• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).


What Happened to the EDUCAUSE Policy Office?

Who speaks for higher ed IT in Washington?

October 22, 2013

Having returned from last week’s national EDUCAUSE conference, I am left with the question of what happened to its D.C. Policy Office.

When I first assumed my role at Cornell in IT Policy and Law, it was a robust center of ideas, action and commentary on an array of IT policy issues for higher education. Led by Mark Luker, who had been a well-respected CIO before moving to association life in D.C., it featured Steve Worona and Rodney Petersen who very ably and responsively assisted colleges and universities across the country with everything from the development of institutional IT policy to national policy issues. Together with Wendy Wigen and Garret Sern, they helped explained national policy issues to those of us in the boondocks, and perhaps even more important, represented our needs in D.C. to other higher ed associations and advocacy groups, (e.g., the Center for Democracy and Technology), and to members of Congress and some of agencies such as the FCC and FTC

The EDUCAUSE Policy Office was well-respected on Dupont Circle. It had working relationships with CLIR, ARL, ALA, ACRL, NACUA and ACE (among many others). It was the go-to association for CALEA. We may – and should – complain about the unfair treatment our campus I.S.P.s suffer under the HEOA today, but those provisions would undoubtedly have been more intrusive, more inimical to our missions, without the coordinated push-back that the Policy Office led during and around the time of the Congressional hearings on this legislation in 2007 and 2008.

Not long after EDUCAUSE selected a new president, the winds of change blew through the office. First, it let go of Mark Luker … in my personal opinion a mistake born out of internal CIO politics within the IT national community (and he took Wendy with him). Then the president chose Greg Jackson, again, a decision, from my perspective, born out of the internal CIO politics within the IT national community. That marriage was not destined to last, and it didn’t.  But what happened next is what I can’t explain: the IT Policy Office crumbled to zero. Steve Worona left. New hires revolved out the door about as fast as they came in. Some people were moved to other areas of EDUCAUSE. Now Rodney Petersen is gone, and literally there is no one home.

Word on the street is that the leadership of EDUCAUSE is placing the remaining shell under the leadership of the ECAR vice president. More significant is that the focus will shift from law and policy to “Governance, Risk and Compliance.” I am just one voice, but let me suggest that this shift in focus is also a mistake. To be sure, those areas deserve much attention, and to have a national office help CIOs and other IT leaders address those issue is a good thing. But it is a subset of larger issues that remain unnamed; as a functionality, it appears workmanlike, not inspired. It is not visionary, it is not proactive, and it does not educate or address higher educations needs and threats. It is narrow, where that office should be broad in scope. It is a safe approach when we should be taking political risks.

In short, that narrow focus ignores our challenging reality. It is also symbolic of trends in higher education overall. As such, I think it is a very significant loss to not only the information technology nationally – if not globally, but to the entire higher education community. I just may be too far away from the action to know or appreciate the landscape, its players and the dynamics, but sitting here today in Ithaca I do not know who speaks for IT policy for higher education in Washington.


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