VP for technology search under way

March 12, 2001

Mary Ann Travis

The search is on for a vice president for information technology and chief information officer. And it won't be enough for candidates to promise to make sure a computer is on every desk and a network links every lab or office. Mike Mislove, search committee chair and professor and chair of the math department, says the new senior-level administrator's responsibilities will extend further than overseeing Tulane's computing hardware infrastructure to encompass a leadership role in developing technological strategies and policies.

"This is an important position," Mislove says. "It goes beyond the technological infrastructure."

Since 1986, Jed Diem has directed Tulane academic computing, mostly recently as vice president for information systems. Diem is retiring from that position on July 1 and returning to the math faculty. In the last two to three years, Mislove says, information technology has become fundamental to higher education.

"We've moved from a paper to a paperless environment." And the pace of change continues to accelerate. One challenge for the new vice president, who will be a member of President Scott Cowen's cabinet, is to understand and assess the expensive and constantly changing information-technology landscape.

"The new vice president must be able to evaluate and integrate new technologies, deciding which ones to skip and wait for the next generation and which ones we can't do without," says Mislove.

In addition to technological savvy, the new vice president will have to have superb persuasive skills in order to find a way to get all units to coordinate information-technology systems that often have been devised for specific needs without regard for campuswide integration. For example, the A.B. Freeman School of Business already has its own wireless network.

Now that the university is getting such a system, the business school and other units will be looking for a leader who can respond to their needs and move ahead, says Yvette Jones, senior vice president for planning and administration, to whom the new vice president will report. The task of seeing that information systems are in sync will require the ability to work with people and sensitivity to higher education concerns, says Mislove.

"The person has to understand the heterogeneous academic arena. You cannot dictate what people will use and how they will use it. Research alone says you can't do that."

The School of Medicine and the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine have sophisticated and advanced ways for implementing information technology in teaching and research, says Mislove, and uptown units are moving apace, particularly under the auspices of the Academic Center for Learning, Research and Technology. The new vice president must be concerned with teaching and research issues universitywide.

"This person must interface on all levels of information technology, uptown and downtown, and he or she must do so by persuasion, without a club," says Mislove.

Many information-technology issues have been defined and clarified in the "Strategic Plan for Technology." The plan was completed in January as part of the process for Tulane's reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

"It is fortuitous that the SACS report coincides with the new vice president search," says Mislove. "The report provides a template for concerns about information technology at Tulane." A guiding principle spelled out in the SACS report is that content and programmatic material must be considered separately from delivery systems. And libraries, Mislove points out, are on the content side.

The new vice president will work closely with Lance Query, dean of libraries and academic information resources, to ensure that faculty, staff and students have what they need for their academic pursuits. "We all rely on information technology," says Mislove. "It should make our lives simpler."

The university has hired Jerry Baker of Baker, Parker and Associates of Atlanta to assist in the search and has put out the call for nominations. The committee hopes to name the vice president by the end of the spring semester. Jones emphasized that the decisions the new vice president will make are critical.

"He or she will help to determine how we use technology in every phase of what we do in the university," she says. "When we make decisions about going down a technological path, we have to do it for the whole university. Institutionwide policies bring economies of scale. We can get the best deals:and work more efficiently. We need someone who can use good judgment to ensure we do this."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000