Monthly Archive: August 2010

how do I title this?

I just came back from a concert.  Where someone committed suicide.  He leapt from the building that serves as the backdrop to the stage, landing just feet away from the lead of The Swell Season.

I thought i should spend time thinking about this before posting.  Before writing.  But this post is about my reactions, my thoughts, what I saw.  It’s about the here and right now (which is about 2 hours after the actual suicide, as we were instructed to stay in the venue for a while to let the ambulance through, then got stuck in parking lot traffic, then got a flat tire).

I found myself laughing and singing along with Glen Hansard as he made fun of one of his bandmates just when a quick flutter of darkness slammed into the stage.

I listened to the gasp, then the slight screams.  I could almost feel the sense of general terrified confusion.

I watched people crying, hugged by their significant others.  I watched others just sit and smoke.  I watched yet others chit chat on the side.  I listened to an usher gather random theories from people that weren’t any closer to the stage than I was (and I wasn’t close) and turn them into “the facts as she knew them.”

I watched them do CPR on a man that just fell about 40 feet down and at least 20 feet out (meaning it was a jump, not a fall).  I knew that he was nearly if not definitely dead.  I saw the body seconds after they had stopped and pulled a blanket over.

I noticed that I didn’t really feel anything in particular.

I don’t know.

i can’t be the only smart one here…

quite an ostentatious title, I know.  But if you will humor me…

Twice in the last 5 business days, I have discovered problems of which Central IT was not aware.

Last week, I passed along information that several law school staff and faculty received almost no e-mail over the weekend and that most had almost everything getting caught in the university’s spam filter.  I was asked to test this, try that, change this setting…all along reminding IT that this was affecting multiple users and that changing one setting for one user was not a high-probability trouble-shooting path.  Turns out that it was indeed a university-wide problem, and the notice went up on the IT web page about an hour later.

Today, one of our network printers was not working for some of our staff.  We use a central printing system where everything goes from our computers to a print spooler then back out the network to the actual printer.  So I start checking things, crawling around on the floor.  Network connection – good.  IP address – good.  Power – good.  Let’s go check the server online…whoops.  Page won’t load.  Call up IT.  Am told that “sometimes the page just loads slowly but that doesn’t really mean anything” and that they’ll “look into it.”

Turns out that one of the two print managers/spoolers had crashed.  Reboot of server, no problem.

The people here at SCU are good, and many are great.  Everyone seems to want to find solutions.  But sometimes it’s like the dots just don’t connect.  Or, when they do, it’s like point A can ONLY go to point B.  And when standing at point A, there is no point C.  Point C does not exist.  It is like Area 51 or something.

I can tell you this – I want to work with IT at SCU.  I want my department to collaborate with them, to take advantage of rather than ignore the intersections that we have.  But if we have to go to this much trouble even for things this minor, if we have to deal with these inefficiencies despite the good intentions of our colleagues, how much hope do we really have for taking our operations and programs to the next level?

edupunking law school

I have been reading a book called DIY U:  Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education on my kindle.  I’m fairly familiar with the overall Edupunk movement, which has primarily focused on moving away from commercial, enterprise level (and therefore expensive) solutions and towards a more DIY, open-source kind of environment.  But this is the first formal book on the topic and quite an interesting read, too.

Several themes are addressed in the book (and they lead to a somewhat scattered approach, IMO, where the book just seems to jump from different educational model to the next, rather than a large scale, overview-type look at the higher education arena).  A key one is that one needs to lower costs.  Edupunk approaches can help do this by “debundling” the various services that are provided by faculty (teaching, testing, and grading) and increasing efficiency per dollar spent.  There are other ideas, too, such as blended learning with a social side, etc.

One of the questions I’ve been posing to myself is how to “edupunk” the law school environment.

Part of me is of the very mindset that the book argues against – that there is something “special” about the expensive, private higher education environment that makes it different and better.  That students that get into such programs – whether undergraduate or graduate – are in a better situation than those that go to less selective, public institutions.  It’s pretty hard for me to admit that, but part of my brain has been sufficiently scrubbed that I do think that.

