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Special Series: Technology >> Part 1: Strategy/Mission/Vision

Michael Townsley on presidential leadership
and its key role in campus technology use.

THE ACCELERATION OF NEW TECHNOLOGY has outpaced the ability of many CEOs to keep abreast of it and more importantly, to effectively channel their perspective on technology advances and solutions, in order to advance their respective institutions. Three years ago, at an annual program for new presidents sponsored by a high-level higher education association, several new CEOs mentioned that one of the most complex issues they have to address is the use of technology on their campuses. Most participants acknowledged that they lacked sufficient knowledge to appropriately address comprehensive issues dealing with technology.

Not long after that meeting, based on actual discussions among college presidents, SunGard SCT ( facilitated a year-round dialog on the topic of technology in higher education. Ensuing roundtable discussions led to the formulation of topics, which later comprised chapters. Now, thanks to the vision of SunGard SCT, the corporate sponsor of this new presidents program, a tree has grown from that small acorn. The book, President to President: Views of Technology in Higher Education (SunGard SCT, 2005) is the end product.

It is important to note that President to President is not an in-depth look at technology, per se. Rather, the book is intended as a user-friendly guide written by and for college presidents, tantamount to a presidential chat room that had its beginnings in a physical setting—a dialog between and among presidents. Each of the ten presidential authors has addressed his or her topic in a clear, succinct and we believe, helpful manner. Chapters include:

  • "Technology & Organizational Strategy /Mission/Vision," by Dr. Michael K. Townsley, former president, Pennsylvania Institute of Technology, Media, PA
  • "Continuing Technology Evolution," by Dr. Laurence W. Mazzeno, president, Alvernia College, Reading, PA
  • "Attract, Serve and Retain Students, Faculty and Staff," by Dr. Rosemary Jeffries, president, Georgian Court University, Lakewood, NJ
  • "Wireless Networks and Associated Costs/Issues," by Dr. David R. Black, president, Eastern University and Seminary, St. Davids, PA.
  • "Accountability and Institutional Effectiveness" by Dr. John L. Ewing, Jr., president, Mount Union College, Alliance OH
  • "The Role of Portals in Higher Education" by Dr. Jake B. Schrum, president, Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX
  • "IT Security" by Dr. Thomas Meier, president, Elmira College, Elmira, NY
  • "Integrate Disparate Systems and Unify Your Digital Campus," by Dr. Earl D. Brooks, II, president, Tri-State University, Angola, IN
  • "The New Learning Age and the Management of Online Curricula," by Dr. Walter D. Broadnax, president, Clark Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA
  • "Deploy Comprehensive Administrative Solutions," by Dr. William T. Luckey, president, Lindsey Wilson College, Columbia, KY.

Some 1,500 private college presidents throughout the United States have received President to President this spring through the generous support of SunGard SCT. Now, the editors of the work, SunGard SCT, and Campus Technology, have partnered to bring this exchange of presidential views to readers of Campus Technology, over coming issues. —Marylouise Fennell, Ph.D and Scott D. Miller, Ph.D

Marylouise Fennell is coordinator of the New Presidents Program, and senior counsel at the Council of Independent Colleges ( Scott D. Miller, president of Wesley College (DE), is chair of the program. They are co-editors of President to President: Views on Technology in Higher Education published this spring by SunGard SCT.

Strategy, Mission and Vision

By Michael K. Townsley

“Without task force input ...the president will be the author of an uncoordinated technical strategy that will fall short of institutional goals."

If colleges and universities are havens of reflection and restraint where change is glacial and all systems exist to serve the institution, high technology is a revolutionary temptation—a promise of control to students, faculty, and presidents—that offers the same regard for academic tradition that the iconoclast offers the town church.

Most presidents recognize the obsolescence of their institutions¹ mission statements and strategic plans amid the self-serving, high-speed, high-tech movement. Students at colleges large and small won¹t tolerate lengthy queues, ad nauseum policies and procedures, or educational services that treat them as arms¹-length objects rather than key-punching participants in their educations. They, along with faculty and administrators, want more control over decisions that affect their lives—a more transparent learning and working environment that is ever more accessible and responsive to their input.

Savvy presidents recognize the potential of technology to enhance mission, improve educational services, and provide flexibility to decision chains. Harnessing the high-tech pace, and coordinating technology with mission and strategy require more than just a huge information technology (IT) investment. A fiscally responsible and forward-thinking leadership will reorganize operations, reevaluate market position, and press their institutions to utilize technology wisely. According to George Keller, speaking in Academic Strategy (John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1983), "Presidents who do not look ahead, who do not plan, become prisoners of external forces and surprises most often unpleasant."

“In the first part of our series, a frank discussion about why presidential leadership is key to the use of technology in colleges and universities.

Six Conditions to High Technology Management

Condition I: Technology is a given. Whether to invest is no longer the issue. It is the rare institution that has not made a substantial IT investment. The chart [BELOW] displays the impact investments in technology have had on higher education between 1988 and 1996. Note that ³equipment² encompasses all purchases treated as capital (depreciated), and so includes technological equipment as well as desks and furniture. (Source: Table 356, Additions to physical plan value of degree-granting institutions, by type of addition and control of institution (millions of dollars); Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, 2002;

That the gap between equipment and building additions grew for the period (except around 1993 when the stock market declined) suggests a departure from the expected consistent growth relationship between equipment and building additions, and an increase in higher education¹s investment in technological equipment.

