In my last blog, I shared my observations and experiences with open educational resources including massive open online courses (MOOCs). In this blog, I am sharing my observations, experiences, and interpretation of changes affecting The University of Alabama and the information technology (IT) organization.
Since March, the University has appointed an interim provost and a vice president for each student affairs, advancement, and strategic communications. In June, the Board of Trustees named Dr. Stuart Bell as president. I was honored to represent UA as a member of the Presidential Search Committee. It was obvious; UA System leaders, UA faculty and administrators, and other committee members were very focused on bringing the right candidate forward. Chairwoman, UA board of trustees President Pro tem Karen Brooks, the first woman to serve in the position, asked the search committee to select a charismatic, student-focused leader capable of continuing the growth at UA over the last decade. I believe Dr. Bell is an excellent fit. His qualifications, experience, interest in research, and fund-raising efforts are commendable. He is a gentleman and a scholar with a keen focus and a strong orientation toward the business of higher education.
Chancellor Robert Witt, who served as a vice chairman of the search committee, oversaw the appointments of new presidents for our sister universities at Birmingham, in 2013, and at Huntsville, in 2011. Following the recent changes in leadership at UA and after serving the System for over twelve years, first as president and then chancellor, Witt announced plans to retire in August 2016. His recommended successor, Ray Hayes, was approved by the board of trustees. Hayes, the System’s current executive vice chancellor, will assume his new role September 1, 2016. In the interim, Chancellor Witt ensures a smooth transition. We thank him for preparing the UA System to make the most of the challenges and opportunities confronting higher education.
So, what changes can we expect as we move forward? I expect the University to build upon its accomplishments in undergraduate research and expand its research ambitions. Earlier this year, the vice president for research and economic development selected two, prominent UA professors as associate vice presidents. While maintaining other leadership roles in academia and the research enterprise, they are facilitating development and implementation of a strategic research plan, promoting interdisciplinary projects, and enlarging the University’s collaborative role across the UA System. In another effort to strengthen partnerships across the System and with other organizations, I have been asked to take an additional position as associate vice chancellor for information technology.
IT is more relevant than ever. It is integral to the University’s research engine, delivery of education, and support of its academic mission. To maintain relevance, we need to focus on collaborations with and among our faculty, researchers, and administrators. For research alone, there is a growing need for a new professional discipline—cyber practitioners who have a blend of IT experience and science domain knowledge. In a recent survey, UA faculty and researchers requested additional, high performance and data-intensive computing capabilities, visualization, simulation, other analytical tools, and related IT support.
To facilitate their research, we are building a dedicated science network component. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the University a $464,770 grant for establishing an advanced network capability, distinct from our general-purpose campus network, to specifically support high-bandwidth, data-intensive, scientific applications. We have re-engineered our Technology Research Advisory Committee (TRAC) to better support the University’s Research Advisory Council (RAC). In other governance matters, we are revising our IT governance structure and expanding it to include representatives from across the campus.
Our administrators’ needs are evolving from process automation to use of digital technologies (e.g., mobile, social, and analytics) and physical resources to change what people do—changes that enhance their ability to achieve specific goals. IT professionals will need to enhance their communication and analytic skills and build new competencies to facilitate use of data and analytics for strategic and operating decisions. We will need to help bridge, break, or integrate data silos and make available the information needed to support more effective academic and institutional decision-making.
We will need to become more proactive by aggressively seeking grant funding, increasing cost transparency, forging new collaborations with our sister universities, lowering complexity, improving security, and anticipating the needs of our constituencies. I expect changes in our services and possibly, our organizational structures. At a minimum, expect more flexible structures.
Yes, Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin” as are the faces of many of our leaders, as is the face of IT in Higher Education.