that he or she be called upon more frequently to explain the local implications of technological change, and that the Director confer more frequently with the staff about the choices the College must make in response to that change. The marketplace (developers and vendors of information technology, our own students, and the use of technology by other liberal arts colleges) will continually revise the context of and the uses for information technology on campus. The Director of CITS, properly informed, concerned for the local implications of technological change, and in effective communications with all campus constituencies should be prepared to offer guidance to president's staff when that guidance must be driven by detail that the VP for Business Affairs cannot be expected to have mastered.
Staff professional development
We know that information technology requires our faculty and staff to develop new skills. How will we motivate people to gain those skills, to employ IT in support of the College mission, and how will we acknowledge their accomplishments in this arena? This is tricky business, fraught with the complexities that faculty personnel policy, absence of merit pay, local office policy, and union regulations impose. Still we must surmount these issues for the College will not be competitive in its many operations should its people fail to master the challenges that technology delivers. We need on-going conversation that leads to new policy and finally to actions that assure we are continuously qualified to capitalize upon the investments Skidmore is making in information technology.
Local support of information technology
Our conversations with the various offices (campus information resource centers, as thought of by the chairman of the Task Force) make clear that these offices cannot rely upon CITS for all the technical support that they will need to work effectively with information technology. To some degree, all of these offices need context-driven support, a detailed sense of how the work of the office meshes with the technology that supports the work. On the other hand, there are needs for system-wide support, the arrangements that connect these offices to the campus network or for programming expertise that solves problems more technical than those that can be handled by local support. We urge increased communications and collaboration between the local support of IT and the staff of CITS, and believe that such endeavor will serve these offices as well as the College in ways that are surely needed.
Increased collaboration between Scribner Library and CITS
In 1995, IRC created a subcommittee called the Information Resources Management (IRM) group and staffed that committee with the Director of CITS, the Director of User & Academic Computing Services, the Director of Administrative Computing Services, the CITS User Services Consultant, the Interim College Librarian, the Scribner Systems Librarian, the Public Services Librarian, and the Head of Technical Services in Scribner. Over the years, this group has developed valuable communications between Scribner and CITS, shared perspectives on issues and policy of concern to both organizations, and developed means for helping each other master the challenges that information technology delivers to the campus. The evolving capacities of that technology and the pace of change it imposes upon CITS and Scribner make imperative that there be continuing and intensified collaboration between these campus organizations. We urge IRM to continue its work, to foster even greater collaboration between CITS and Scribner, and to do so by providing leadership that encourages voluntary efforts from dedicated staff in both of these organizations.
Hold a joint meeting of IRC and the Task Force
During a summer and semester of operation, the Task Force explored many aspects of campus information resources. This intensive learning experience alerted us to many of the challenges and opportunities that these resources provide, and suggested a basis for exchange with IRC. We believe such an exchange would be a fitting way for the Task Force to conclude its work and provide an effective means for conveying to IRC information resource issues that we believe merit the attention of the Council.
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