CAUSE/EFFECT

This article was published in CAUSE/EFFECT journal, Volume 22 Number 1 1999. The copyright is by EDUCAUSE. See http://www.educause.edu/copyright for additional copyright information.

Campus Profile:
University of Memphis
UM Logo

The University of Memphis, located in Memphis, Tennessee, is the urban flagship institution and the largest doctoral-granting university in the forty-six-school system of the Tennessee Board of Regents. With an annual budget of $202 million, the University enrolls more than 16,000 undergraduate and approximately 4,500 graduate students.

Over the last few years, the university has made considerable progress with respect to information technology investments. Since 1995 the IT infrastructure has grown by more than 300 percent, and the proportion of the institutional budget devoted to centralized information technology support will approach 5 percent next year, up from 3.5 percent.

TigerLAN, the campuswide instructional local area network, supports around thirty instructional computing labs across campus. Most of the personal computers in the labs are less than two years old and have current standardized software available through servers. Two computing labs, which account for more than 100 computers, are always open and staffed during the semester; one of these labs is a multimedia super lab and rivals any such facility in the region. Within a few months, the university will complete its DataNet project, providing high-speed data connections to all faculty and staff, more than half of all campus classrooms, and 40 percent of all "pillows." The institution recently signed a Microsoft licensing agreement, providing all faculty and staff with desktop software.

The university has applied for membership in the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development and plans to be participating soon in the Internet2 project, joining more than 140 U.S. institutions in this advanced networking endeavor.

Becoming a "destination"

Technology is a priority throughout the university’s colleges and schools, and it is a key feature in the institution’s strategic plan for the next five to seven years. The University of Memphis is striving to become a "destination" institution in technology, as well as in four other areas--undergraduate programs, an international emphasis, health sciences, and the performing arts. "These areas of emphasis were selected due to their direct ties and ongoing impact on the City of Memphis, Shelby County, and the entire mid-South region," explains Vice President for Information Systems and Chief Information Officer James I. Penrod.

The university established an Internal Information Technology Task Force (ITTF) to define what is required to become a destination area in technology, as well as to work with an external task force to help implement goals once they’re determined. The immediate charge of the group is to review the current state of information technology at the university and compare it to peer institutions. The ITTF will then define the needed information technology infrastructure, suggest selected academic programs to focus on, determine where the university should be in five to seven years to attain and sustain distinction in information technology, suggest the necessary steps to get there, recommend how to make use of existing resources and suggest where new resources are needed, examine support needs, and define goals and a time frame for accomplishing them.

Planning for technology

University officials are careful to align divisional strategic planning with the overall plans of the university, as well as to link plans with resources. Penrod, who reports to the president, has spearheaded strategic planning for information technology since his arrival in 1995. He believes the university has a model that’s unsurpassed in higher education in terms of how information technology decisions are made. Penrod and the Information Systems management team, consisting of an associate vice president and five directors, regularly consult with other university executives to ensure broad input and participation in the planning and management of the IT initiatives. Associate Vice President Donald E. Harris and IT Strategic Planning and Administration Director Ann Harbor work with Penrod to coordinate the planning process across all sectors of the university. IT Tactical Planning and Project Management Director Robert A. Gatlin facilitates the development of operational plans for each IS unit and assures that all projects are directly tied to the objectives set forth in the plan.

The Information Technology Strategic Plan is revised and updated annually, and it is tightly linked to the university budget and staff responsibilities. A representative decision-making council and three advisory committees with overlapping membership are an integral part of the planning and management process.

Widespread representation

The Information Technology Policy and Planning Council, which meets as needed, advises President V. Lane Rawlins and helps to set priorities on technology issues. The council’s twenty-five to thirty members include executive officers, college deans, representatives of the Faculty and Staff Senates, the president of the student body, the director of the university library, chairs of the advisory committees, and the internal auditor. The council has been defined by the president as both a decision-making and implementation body. Additionally, the council is a major communication conduit for IT decisions and initiatives.

John R. Haddock, current chair of the council and a professor of mathematical sciences, explains that the council analyzes resources to determine how and when projects can be accomplished. Members then ensure that the resources and necessary personnel are appropriately assigned to the projects. Additionally, the council sets priorities and makes budget recommendations to the University Budget Committee, which is chaired by the president.

The Information Technology Academic Advisory Committee is composed of representatives from each college, the Faculty Senate, the library, the provost’s office, the office of the vice president for Business and Finance, Information Systems, and the Centers of Excellence. This committee makes recommendations to the IT Policy and Planning Council and examines issues such as course instruction on the Web, SMART classrooms, and technology access fee (TAF) funds. TAF monies go toward computer labs and other computer support for students, as well as support of instructional applications, including grants to faculty who use innovative technology in their curricula.

The Information Technology Administrative Advisory Committee is made up of representatives from such areas as the provost’s office, Business and Finance, Student Affairs, Staff Senate, Institutional Research, and Information Systems, as well as student representatives and college deans. This committee also makes recommendations to the council, focusing on areas such as year 2000 issues, major administrative upgrades, and interrelationships of administrative systems.

