CLIRinghouse Number 11

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Number 11, July/August 2002

The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:

Leadership and Change: A View from Mid-Level

Forty-three mid-level administrators, professors, librarians, and members of information technology staffs participated in the annual Frye Leadership Institute at Emory University in June. Identified as prospective information-management leaders by higher-education institutions large and small across the country, they spent two weeks considering changes that colleges and universities are undergoing and requirements for their leadership. In preparation, the institute asked participants to interview current presidents, provosts, and other leaders and then describe change on their individual campuses. Among other concerns, participants reported finding

  • a collision between rising expectations and subsiding budgets
  • a struggle to find administrative structures for managing technological change
  • a broadening awareness that technological change entails other changes
  • a fear that positive change will stall because of top-level turnover.

Expectations Up, Budgets Down

Gone are the government tax surpluses and appreciating stock-market portfolios that had encouraged public and private generosity. Dreams born in economic prosperity of making one’s school more competitive or even raising its national status nonetheless persist. But though the economy’s downturn has hit some institutions harder than others, few who hoped to realize ambitions with the help of information-technology investments are finding such investments easy to make. Yet failure to invest risks competitive decline because students and even faculty increasingly expect fast and easy computer access to multiple kinds of digitized materials for coursework and research. Many Frye Institute leaders-to-be think that budget planning must take that into account.

Struggling for Structural Control

Efforts to control and coordinate information-technology developments through strategic planning and technology committees seem pandemic in the academic world. Many schools also are trying new administrative structures, consolidating various computing services into IT units, or merging computer support units, libraries, and educational technology services into information services divisions. Frye Institute participants generally support such restructuring but have observed problems. They see a need for sensitivity to gain centralized efficiency without squelching individual creativity in producing digital resources.

New Attitudes, New Needs

Alhough the benefits of information technology are clear, institute participants also note certain kinds of fallout. Administrators burned by cost overruns now look more critically at technologists’ claims. Financial officers have to rethink how they treat large technology expenditures within their budgets. Professors find it hard to answer reflectively when overwhelmed with e-mail messages from students who expect immediate responses at all hours. E-mail also accelerates miscommunicationincluding, noted one Institute participant, “incivilities.” And participants find that as faculty try to keep up with new ways to gather, use, and disseminate information, they need conceptual, not just how-to-do-it, training.

Will the Leader See It Through?

Benefiting from new technology requires more than installing it. Use must be encouraged, resistance overcome, and commitment sustained. The Institute’s future leaders stress from experience that successful innovation depends on support from the topand can stall when “the top” does not stay put. A “leadership transition,” said one participant, leaves decision making “fragmented,” leading to “conflicts and lack of communication.” Said another, “Faculty and staff feel betrayed . . . Leadership change is a major risk.”

Additional Information

Information on the Frye Institute and how to nominate participants is available from: http://www.fryeinstitute.org. The next institute is scheduled for June 1 to 13, 2003.

Thank you!

CLIR thanks all the recipients of CLIRinghouse who returned evaluation postcards that we sent with the ninth issue. Nearly two-thirds of responding executives and 85 percent of responding librarians said they wished to continue to receive CLIRinghouse. Therefore, although our non-commercial bulletin will now come every two months rather than monthly, we are pleased to continue providing it as a free service to promote thinking about electronic-information issues facing academe.