Monday, November 3, 2008

Proposal to centralize UA information technology functions meets opposition

[Source: RENÉE SCHAFER HORTON, Tucson Citizen] - The message to University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton and Provost Meredith Hay is loud and clear on the Transformation Plan Web site: Don't centralize UA's information technology functions.

"Transforming Technology Support Services" is the most controversial of the 75 proposals submitted to Hay Oct. 13 as the first step in UA's reorganization process - at least on the Web site.

The IT proposal, written by UA Information Technology Services CIO Michele Norin, had 64 comments as of Friday, including one from the director of the BIO5 Institute. Most of the other proposals had zero to five comments, although a proposal calling for the merger of the colleges of science and engineering had 14.

"We all absolutely hate this proposal," said anthropology Professor David Killick, one of the many critics who commented on Norin's proposal. "We aren't a corporation. Each of (our) departments and research facilities have very different computing needs. This is just an effort to save money, but in the long run it will make things worse, not better."

Shelton announced in mid-September that "business as usual" was no longer an option at UA in the face of declining state support. He said a major reorganization was necessary and asked deans and department heads to consult their constituencies and develop "white papers" listing consolidations, eliminations or reorganizations that would strengthen UA's mission while cutting costs.

The proposals are being vetted by a subcommittee of UA's Strategic Planning and Budgetary Advisory Committee, whhich will turn them over to Hay on Monday with recommendations of which should be scrapped, which implemented immediately and which need further development or refinement.

Complaints about Norin's proposal centered on a lack of constituent input and fear that centralizing IT functions will harm research and cost money.

According to Norin's proposal, the goal is to "transition a majority of technology personnel, equipment and operational budgets currently managed and performed within colleges, departments, and support units to the responsibility of the CIO, whereby management is centralized yet personnel are distributed."

Vicki Chandler, director of UA's BIO5 Institute, wrote that Norin's proposal "by and large … will be extremely detrimental to the activities of BIO5."

"I am genuinely concerned that the design, motive and rationale listed in the proposal lacks understanding of how our research-intensive units function and the essential role for IT in our research missions," Chandler wrote in the comments section on the Transformation Plan Web site. "This is exactly the type of proposal that will do major harm to our university's ability to continue to pursue big science."

Chris Segrin, head of the Department of Communications, recalled past efforts at centralizing IT services that cost his department "several thousand dollars" and wrote that he was concerned centralizing IT functions again could result in departments being charged outrageous sums from Norin's office for computer technician services.

"If one does not like (University Information Technology Services) fee structure or cannot afford it, what recourse does she or he have?" Segrin wrote. "In my view, the most likely effect of this plan would be an increase in revenue flowing into central administration, absent any clear plan for how that would translate into cost savings at the college, department, and end user level."

A handful of comments supported at least part of Norin's proposal, including Dianne Horgan, associate dean of the Graduate College.

"I came to UA from another (not so prestigious) university where something very similar was tried. I, and everyone else, fought it," Horgan wrote. "But three years later, I had to admit I'd been wrong. It worked, saved the university lots of money, and we ended up with far superior service."

Unlike the other proposals, Norin's did not describe the consultation process she used to come up with her proposal, a lapse a number of comments noted.

The proposal rubrics from Hay state that proposals should include information about "the processes of consultation with deans, heads, faculty, staff, appointed personnel, and students and the extent to which this proposal has the support of those affected."

Norin, through her administrative assistant, declined to comment on her proposal Friday.

No comments: