FITAC

Interim Report to the Faculty Council

Faculty Information Technology Advisory Committee (FITAC)

January 21, 2000

Executive Summary

I. Introduction
 

The history of this committee (see Appendix) has been characterized by spirited discussions of the future of higher education in a society with increasing reliance on information technology (IT). In this context, we have begun addressing the critical question—How can UNC-Chapel Hill adopt the technology in a timely fashion to ensure its teaching and research competitiveness?

We view successful integration of IT into an organization as having two dimensions: the establishment and management of infrastructure (e.g., hardware and software) and the creation and management of a process that integrates this infrastructure into the academic and service life of the University. FITAC is particularly concerned about clear strategic directions for addressing issues of faculty reward, professional development, scholarship, curricular and programmatic matters, and assuring appropriate faculty voice in the development of IT policy.

UNC-Chapel Hill has been aggressive in pursuing a proactive process of transforming itself in the first dimension, establishing an Information Technology Services (ITS) strategic plan for infrastructure and conceiving the Carolina Computer initiative (CCI). By contrast, the university has not articulated a clear vision and well-conceived strategic plan for the second dimension. For example, the first CCI undergraduate class will begin this fall and yet a comprehensive plan for integrating the use of computers in undergraduate courses has not been presented. Given the current growing infrastructure in IT, FITAC has concluded that it should facilitate the creation of a institutional strategic plan that will make the appropriate use of our rapidly expanding infrastructure and even help direct future infrastructure design.

This interim report to the Council is intended to enlist the Council’s support in the committee’s effort to initiate a comprehensive dialogue and analysis of IT at UNC-Chapel Hill. FITAC believes the success of such an effort, and the policy recommendations it would generate, requires participation of all segments of the UNC-Chapel Hill community—faculty, administrators, students, and staff. The goal of this undertaking will be to provide a sense of strategic direction, an ordering of priorities, and the establishment of an effective mechanism for incorporating and managing IT in the context of the University’s mission. This interim report delineates the need for an institutional IT plan, and highlights important issues the plan should address. Our reflections can not be exclusive but must represent the beginnings of a dialogue that illuminates concerns and issues of individuals and units across the campus community as we ponder IT’s role in our future.


I. The Growing Importance of IT at UNC-Chapel Hill
 

"Information technology" is not new. Conceived synoptically, IT encompasses activities as old as the first efforts to inscribe and retain accounts of peoples’ beliefs and accomplishments. Its history is punctuated by various technological advances—the movable press, telegraph, radio, television—with which we are now commonly familiar. Today, however, the term has become an idiomatic reference for digitally based technologies made possible by computer hardware, software, and networking systems.

Most members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community recognize the inevitable growing importance of IT in our teaching, research, service, and administration. Many also recognize the remarkable range of activities that IT supports. IT allows scholars near-universal access to the rarest of Islamic manuscripts, permits students to conduct chemistry experiments in ways not previously thought possible, and encourages faculty to interact with colleagues across the nation and throughout the world on a daily, if not hourly, basis. Clearly, the University would be intellectually poorer if IT were absent, and our students would be ill-served if they were not prepared by us to function creatively and effectively in the technology-rich world that awaits them after graduation.

IT can make a critically important contribution to the realization of the University’s mission if it is effectively integrated and used thoughtfully and with clear purpose. The committee acknowledges the contributions of the Vice Chancellor of Information Technology Services at implementing the infrastructure dimension for IT integration and those academic units, faculty, and staff who have taken the lead on finding the time and resources to begin adopting IT productively. We believe, however, that far more must be done. Future policy and practice comprising a programmatic (second dimension) strategic plan must be informed by a comprehensive and rigorous review of the issues and opportunities at stake in our IT investments.

To this end, FITAC believes that efforts to integrate IT into our culture will be meaningful only when as an institution of diverse constituencies we collaborate to craft the directions, priorities, and processes by which IT will become an integral component of the University’s intellectual enterprise. Achievement of this goal will require extensive and vigorous discussion among our community. This is especially true when one considers both the contextual and substantive issues at stake in IT policy.


