kaiyen: pepper

the life and times of Allan Chen

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From CIO to AVP: 6 Months Into a Non-Lateral Move

In September of 2019, I started as the Associate Vice President for Academic Technology at Cal State Northridge (CSUN). In this role, I’m responsible for a bit of a mix of areas, but they include instructional technology, accessibility, data & analytics, and user support services (help desk and classroom support). My previous 2 jobs had been as a Chief Information Officer, in charge of all of IT. Even the job before that, I was essentially the CIO of a law school. So I’ve had the full portfolio under my purview in the past. This was a significant non-lateral move for me. I’m 6 months in now.

I was very purposeful in this transition away from the CIO role. Yes, I had worked hard to get to be a CIO. But I wanted to get back to the west coast, and a lot of major opportunities are at large state institutions. Certainly, the majority of small liberal arts colleges are on the east coast. But I didn’t have a background at other kinds of institutions, much less large public ones specifically. And obviously becoming a CIO at a 35,000 student institution from a 2,200 student one wasn’t going to happen. So I made an intentional move from CIO to AVP.

It’s been…interesting, in a lot of ways.

First, over the years, my management style had evolved into a very hands off one. This felt a necessity as a CIO. I’m still an AVP (there are two AVPs in IT here at CSUN) so it’s not as if I’m in the weeds everyday, but I am more involved in daily operations on a personal level than I was before. I delegated a lot as a CIO. Maybe that was just my style, or was the culture of the institution. Maybe others in the same jobs would have been more involved. Maybe my style was even “wrong.” Whatever the reason, my style has become what it is, and I find myself questioning whether it is 100% appropriate here at CSUN. I will say that there is a bit more of a culture of involvement and hands-on management here at CSUN, from what I’ve been able to discern. In all honesty, I’m not 100% sure how to modify my style just yet.

Second, I’ve been reminded that my place in the department is different than before, in completely respectful and proper ways. I’m not in charge. I’m also not acting as if I am, but I have sent off a few messages bringing up matters that might be of higher-level concern, and been told, again in a respectful way, that that’s the purview of someone else and that that’s the end of the conversation. There was a security issue, for instance, where I suggested to the interim CIO that we might want to act more aggressively than was indicated by others. I was told that’s someone else’s call.

That’s perfectly fine, of course. But it didn’t end my unease about the decision, to be honest. But…it’s not my call. So I just swallowed the pill and moved on.

Third, and this is the positive one, I can really focus in on key things that I care a lot about. I have at least some experience with each of the areas I lead/manage, and extensive knowledge in some of them. I can really dig in and sink my teeth into the issues they are facing, and have in-depth conversations about solutions. This was not always the case as a CIO, where the breadth of responsibilities was much broader. I was weak in some areas. I was very open about it, and asked lots of questions so that I could make sound decisions, but I was never going to become a networking expert or be able to do ETLs from a SQL database.

So I’m 6 months in, and the obvious question is “what next?” What will I do next to be a more effective manager and leader? How do I keep moving forward?

I think the first thing is to take a hard look at my management style. One of my directors is still new and getting up to speed so I’m working a lot with her, but overall I need to decide if I want to be more hands-on with decisions and strategy. There is definitely a craving for certain things from various people in the group, and because it is a more focused team I need to recognize that I need to respond to those needs in a different (and faster) way than I might have in the past. I need to be less contemplative (though no less intentional and careful, of course). I also need to adjust my communication styles. CSUN is very email averse, it seems. If I were CIO, I could change that culture, at least in the division (not that I want to, just saying I could). But that’s not the situation now. I need to meet more often with people (I’m doing a lot more walking now). Please know that I wasn’t “Mr. Email” before, but the sentiment against sending a lot of messages is quite strong here.

Those are just my initial thoughts. Still cogitating.

A Month on Safari

This post is about photography, a break from my usual (but infrequent) professional missives.

Back in October, I was fortunate enough to go on a 3 week vacation through Africa. It was an amazing experience, to say the least. We covered 6 countries (South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) across 19 days.

First lion we saw on the trip

Before going, I did a ton of research on cameras, lenses, how to get around weight restrictions (33 lbs, including carry-on), etc. I asked a lot of people about what they recommended. Some suggested renting big honking lenses like a 400 2.8 and cropping or a zoom like a 200-500 5.6 (which is 5 lbs all by itself). Many strongly recommended renting the latest and greatest cameras, such as the Nikon D850, with it’s 47MP of resolution. For the most part, I got lots of recommendations for the fastest lens from Nikon only or the highest resolution that I could get. I didn’t get a lot of compromise.

In the end, I decided on a less expensive and lighter (4lb) zoom lens but with more reach – the Sigma 150-600 5.6-6.3 – and sticking with my own Nikon D600 (24MP) with an additional rented D610 (which is basically the same camera but with a new shutter mechanism). I had a 24-120 4 on the D610 that my wife, who excels at landscapes, primarily used.

I learned a lot of interesting things while photographing. First, every millimeter counted. I was almost always shooting at 600mm, and even then when I was post-processing I still had to crop. The first image, of the lion in the brush, is cropped quite a bit to bring him to the center of attention. I was zoomed in similarly on the following few images. And, again, lots of cropping.

Having a lighter weight lens was a big deal, and you don’t have to buy only name brand. It might be only 1lb, but I had heard that the 200-500 was quite heavy. The close up of the lion below was handheld, and I took a lot of photos of him (meaning I was tiring out my arms as it was). Plus, even at the slow end, the 150-600 was only a 1/3 of a stop difference, and I’ve already mentioned the point about needing that last 100mm, so it was a good trade-off I thought. Both lenses had high speed focus and vibration control. And the Sigma was very sharp. as you can see from both the lion and elephant pics below. I didn’t need a Nikon lens, which was hundreds of dollars more, to get great results. It’s a reminder that Sigma, and Tamron and Tokina for that matter, can make great lenses.

I also learned that there is something to be said about being really familiar with your camera. I knew my D600, and all the controls on the D610 were the same. Yes, I could have learned the D850 and had almost double the MP to work with, but my wife, who is a tremendous photographer but isn’t technically inclined, might have struggled a bit if I wasn’t there to help, on a camera I knew already and could adjust quickly.

Also, there is nothing “wrong” with my D600. It’s not as if it’s lost resolution in the 7 years I’ve had it (24MP then is 24MP today, as far as resolution goes, for the most part). It’s not as if it’s worse in low light/at high ISO (a necessity with a slower lens when we were doing game drives towards dusk). Yes, I could have cropped more with a D850, and that might be the one thing I wish I had changed, but I”m still 99% happy with the results I got with the D600. And I admit that I’m ecstatic as the results even with cropping. 24MP is still a lot of resolution, even today, in the world of newly-announced 61MP cameras.

My favorite photo? That’s the one of the leopard at sunset below. It’s shot on a 7 year old, 24MP camera, with a third-party, “slow” lens at maximum focal length, and at ISO 3200. And I think it’s beautiful.

Full gallery is on flickr.

The Higher Ed Domino Effect

A recent article in the Chronicle about various attempts to measure the possibility of failure of private institutions had me thinking about things in a slightly broader perspective. The article itself was about a “Doomsday list” (as they described it) from a company that used a bunch of publicly-available data to say which schools were in financial trouble. Obviously this stirred up a huge amount of controversy, including threats of legal action against the company from named schools. The data eventually was not released.

But, in a broader sense…having worked at a small, liberal-arts college in the northeast, facing stiff headwinds of changing demographics and the realities of discount rates and admission pools, I started thinking about the domino effect of failed schools. Muhlenberg College is actually in a very strong position – it’s not a top 50 school, and it’s certainly not Bates or Williams or Amherst – but it has a solid endowment and an excellent reputation on a regional scale and a notable one on a national scale. It’s in a relatively healthy situation. But the fact is that there are a lot of institutions in that geographic and demographic area competing for the same students. Many of them are in fact in worse financial situation (at least on the surface, using the same partial-story-telling metrics like admit rates, discount rates, endowment size, etc.). This post isn’t really about Muhlenberg. It’s about the large number of schools like Muhlenberg.