The Information Technology Student Advisory Committee includes eight to ten members, appointed by Penrod after consultation with the student government and Student Affairs, and is made up of both graduate and undergraduate students. The committee, which meets monthly, adds a student perspective on proposed priorities, policies, and procedures.

College deans also have substantial involvement in the information technology planning process. In addition to having council and committee representation, they began to work two years ago with Harris to plan and implement many projects related to TAF funds, which approach $4 million a year. Their planning model includes areas such as computing labs, multimedia classrooms, software licenses, server and infrastructure support, and staffing of labs. Each year the group determines priorities for projects to accomplish in the following year, the IT Policy and Planning Council reviews the priorities, and the University Budget Committee approves final funding. Harris then works with deans’ representatives and the Information Systems division to implement the approved strategies.

Having all of the deans involved in the decision-making process has created an environment with a high level of trust and confidence, according to Donald Polden, dean of the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law: "All the information is on the table, and candid decisions are made with dollar signs attached. It’s a great way to get deans thinking about technology, and they bring a global perspective of the colleges, particularly with respect to budget issues."

Implementing plans

Information Systems has internal management teams, without directors, that take ownership of specific objectives listed in strategic plans. "We wanted to push the decision-making process down to a level where it makes the best sense," Penrod explains. The challenge, he says, is to give the teams freedom to make decisions and at the same time maintain a traditional management structure and keep directors connected to the process. Team leaders are selected by their peers.

There are also cross-functional teams which include representatives from various units of the university. According to Margery Stoever, director of Client Services, the teams include key functional users--people who can make decisions for their divisions--as well as technical staff. As a result, she says, "We all understand each others’ needs better, and we function more as a unit. We’re doing what’s best for the university rather than what’s best for a particular department."

As institutions across the country face information technology staffing shortages, The University of Memphis is taking measures to assure that it has the staff resources necessary to meet objectives. Information Systems offers its employees at least three professional development opportunities each year. In addition to traditional recognition programs, the division has implemented a peer-driven recognition plan, acknowledging staff members’ efforts throughout the year. The university also has decided to implement a market-linked pay plan.

Facilitating connections

As technology spreads across campus, new partnerships are being created among colleges within the university and many programs are moving toward an interdisciplinary approach. Peter McMickle, chair of the Faculty Senate and professor in the Fogelman College of Business and Economics, notes that a recently approved program--a master’s degree in e-commerce--involves a partnership between the business school and the College of Arts and Sciences’ Computer Science Department.

Another program offers accounting students an advanced degree with specific knowledge in developing computerized accounting systems. "These are accountants, and they’re becoming Java programmers and Oracle database administrators," says McMickle, adding that students are being hired by businesses as they start the master’s program.

As the university undertakes joint initiatives, representatives from Information Systems are involved in early discussions. Often, Harris says, IS members facilitate connections: "The challenge for us is to keep everyone in the loop, but also to make sure that the things we’re deciding to support have clearly defined resources that match up to them."

Donna Randall, senior vice provost, sees barriers collapsing as the colleges join forces and as the university partners with the community. She says, "The reason the university has been so successful in technology is because of a series of horizontal and vertical partnerships. To me, this is the future of higher education."

Local interests

Perhaps the best example is The University of Memphis’s recent partnership with Federal Express Corporation--one local business that relies heavily on university graduates--to increase the technological skill level of students. The Memphis-based international corporation has contributed $5 million toward a new facility, the FedEx Emerging Technology Complex, which will house up-to-date research test beds, business technology classrooms, laboratories, and space for videoconferences and meeting rooms. The state has appropriated $15 million toward the projected total cost of $25 million.

Officials from FedEx view the complex as an investment as companies around the country face information technology staffing shortages. According to McMickle, the industry is not satisfied with the level of IT education that students currently receive; often they need extensive on-the-job training. Students need "specific, demonstrable skills, so they’re able to take on a job and run with it." The academic programs in the FedEx Emerging Technology Complex will offer both the creative problem solving skills and the hands-on and vendor-specific training that will fill that gap.

Along the same lines, the business school is integrating technology into the core of its curriculum. "For Memphis, the best thing the university can do is to turn out workers who can improve the economic conditions within the region, and to do that, I believe we need to focus on technology," says Randall, who formerly served as dean of the Fogelman College. "The way we can make a contribution is by having all 3,400 of our students sophisticated in the use of technology."

Sidebar

Rawlins The FedEx partnership has forced us to focus more on technology as a transforming entity for our institution. In fact, technology is one of five key features that we expect to influence everything we do as an institution, and I think technology more than anything else overrides it all."
–President V. Lane Rawlins

CAUSE/EFFECT’s Campus Profile department regularly focuses on the information resources environment--information, technology, and services--of an EDUCAUSE member institution, to promote a better understanding of how information resources are organized, managed, planned for, and used in colleges and universities of various sizes and types. This article was written by EDUCAUSE Writer/Reporter Shannon Burgert, based on a visit to The University of Memphis.

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