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An Academic Orientation to IT
January 27, 2013 - 9:00pm

The success of an academic IT department depends largely on that unit's alignment to the culture of the larger academic organization.  

Actions, behaviors, and a general outlook that may be appropriate for another industry (and in fact may be recognized as "best practices" within the larger IT world), may result in complete failure within higher ed.

Some of the academic values that I see as key to running a successful IT organization include:

Shared Governance:   

An important distinguishing feature of how postsecondary education is customarily organized at traditional campus-based non-profits is the principal of shared governance. Shared governance means that faculty play an essential role in the organization, structure, and decision making of the institution. Academic IT departments must operate, to the extent possible, in collaboration and conjunction with the faculty. The imperative to share strategic IT decisions with faculty will grow as IT becomes more strategic to the mission of higher ed.   

Hypotheses vs. Certainty:

Academics are trained to distrust non-falsifiability. In graduate school (or earlier) we are taught to form hypotheses based on our theoretical frameworks, and then to seek evidence that either supports or contradicts our hypothesis. Academic IT leadership would be wise to adopt some of the language and much of the orientation of a hypothesis testing and evidence driven orientation. We should be weary of introducing new technology "interventions" or "treatments" to academic practices prior to good evidence for their efficacy. We should be spending time and resources evaluating what we are doing in campus IT, preferably utilizing sound experimental methods. Our IT investments should be based on theory and best practices, and constantly evaluated by the gathering and analysis of evidence.

Transparency:   

Knowledge creation largely depends on the free and open exchange of idea. Academics value transparency because openness is a key ingredient of discovery. We have loads of examples of very successful technology companies that operate on the opposite of transparency. Apple is our most obvious example, but no technology company or even corporate IT department places transparency as high on list of organizational values as does academic culture.   I'd argue that transparency of operations needs to be as assiduously cultivated and measured in the campus IT organization as other goals such as productivity, efficiency, and customer service. An openness around IT operations, including costs and non-optimal events (such as unplanned system downtime), should be baked into the culture of the academic technology organization.

Where would you dispute, elaborate on, or add to these assertions?

 

 

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