Let’s look at discount rates. While it’s scary to think of an institution at 65%+ discount rates and it’s hard to imagine such measures being sustainable, the fact is that if an institution is discounting that much, that means they are offering a huge amount of aid to prospective students. This pulls students to those institutions, in these days of incredibly high tuition, and away from other, arguably more stable institutions. Rankings don’t matter if the first financial aid offer is 65% of sticker. The more stable institutions begin to face more and more pressure to meet class size, and then they suffer. The only ones left that are having a good old time are probably the top 25 schools (not even 50 is good enough) and that small handful of truly elite institutions.

But 65% isn’t sustainable. That’s just a slipper slope to higher and higher discount rates to make class size. We know that. So the healthier-but-not-affluent mid-level schools end up in a waiting game for the less healthy institutions to inevitably crack under the pressure. Then the competitive landscape changes, and there is less pressure for recruitment and making classes. It’s a terrible thing to think of – waiting for competitors to fold – but it’s the truth, as far as I can see.

I have no great conclusion to this post or line of thought. It’s just a sad reality right now. Can mid-level schools hang on long enough? Is the writing really on the wall for those schools with high admit and discount rates (and other metrics)? And most of us know that the writing is not bold enough yet to know when the dominos really will begin to fall.

The Latest from Moody’s – TL/DR – Not So Good

Moody’s released their higher education credit outlook report (IHE article, too) yesterday. This is the second year in a row that it’s been a negative rating (used to be “stable”). I found a few interesting points in the report. A quick summary is that low net-tuition revenue growth continues to make for a bleak forecast, and that expenses should outpace that revenue, to boot. We’d have to get to a 3% increase in revenue to get level again, and to get to a stable rating. Privates are forecast to be a bit better off than state schools. The full report, which is for subscribers only, is a lot more illuminating, but I’ll reference information in the linked article only.

Labor remains the biggest cost for higher education institutions, up to 75% of total expenses. A professor at U Wisconsin Madison says that it’s just the “nature of the beast” that it takes a lot of staff and faculty to run a higher education institution. This is completely true, and Baumol’s Cost Disease speaks to the fact that economies of scale are extremely difficult in labor-intensive industries such as higher education (massive oversimplication). If you want an 11:1 student to faculty ratio, you have to hire enough faculty to achieve that result. Faculty salaries go up. Labor expenses go up. There is no way to use scale that doesn’t erode that student to faculty ratio. It’s like trying to make a musical quintet more efficient in labor. You can’t have a 5 piece band with 4 people.

If this truly is the “nature of the beast” then we need to be asking some hard questions about our business model. I don’t mean that in the “higher ed should be run like a business” kind of way – just how we get things done. None of these questions are all that new – different channels for delivery (online), for instance.

There is another part about how colleges and universities are expected to “control those costs in the coming year.” This is about cost containment. Or, in most cases, cutting costs. But that’s a simplistic analysis, too. What if you’ve already cut things to the bone? What if there are few remaining efficiencies to be gained? At this point, I’m slicing a few thousand dollars off our phone bill and calling that a win (there are loads of other places here at the College where we can save money. I’m not the only one trying to contain costs and I’m not saying that all costs have been trimmed. We are not perfect. My point is that this isn’t a winning strategy forever).

It’s an interesting time in higher education, to be sure. Certainly reports such as Moody’s cast a negative forecast on things, but there are a lot of exciting and positive things happening, too. How we react to the forces identified in reports like these will partially determine where we – as an “industry” and as individual institutions – will find ourselves in the coming years.

 

Higher Education – if not a business, then what?

