Harvard Looks to Regain Technological Edge

Some Administrators Urge Move to University Computer Network; Funding for Project Remains Uncertain

In 1877, Harvard was on the cutting edge of communications technology.

"Students had phones at Harvard the year they were invented," says Steven C. Hall, who directs the Office of Information Technology (OIT).

In recent decades, however, Harvard has fallen behind other college and universities in the implementation and use of innovative computer technology.

"The University as a whole likes to be thought of as playing a leading role in [developing and using] tools for research. Harvard is not yet playing its leadership role in the varied use of computers." says John A. Armstrong '56, who chairs the Board of Overseers ad hoc committee on information technology.

Now, administrators say, Harvard has finally begun preparing to reclaim the leadership role it once held in putting technology to use in an academic setting.

Wide Range of Possibilities

When computer experts are asked about the future of information technology at Harvard, their light up as they sketch out the range of possibilities for the University in the future.

Hall speaks animatedly about the wonders of electronic mail (e-mail) and networking.

Steve Brenner '92, president emeritus of the Harvard Computer Society, recounts his group's unflagging efforts to improve computer literacy and to promote the use of computers at the College.

President Neil L. Rudenstine seems equally enthusiastic on the topic, even mentioning the likelihood of appointing a new vice president to shepherd the University through the introduction and implementation of the latest computer technology.

"I think it's virtually impossible to have that kind of accelerated, increased level of activity without having someone who has something like vice president status to run the show," Rudenstine says.

But while there is broad consensus that the University needs to update its computing facilities and to expand their accessibility to faculty and students, many issues still need to be examined before the University can upgrade its current equipment.

Multiple committes are thus investigating the University's present resources and future needs in the areas of information technology.

Rudenstine recently appointed Professor of Business Administration Richard L. Nolan to head the University's committee on the subject. A separate Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) committee, led by Dean of the Division of Applied sciences Paul C. Martin '52, is also considering the topic.

Nolan's committee will work with the Overseers committee led by Armstrong on formulating "the outlines of a master plan for developing the different aspects of information technology and computing at Harvard over the next five to 10 years," Rudenstine says.

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