That part also wonders if law school just needs to be taught a certain way, and that edupunking the system doesn’t get one very far.  The socratic method is connected at the hip to big lecture halls, rather low-tech environments, and just a lot of talking.  It’s not interactive, it’s not blended, and it’s not particularly practical.  It’s all theoretical, at least during the first year.

I’m going to spend the next few posts thinking about how one might change the instruction of law.  I don’t want to go so far that I’d being ABA-accreditation into question.  The book talks about how these is a shackle on the process of innovation, but it’s also a reality.  I don’t think it would be productive to go all the way to “accreditation be damned, as long as the student learns what he or she needs.”  I think there is a middle ground.  And I intend to explore that over the next few days.

if I were president…

For a university, that is, looking to cut costs in a world where we spend more and more each year to meet basic expectations.

Far too long ago, I hypothesized a scenario where a university might choose to outsource strategic decision-making on technology.  Let me clarify exactly what it is to which I am referring – right now, just about every university has a person or group that looks at different trends out there, considers what current needs exist, and try to balance all of that within a general framework of “being innovative.”  I challenge anyone to point to a university that doesn’t want to be innovative and therefore consider my last stipulation a reasonable one.

Provided that there is some semblance of logic to this process, what we’re talking about is strategic decision-making, not just outsourcing in general.  A method through which an over-arching theme emerges that guides when to say yes and when to say no.  When to invest in that $250,000 ERP system that must replace the aging system in place and therefore sacrifice the time-saving management system for staff.  Or how high student productivity ranks on the list of priorities.

Rather than having people in charge of this, why not just outsource it all?  That is the question that I put forth.

If I were a university president, this would be a tantalizing option for cost-savings.  Everything about running a university involves rising costs, but some things just cannot be sacrificed.  If you need top-notch faculty and they collectively lead to a cost of $X, then you must spend $X.  If you decide that a new Welcome Center will help put a pretty face for visitors and you must invest $Y over the next 3 years, then you allocate and spend $Y.  Plain and simple.

Right now, staff salaries are rising faster than most other operations (insert appropriate citation here – I’m pretty sure it’s in DIY EDU somewhere).  And a lot of staff are needed to manage, maintain, install, learn, use, train, and just be around technology.  And deciding how much to spend on what and then implementing those decisions involves a lot of people, too.  Overall, the number of staff that surround the need to be “innovative” technologically is increasing.  So what do we do?

Get rid of all of them, right?


outsourcing ourselves

here’s a thought:  why not outsource IT strategy?

I’m not talking about IT infrastructure or tools.  I don’t mean using Amazon EC2 for computing power or S3 for storage, much less Google Apps for Education.  I’m not talking about outsourcing specific services.

I mean outsourcing the actual decision-making process that drives our services and overall strategy.  I am talking about outsourcing IT and Academic Computing leadership.  In my case, I am talking about outsourcing myself.

What’s to stop a university from hiring a consulting firm to watch for technology trends, identify threats and opportunities (SWOT, anyone?), and make recommendations on what should be done.  The university then picks things that it can afford and that fit together (again, by recommendation from the consultants), and just does them using the appropriate resources.

Perhaps the IT department still has system administrators, and perhaps outsourcing leadership has nothing to do with outsourcing services.  Maybe the consultants recommend keeping e-mail in house due to an analysis of how the school’s General Counsel likes to interpret “exposure” (trying not to use FERPA as a shield here – it’s about exposure due to regulations such as FERPA.  Not FERPA unto itself).  So using consultants to identify trends and basically make strategic decisions doesn’t mean outsourcing everything.

But it could mean the elimination of the very type of job I have.  My next post, which I hope to have together in the next day or so, will follow through on how this might look to a university president.  Then we have to ask ourselves about how we can add enough value that no one ever actually does what I suggest in this post…