Faculty Fails to Effectively Coordinate IT

Vision for the future? Second in a three-part series

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) wants to build a bridge to the 21st century.

Two months ago, the Standing Committee on Information Technology called on the FAS to put a computer on every desk by June.

"Every member of the faculty and every member of the administrative staff should have (or at least have convenient access to) a networked computer through which the [World Wide Web] is accessible," the IT Committee's report reads.

"We hope that [this initiative] will encourage people outside the sciences to use computers [and see] how computers can help them," says McKay Assistant Professor of Computer Science Margo I. Seltzer '83, a member of the IT Committee.

The report also provides recommendations for the Faculty's computer needs in areas such as equipment and infrastructure, access to research databases and organizational accountability.

But while the report outlines a vision of the future of computers for the Faculty, it fails to address the financial feasibility of achieving that vision.

The IT committee advocates a decentralized mode of management, calling on individual departments and centers to provide their own planning, training and support.

A two-month Crimson investigation, including interviews with about 100 faculty and staff, found that this move toward decentralized support severely restricts communication and coordination among different departments.

And the decentralization of information technology throughout the College makes it difficult for the FAS to address student computing needs. Students say the University is slow to provide them with network resources and fails to take advantage of the tremendous potential the Internet has to fundamentally alter the nature of education and learning.

Computers on Every Desk

Despite universal acknowledgement that providing every faculty member with a computer is a giant leap forward, the financial feasibility of the plan is uncertain.

Dean of the Division of Applied Sciences Paul C. Martin '53, the chair of the FAS IT Committee, says the report was not meant to address the financial issues.

"We're not saying how to pay for it, we're just saying, 'Let's get it done,'" Martin says.

But computers pose a major spending burden for professors in the humanities.

Interviews with faculty have indicated that science and social science professors generally buy their computers with research grants, while professors in the humanities generally use their own money.

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