Use the phrase “higher education should be run like a business” and you’ll usually get polar-opposite responses from a wide range of people. One CIO might agree while another runs at you with a pitchfork or torch. Some presidents may feel sympathy for the argument, while others will take a completely opposite stance. In other words, it’s not as if one group of individuals (like CIOs) agree while others (like presidents) don’t. You get the bi-polar set of reactions everywhere.

Even what one means can be controversial. Do you mean all of higher education? Including the academic side? In which case you probably (but not definitely) mean teaching at scale (large lectures or even MOOC-style ones), accessing new channels (online), and perhaps even modifications to curriculum. Or do you mean the administrative side? In which case you’re talking about business operations. Of course, it’s not a clean separation. What about a business analysis of the output from academic departments? Many institutions (I’ll find some links later) have been cancelling majors due to low numbers of graduates, meaning that the major is not producing the “ROI” that the institution expects. I usually interpret that investment as in the form of the faculty paid to run that program, but I  might be narrow-minded on that.

For me, I generally mean business operations whenever I ponder this phrase. I am not sold that it should be run like a business. We are an educational institution, with service providers and “consumers” (I mean that literally, and not as akin to “customers.” I mean people that consume the service we provide) that are focused on education and the growth of young adults and adult learners. But then I look at how I spend my days trying to do “cost containment” (ie – cutting expenses) on things such as phone bills and internet service, or getting bids on projects, and it sure does feel like a business sometimes.

So my question is – if not to be run like a business, how is an institution to be run, on the administrative side? What is the framework or model that one would prefer to use? And can you articulate that framework?

my own fail: EDUCAUSE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force

I have had a strange experience as part of the EDUCAUSE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force over the past 6 or so months. I was honored to be a part of this group and to be working on this important topic. The group was convened by John O’Brien, EDUCAUSE President, to tackle the issues of increasing DEI in higher education IT in general and at EDUCAUSE specifically. How do we make our work force more diverse, our leadership more representative of at least industry norms (higher ed IT lags behind even corporate IT in diversity, on several dimensions, much less against the population at large), and be more inclusive once we develop greater diversity? Wow, such an important topic.

For some reason, though…I found myself paralyzed as I tried to contribute. It wasn’t the people – many were friends of mine, and all were very accessible and engaged. I didn’t feel intimidated by them. It wasn’t the leadership – John and Joanne Dehoney (also from EDUCAUSE) were great, too, and both asked engaging questions as well as gladly accepted feedback. I just couldn’t…find a nook or cranny from which I felt comfortable contributing. For some reason I just couldn’t contribute! I was holding back on ideas and thoughts, for instance, or drawing a blank when I should have been inspired to new ideas.

It was all very surreal. And infuriating because the topic is so important.

So. The real question is what have I learned from this?

First, I need to critically evaluate how I can contribute before I agree to participate. I was so excited to be invited and included that I jumped in before I put in thought as to what I could offer. It’s not that I would have said “no” – it’s that I needed a game plan, from my perspective and of my opinions, of how I would take part. If I’m going to be part of something this important, I have to know that I will pull my weight.

Second, I need to be willing to be bold. There were times when I found that I didn’t speak up when I should have for some reason. There were even a couple of times that I didn’t say something that, later on, someone else did to much appreciation. I have no idea why I froze like that. But I did. I need to be willing to just say it and see what happens.

Finally, I think I need to accept that I have good ideas. This is related to item 2 but deserves it’s own spotlight. I might not have great ideas and I might have a dud now and then, but I cannot let the concern (fear?) of a dud prevent me from saying what might be a good suggestion. We all have both good and bad ideas. We’re allowed to have them if the point is brainstorming and sharing.

boosting retention vs. invasion of privacy

In a recent article, the Chronicle of Higher Education covered a product from Degree Analytics that looks at a lot of “big data” – specifically WiFi location activity – to aid in student retention. The article is also about the privacy concerns when one starts digging into such data. Just because most if not all systems at least passively collect location data on WiFi networks doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to be using that information. Students haven’t specifically given permission to have their data accessed that way. I’m willing to bet a lot of money, too, that they aren’t aware that their movements could lead to such analysis that somehow “predicts” their success at the institution.

