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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Technology and the CEO >> Part 6: The Role of Portals in Higher Education

EDITOR'S NOTE: President to President: Views of Technology in Higher Education (2005), published by SunGard SCT (, is the source for the following Web exclusive article. Whether you click on the links to read the letters from pretend portal personas, or just read the fictional President Jones' summaries and reflections, we think you'll enjoy this article on portal decision making at the highest level.

By Dr. Jake B. Schrum
Southwestern University

In August of 2004, a mythical university president, Archibald Jones, became intrigued with the concept of a campus portal. Knowing that portals are personalized views of information, he decided to garner input from Superior University's various constituencies including alumni, different types of students, faculty, and staff. The chief information officer was aware of the president's interest in portals and his desire for input. Consequently President Jones also received a letter from the ITS department. President Jones has graciously (and magically) shared his letters with us. His thoughts and reflections on the letters are presented for your consideration. [Click on the links to read the text of the letters.]

Letter from a Current Student, Phil Fields, Class of 2006

Phil's letter is telling. He expects that services will be available via the Web. Interestingly he wants to preserve the human interaction that is characteristic of our traditional processes. I wonder if there is a way to have the best of both worlds. We have always had a strong sense of community at Superior University and we would hate to lose that. His idea about sports information is a good one. I get many requests from our alumni and parents for more sports information. The portal certainly would be a good place to present the information, but from where will it come? Somebody has to take those pictures and get them loaded into the portal.

Letter from a Faculty Member, Elise Cosgrove, Ph.D.

An unusually brief letter from Dr. Cosgrove! It appears that community is also important to her. She speaks also of core values. She is saying, I think, that our core values should be promoted through the portal. It definitely is a challenge to keep the core values "in front" of people. Perhaps the portal could be used to remind people of our values. It absolutely must be constructed with our core values in mind. I wonder how much institutional information she expects to see.

Letter from an Alumnus, Bob Connelly

What a nice letter from my classmate Bob. He is non-technical! He couldn't work a typewriter back in the day! It's understandable that he wants the portal to be simple to navigate. It's good to remember that the portal can be different things to different people. That's one of its advantages. Bob d'es have something in common with today's students, however. He wants video. I can't imagine watching an entire basketball game or play on the computer, but video "highlights" make sense. Those clips might help us recruit students as well.

Letter from a Prospective Student, Amber Waves

Amber has some outstanding ideas. I particularly like the concept of presenting information that is relevant to her interests. Her comment about the view book is a bit disconcerting given the amount of money that we spend to produce them. Perhaps some of that money should be directed to our Web efforts. The inability to find information on the Web site is a concern even though it d'esn't seem directly relevant to the portal question. We should not be frustrating our prospective students or anyone else.

Letter from a Staff Member, Hallie Smith

Like Dr. Cosgrove this staff member is asking for more internal information. Perhaps there are ways that a portal could help us share information. Security and privacy are major concerns, however. We need to control those people accessing the portal. Once a person has been granted access to the portal, his/her access must be further managed to ensure that internal information is appropriately protected.

Letter from a Deposited Student, Juan Rodriguez

Juan is excited and rightfully so. He appears to be the kind of student we seek: energetic, inquisitive, and creative. Chatting via the computer is something I've never done and may never do, but it is amazingly popular with our students. Connecting the incoming students with each other is another good idea. It is a way to build community before the students arrive.

If incoming students were issued their e-mail addresses early in the summer, university staff and faculty could easily reach students over the summer months. And we would avoid the hassles and expense of mailing information. More good ideas for consideration!

Letter from Information Technology Services, Katherine Mooney

It appears that I've got the attention of the IT folks. Katherine is a levelheaded CIO with a good track record. She is likely aware of some technical and operational challenges. These few letters show that people want more and more information accessible through the Web. Someone has to generate that information and someone has to maintain it. I hate it when I visit a site and they are presenting last year's information. I had better schedule a meeting with Katherine…

1) The art and science of organizing and labeling information in Web sites, intranets, online communities, and software to support usability and findability
2) Knowing who the user is
3) Determining the access rights of a user

President Jones received useful feedback from his constituents. He learned that a
portal is:
· Exciting to the community
· Expected by students
· Problematic if it creates more work than value
· Supportive of community building
· Universally seen as a source of information
· Complex to create and maintain

Additionally he surmised that:
· Significant IT challenges are involved
· Web content must be generated and maintained
· The portal d'es not replace the institutional Web site
· Privacy and security are major issues
· The cost of a portal is substantial and ongoing

President Jones has a tough decision to make. He must decide if a portal will enhance university life or detract from it. He must determine costs and weigh them against the expected benefits. These decisions are the inescapable challenges of the presidency. This president is fortunate to have talented people in the affected departments on campus. These people combined with the input received from the university constituents can provide valuable guidance. The next step is to bring them together.

[Author's note: I, too, have been fortunate to have the assistance of Southwestern University's chief information technology officer, Robert C. Paver, as this chapter has developed from conceptualization to completion.]

Jake B. Schrum has served as a college and university administrator for more than 27 years and is widely recognized as an author and speaker in the field of educational advancement. He is the 14th president of Southwestern, the oldest university in the state of Texas. SunGard SCT ( is publisher of President to President: Views of Technology in Higher Education (2005), from which this article is excerpted, and is corporate sponsor of the New Presidents program. Marylousie Fennell is co-editor of the New Presidents program and senior counsel to the Council of Independent Colleges ( Scott D. Miller, also co-editor, is president of Wesley College (DE), and chair of the program.

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