Condition II: Effectiveness and efficiency criteria must be set and met. Efficiency can be defined as the per-unit (e.g., student or some other quantifiable measure) operational costs (e.g., staff, maintenance, depreciation) associated with a technology service. Effectiveness refers to the fit between the technology service and strategic goals. IT systems cannot be deemed effective and efficient merely because the central processing unit has been plugged in. Recall the sweeping replacement of typewriters with word processors in the 1980s: Managers assumed a unit-per-unit swap—i.e., one CPU for each typewriter—and failed to anticipate the additional and ongoing cost of software, printers, cables, monitors, surge protectors, and user training until the bills were on their desks and the typewriters already in the dumpsters.

Once the initial and ongoing monetary investment in technology is figured, leaders must ensure the IT service will support academic processes, administrative processes, and communications—each division representing a complex piece of a larger strategic puzzle. Is the technology service reducing cost per student ratios, and is it reliably delivering results that meet the strategic goals of the college?

Condition III: Technology must serve the ultimate user: the institution. Spreading technology around campus will not automatically yield operational efficiency or strategic value. Upon its installation, a computer will not serve any purpose beyond that of its immediate user. Without a strategy guiding their purchase, implementation, and use, computers can become toys, or vehicles for empire building or day trading, or they may simply collect dust for lack of defined uses and savvy users.

An article in Business Officer, the official publication of the National Association of College and University Business Officials (, asserts that senior leaders must be involved with the president in developing IT strategies because of their capacity to allocate resources, determine policy, and approve procedures. Without task force input—without discussion and agreement on IT purchases, implementation dates, upgrade forecasts, and monitoring strategies—the president will be the author of an uncoordinated technical strategy that will fall short of institutional goals.

Condition IV: Technology should integrate not duplicate. High-tech gadgets and streamlined procedures are in demand by students who require immediate results and fingertip control. Leaders must support and guide IT departments in the complex task of blending various stitches of information into a seamless, instantaneous bond between student and schedule. IT departments must keep pace with student expectations by implementing technologies that bypass, not replicate, existing service capabilities.

Online registration is one example of how streamlining can go wrong. If course descriptions, class assignments, degree audits, and registration processes are not integrated, students cannot quickly develop optimum schedules. The result: students leafing through course catalogs, calling counselors to confirm degree requirements, plugging selections into computers, paying at the financial aid office—they may as well be standing in registration lines.

Condition V: Technology should improve flexibility and reduce complexity. You can think of a high-tech system as your best friend: It is there when you need it, ever responsive to your personal needs. Or you can see it as an insidious, unfathomable, unreliable distraction that fails when you need it most. Neither perspective is always true, but the latter in even small doses could ruin the credibility of a tech system and undermine large time and money investments.

Presidents, like students, parents, alumni, staff, faculty, and administrators, have experienced the frustration of making demands on a computer ill-equipped to respond quickly, accurately, or at all. Increasing the flexibility of systems and minimizing complexity for users make for tedious work for the IT professional: In building a user-friendly system, he must forsake basic design for a comprehensive system that anticipates various, sometimes contradictory, uses by variously able users. Regardless of the difficulty of the task, the president must set the invaluable expertise of the IT professional to designing a system for users that by its efficient nature at the user level will meet the needs and enhance the productivity of the institution.

Condition VI: Efficient and effective use of technology requires changes to structure, processes, policies, and delivery of services. William F. Massy, president of the Jackson Hole Higher Education Group and professor emeritus at Stanford University , in a presentation to the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education (, said that colleges and universities would not see changes in the unit cost of IT until they make a ³paradigm shift² in the way they deliver services.Massy challenges presidents to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their IT systems and bolster the strength and productivity of their institutions in an increasingly technology-savvy market of for-profit and not-for-profit competitors.

The paradigm shift in operations, delivery systems, or both (a massive undertaking) offers presidents a chance to turn traditionally structured institutions into interactive learning webs wherein each student´student, student´faculty, faculty´administration link yields greater knowledge within and outside the classroom. Outside the one-way teacherÆstudent information flow, the institution swells with expertise gained when members of the college community inform one another. As espoused by Michael H. Zack (whose research and publications have focused on the use of information and knowledge to increase organization performance effectiveness) and others, the paradigm shift from traditional to knowledge-based enhances the "economy, innovation, and competitive positioning" of the institution and depends largely on efforts of a motivated president with support from the board, senior administrators, faculty, staff, students, and even alumni.


"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." -- Arthur C. Clarke.

Information technology offers too many exciting and relatively inexpensive opportunities for higher education to ignore: Strategically designed IT helps students and faculty maximize academic advisement, schedule classes, plan lessons, view and present lectures in the classroom or online. Strategically designed IT streamlines delivery of services so that students can make efficient use of their time and money. Strategically designed IT simplifies operations so that administrators and faculty can cost-effectively monitor and provide for students as they pass from admissions to graduation to alumni status. As the wheels of progress turn ever faster, presidents have access to near magical technologies at reasonable cost. IT represents a major expense stream that can, if managed correctly, yield significant improvements in productivity. Competition for students will challenge colleges and universities to deliver faster, more flexible, and broader services to students without driving net revenues into the red. Sensitivity to changes in the way competitors, students, faculty, administrators, and the public use technology will help proactive presidents choose and fund (and IT professionals refine and test) systems that will promote the best interplay among technology, operations, services, revenue, expenses, and strategy—for the ease of users and the good of the institution. Dr.

Dr. Michael K. Townsley is the author of The Small College Guide to Financial Health (NACUBO, 2002) and is former President of Pennsylvania Institute of Technology. He is a consultant for Stevens Strategy (, specializing in the development of strategy for colleges, universities and schools.

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