I’m not going to get into Degree Analytics specifically. I will admit, though, that we gave them a legitimate look here at Muhlenberg. And that I was pretty torn about the matter of boosting retention vs. a potential invasion of privacy.

I realize that this post will get a few up in arms, including some that I consider close colleagues and even friends. I would expect that to be the case, though, considering the topic. Certainly there were some here at Muhlenberg that were up in arms at the mere notion of using data this way. But we did take a look; this is a polarizing topic to say the least.

But here’s my take, and my conflict.

Retention is a big issue today. The connection to student academic success is obvious (though there are many, many other aspects to “success” than just academics). There’s the altruistic aspect to this – we want students to succeed because it’s the right thing to want and pursue. That’s far and away the bigger side of the issue, and I won’t belabor why that is so important. But there’s also a business side to this, all the more important considering today’s higher education climate – every student we retain from year X to X+1 is a multitude fewer we have to enroll as a first-year, provides revenue at a lower discount rate (presuming discount rate goes up with each class, as it generally does), and improves our graduation rate (which affects rankings).

So if we can retain even one more student for all the above reasons, altruistic and business…is that bad? Is it even…good? Good enough? How much is enough to justify using data however we want?

Let’s look at the other side of the coin, which is a doozy. First, students don’t realize that this kind of data on campus whereabouts based on WiFi connections is even collected. They certainly wouldn’t think we’d use it to literally track them, then draw conclusions about their “success” and intervene when we fear that “success” is in jeopardy. Second, just because we collect something doesn’t mean we should use it at all, much less in this way. By the way – at Muhlenberg at least we don’t “monitor” people through whatever data we do collect. Yes, our WiFi logs go back 90 days (but not farther, for any reason whatsoever), but we don’t comb through them pro-actively. We only use them if we get a DMCA complaint and we have to figure out who was connected to what IP address at a particular time. But that’s pretty darn specific. Degree Analytics is very, very broad.

So this is a pretty big invasion of privacy. A massive one, to many.

We didn’t do Degree Analytics here, but probably 30/70 cost vs. privacy. It wasn’t all privacy concerns. And I was among those torn about it. Because we do have to worry about retention. And maybe, just maybe, this is a way to improve and get all the benefits, to us and students, that better retention entails. But it’s a dangerous path that we’d be starting down, without question.

What Twitter Has Taught Me About Myself

Over a year ago, I decided to start reading up on higher education more actively. I fired up my Feedly RSS reader, updated my subscriptions, and now spend about 20 minutes a day at minimum reading through various articles. Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education and Education Dive dominate the education space, and Inc.com, CIO and Fast Company fill in with various productivity and business articles. Throw in probably a dozen individual blogs and I keep myself plenty busy with reading.

Now, I figured that reading wasn’t enough. I wanted to share the great things I was reading. So I took to Twitter. If I bothered to read all the way through the article, then I tweeted it. I didn’t mention people, I didn’t use hashtags. I just tweeted it. Partly as a record of what I’d read, but partly because I figured someone out there might appreciate my curation of all these articles. Maybe there’s one person out there that would find my specific reading habits interesting.

As I tweeted more, a few people started retweeting me, or replying. As I started to not only tweet out articles but also comment on them, I started a few conversations. I added a Twitter routine to my mornings and afternoons, going through as much as I could using Tweetdeck. I (re)discovered lists and sorted my feed a few different ways. As time went by, I followed new people, added them to various lists and things kept snowballing. Nothing new here for anyone that has spent anytime on Twitter at all, I know.

