HASCS: `A Ship Taking on Water'

Computer Service Stiffed by Harvard; Students Lose Out As Stress Hits Staff

As acting director of the Harvard Arts and Sciences Computer Services (HASCS), Richard S. Steen oversees an 18-person staff with massive responsibilities: to expand and maintain Harvard's link to the Internet--a global data communication network--while policing and educating members of the community about its use.

In January, Steen evaluated his organization in the memorandum to the 11 members of the Faculty of Arts and Science (FAS) committee in information technology.

He did not paint a pretty picture.

"Faced with immense challenges, our small group has pushed on over an extended period of time in exhaustion, stress due [to] constant pressure and low morale for about one-half of the staff," reads the memo, which was obtained by the Crimson .

"In the last several months, several have spoken with me about work induced health issues or negative effects on marriage, families and relationships due to the constant burden of tight deadlines."

"This pace will not abate, only increase," the memo continues. "Despite the best efforts to improve efficiency, HASCS is a ship taking on water faster than it can bail it out."

In fact, a two-month Crimson investigation found that HASCS--Which maintains the network used by students for everything from personal letters to in-class research--is plagued by staff and space shortages, budgetary constraints and poor working conditions for those who toil there.

"There are three issues: space, money and people," says William J. Ouchark, the network managers for HASCS. "you can't address any one without addressing all three. We need to work on increasing all three."

This lack of support in three critical areas shows that while Harvard has pushed students to join the network and HASCS to expand it, the Faculty has failed to provide the resources needed to get the job done well. Steen, in fact, requested additional staff in an April 1992 memo obtained by the Crimson, but the faculty ignored that request.

"Unfortunately, FAS...did not support our repeated proposals (and warnings)," Steen's memo says, "that additional trained staff would also be necessary before bringing the network on--line."

"The Faculty hasn't faced this issue," adds former HASCS director Lewis A. Law, who retired two years ago. "Speaking for myself, the Faculty administration basically doesn't really comprehend the magnitude of the problem."

For all the works done by HASCS, students say Harvard's link to the network is overloaded, its computer facilities are inadequate and the assistants designated to help network users are poorly trained.

"Are there enough skilled people to get the job done? In my opinion, no," says Lowell House Master William H. Bossert, a member of the Faculty's Committee on information technology. "Everyone in HASCS is really overworked at present. Things are getting done, but at great personal expense by people on Steen's staff