II. IT in Context: Constraints and Opportunities
 

Information technology is not cheap. Considered in terms of both monetary and human-resource commitments, IT represents an enormous investment for the University. Wise choices in this matter are further complicated by the fact that IT policy has been, and will for some time continue to be, developed in an environment of dynamic, rapid change. Given the profound consequences IT decisions have for our students, colleagues, and co-workers, FITAC has become quite concerned that questions about the broader contextual issues shaping IT policy be proactively addressed. Four such issues and concomitant questions were of particular concern to the Committee:
III. IT at Carolina: Identifying Issues of Substance
 
In addition to broad contextual issues that will shape the way IT policy will be made, FITAC has begun identifying specific concerns that bear on the substance of the IT policy and practices Carolina needs to develop. For the most part, these concerns are about "fitting" IT with existing practices.
IV. Conclusion
 
We are at the embryonic phase of IT’s profound and critical impact on Carolina’s prosperity. Thoughtful conceptualization, open decision-making, and effective and efficient implementation of IT policy will profoundly impact Carolina’s future success. To ensure success, the University needs a vision for how IT will serve its mission and how specifically it can be achieved. To this end, FITAC asks faculty, administrators, students, and staff to collaborate with us in our inquiries and discussions. Our plan is to carry out during the Spring 2000 semester a dialogue on IT at Carolina through meetings, focus groups, forums, print, and informal conversations. We will in the coming weeks roll out a schedule of activities that will be advertised broadly to ensure maximum input from all corners of the university. Our goal is to produce, by semester’s end, a "working draft" statement of vision and strategic directions for information technology at UNC-Chapel Hill. The document will serve to focus institutional attention on this critically important issue and provide a framework upon which a final, comprehensive IT strategic plan can be crafted.

We are asking for your participation and guidance as we develop a working draft of an IT strategic plan. To begin, share our undertaking and discuss your IT concerns with your colleagues and co-workers. And, feel free to contact any member of FITAC individually, contact FITAC by e-mail <fitac99@listserv.unc.edu>, join the discussion on FITAC’s web site <http://www.unc.edu/cit/fitac/discuss.html >, or attend any of the sessions FITAC and its subcommittees will be holding over the semester as it gathers data, perspectives, and ideas that will form the foundation of a working draft of an IT strategic plan. Please join us in this important project.
 

Respectfully submitted,

Faculty Information Technology Advisory Committee

Bill Balthrop, Chair of FITAC, Department of Communication Studies

Bob Adler, Kenan-Flagler School of Business

Daniel Anderson, Department of English

Skip Bollenbacher, Department of Biology

Julie Collins, Kenan-Flagler School of Business

Marjorie DeWert, School of Education

Sheila Englebardt, School of Nursing

Anita Farel, Department of Maternal and Child Health

Steve Leonard, Department of Political Science

Joanne Marshall, School of Information and Library Science

Ed Neal, Center for Teaching and Learning

James Noblitt, Department of Romance Languages

Howard Reisner, School of Medicine

Diane Strauss, Davis Library

Steve Weiss, Department of Computer Science

Richard Whisnant, Institute of Government


APPENDIX: FITAC BACKGROUND AND FACULTY COUNCIL CHARGE
 

The Instructional Technology Advisory Committee was an ad hoc body appointed by Chancellor Hooker in Spring 1998 to advise the Center for Instructional Technology on issues relating to the Carolina Computing Initiative. It was soon evident that CCI’s oversight was part of broader considerations regarding information technology (IT) and its role in the University’s mission. In response, the Committee was reconstituted as the Faculty Information Technology Advisory Committee (FITAC), and in 1999 FITAC was reestablished as an appointed committee under the auspices of the Faculty Council.

Given the rapidly evolving importance of technology in higher education, the Council made FITAC a broadly representative body with a comprehensive charge to assess IT’s role in UNC-Chapel Hill’s future.

The Council’s charge:

4-26. Faculty Information Technology Advisory Committee. The committee is appointed by the chair of the faculty. It shall consist of (i) faculty members, who shall constitute a majority of the members; and (ii) one or more students, serving one-year renewable terms. The committee represents to the Chancellor and the University community the concerns of faculty and others with regard to information technology. The committee’s functions include:

  • considering issues pertaining to the use of information technology in teaching and learning, research, and other professional activities in the University; and

  •