What I’ve discovered, though, is that there is a pattern to the topics I tweet about, engage in, retweet, etc. Twitter has taught me something about the things I care about. For instance:

College Affordability

Turns out the rising costs of college is really bothering me. Yes, between Sara Goldrick-Rab @saragoldrickrab (and her book, Paying the Price) and various articles I sate this thirst pretty easily. But I do care about it a lot. Considering I work at a small liberal arts institution in the northeast (and with a price tag consistent with this type of institution), I have found this passion interesting.

Student Debt (and Loan Forgiveness/Borrower Defense)

This is certainly related to affordability, but a bit different. We all know student debt is rising, and default rates are, too (though some good nuance to this generalization in a book I’m reading now – Breakpoint by Jon McGee). So that’s a big thing right there. But then there are a lot of students that have been seeking forgiveness due to debt accrued while attending defunct institutions (I think mostly if not all for-profit ones). The current administration has made these borrower defense options harder and harder to take advantage of, which is just upsetting in general.

I am lucky that I finished at a very expensive undergrad institution with little debt. But I did loans for the vast majority of my MBA and I’m still paying that off. Overall, it’s been over 18 years of paying off education debt, and I certainly wasn’t bilked out of my money by an institution that went belly-up and left me high and dry without a degree.

Viability of the Small College Business Model

This might be more about the college model in general, and it’s related to affordability. But I find myself reading a lot about this school having to layoff staff or even faculty, another school going through troubles, and a few schools even closing down. I’m fascinated and dismayed at the dynamics of this situation. Bryan Alexander in particular does a great job analyzing not only the space in general of failing smaller institutions but of specific failures, queen’s sacrifices, etc.

And other technology stuff

Kind of had to have a heading for this one. Obviously miscellaneous technology stuff interests me. I’m particularly intrigued just the last few days by the wild back and forth swings of opinion on smart devices (such as Amazon Echos and Google Homes) in the higher ed environment. Some institutions are using them in residences, adding new “skills” all the time to make them more and more advance and integrated with the educational experience. Some faculty are using them in classrooms to augment learning. You get some writers commenting on the powerful impact of these tools. And others that feel it’s Armageddon. I”m not sure where I sit on it. I certainly oppose a surveillance type of situation; I’m just not sure where these tools are in terms of the type of surveillance I oppose. Are there positives to them? Can they engage students in new ways that affect retention and success? Can that ever justify the other things they do? Is there a middle ground, with some kind of new smart device that is more narrowly focused in its design and data gathering?

The Chargeback model

I hate charging departments back for services or equipment. Yet we do it. It bothers me deeply that we cannot afford to provide important services, hardware, and software to people. Yet it’s the truth. And I am loath to have yet another conversation where I simultaneously say that we support the mission and business of the College and that someone else has to pay to play. But I do.

There are institutions that charge back, like we do at Muhlenberg, for add-on services and items such as software beyond what we currently offer or hardware beyond the standard, such as second monitors. There are institutions that charge back for any kind of service at all. We are fortunately not the latter, but I am finding us pushing back more and more often requesting at least some funding from departments. The line which we’ve drawn between standard and extra has stayed still, but the demands of faculty and staff have changed.

For instance, we still charge for a second monitor, but more and more users are requesting this option. We upgraded all of our monitors to larger units just a couple of years ago (previously, we still had 17″ 4:3 units out there…) which has mitigated the challenges that users face considerably, but we still get a fair share of requests. Do we need to move the goal posts? Should we be budgeting in for a certain number of second monitors every year, until requests die down? Rather than asking departments to pay?

What about Adobe, the boogeyman of software licensing (Microsoft is more complex, but I think Adobe is tougher on the actual users)? It is incredibly expensive to provide Adobe on any large scale, and in fact many institutions, due to changes in their licensing model, now offer fewer seats today than they did before. Muhlenberg’s demand doesn’t come close to justifying (and our budget wouldn’t accommodate) a campus-wide license, so departments pay. Need Acrobat? Need Creative Cloud? What’s your account number so we can transfer the charge?

There isn’t an answer contained somewhere in this blog post. I’m just frustrated at not being able to meet the needs of users more effectively. Maybe, as I said, it’s time to move some targets – remain strict, but draw a new line to create a new demarcation.

Governance for the New Guy

We spun up 3 major projects almost right off the bat following my arrival here at Muhlenberg. We were to replace the Student Information System (SIS) with an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution, the email system, and our Learning Management System (LMS). All 3 are pretty big, and any one would make for a busy year (the ERP in particular is a really huge, multi-year effort).

One of the first challenges I faced was how to build proper governance on these projects. Governance is a two-way street. It keeps people involved, it keeps the community informed, but it also asks the community for input, and is a way for the project to respond to such information and adjust. While I could certainly be such a conduit myself and I could use our existing faculty-based College Committee for Technology and Digital Learning (CCTDL), I did not feel this was the best approach so soon after starting here. I definitely wasn’t going to make any executive decisions or recommendations without a great deal of input, either. Who was I to say I “knew” what the college needed? That such and such product was the “right” one for Muhlenberg (I say this in general – that was I so new I was still getting lost on campus compounded the fact).

So I created committees. Lots of them.

For the LMS and email projects, they each had a committee that included staff from multiple different departments and faculty. The LMS one was, not surprisingly, a bit more heavy on the faculty side and there was an emphasis on instructional technologists from the staff population. The email project had a broader cross-section of the community. The former was chaired by a faculty member, and the latter by our Library Director, who had been involved in a similar project at another institution. CCTDL members sat on both committees.

I formed 3 separate committees for the ERP project alone. The Selection Committee was a small, 7-person group of key operational staff that could move quickly through the process of gathering requirements, developing a Request for Information (RFI), schedule demos and interact with the vendors. This group included representatives from Advancement, Admissions, the Registrar’s Office, the Office of Residential Services, the Library and the Controller’s Office, headed up by a project manager from OIT.

A Steering Committee “governed” the Selection Committee. Departmental directors and other key management staff made up this group. VP of HR, the Registrar, the Controller, the Director of Financial Aid, Athletic Director, Director of Campus Safety, and the AVP for Advancement were among those included in this group. It was much larger – 17 total members. A member of CCTDL was the faculty representative and the Dean of our Wescoe School chaired it.

The Steering Committee was charged with both making sure the Selection Committee was doing what was needed/headed in the right directions as well as making sure they would be successful. If a group was slow in getting requirements back to the Selection Committee, then the Steering Committee had the responsibility to get things back on track. At the same time, it was ultimately the responsibility of the Steering Committee to write up the final recommendation.

Finally, the Executive Committee was made up of the college Senior Staff (those that report to the President). This group held the ultimate decision-making authority. As part of the Executive Committee, I worked with other members to help push down various initiatives as well as make certain high level decisions. We concluded, for instance, that we would go with an “off the shelf” and “plain vanilla” installation, adapting our business processes to the product, rather than pursuing customization. We also discussed policy on cloud hosting and SaaS delivery options, for instance. It was critically important to have this kind of executive sponsorship – the entire senior staff.

With the exception of the Executive Committee for the ERP project, I have stepped completely away from all the other committees. I didn’t attend meetings, I didn’t ask for notes or report-ins, and I only occasionally checked-in on progress for general reasons, not to keep tabs. With the LMS and email committees, I met with them at least once for general guidelines. I did join in on a couple of joint Selection/Steering Committee meetings for the ERP project. But overall I’ve kept my distance. I think it was very important that I let the committees do their work.

While we haven’t completed everything yet (I used the past tense just to keep things consistent, but the ERP project in particular is still ongoing), the LMS launch has already gone well, and email is closing in with the start of the new year. ERP will be another 1-2 years. But what I’ve discovered is that, through judicious use of committees, you can get involvement of the community in ways that are impossible as an individual. It’s also brought legitimacy to the process in ways that I hadn’t even expected.