Critical tech initiatives gain momentum at trustees meeting

The UO emblem on Dads Gate

The Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon learned of advancements in two key areas of interest during regular meetings on Dec. 7–8.

The future of information technology and the status of Transform IT was outlined in depth during the Finance and Facilities Committee and the Executive and Audit Committee, while planning for online and hybrid education was shared during the Academic and Student Affairs Committee.

The board has demonstrated significant interest in both areas, with Chuck Lillis, board chair, noting that the governing body began discussing information technology needs during its earliest meetings in 2014.

“IT is no longer a commodity. It has become part of our strategy,” said Jessie Minton, vice provost for information services and chief information officer, of the evolution on campus during the last year. “Transform IT is critical to rationalize the use of information technology resources on campus to better support UO strategic academic and research missions, including excellence.”

In May 2017, a new governance model, where an IT steering committee advises the provost, was introduced. That model is evolving to one where service advisory boards will feed up to domain subcommittees, and decisions will then move on to the IT steering committee and ultimately to the provost. This new governance structure could be adopted in January.

Minton also outlined several key staff hires and recruitments that are underway. On hand for introduction to the board was Leo Howell, chief information security officer, who joins the UO from North Carolina State University on Monday, Dec. 11.

“My job is to stop the bad guys from doing what they want to do, but also to empower the good guys to do what they want to do,” Howell told the board.

As the information technology evolves, the university is looking at ways to better integrate online and hybrid education into curriculum.

Recognizing the limitations that face the university and the challenges of the marketplace, Scott Pratt, executive vice provost for academic affairs, outlined a multiyear plan to build a UO online effort.

“We need to determine pockets of interest and how we can maintain our reputation and brand,” Pratt said. “As we look to grow, we have space issues. Online and hybrid courses can help. Many of our students face course access issues and online education is a key way to address that issue.”

Pratt, along with Minton and Adriene Lim, dean of university libraries, provided the board an overview of three main elements of the vision for online and hybrid education: to enhance student success, to offer unique and sustainable programming, and to strengthen capacity by developing innovative and online hybrid courses.

“We are doing the studies to identify the places where we can be successful,” Pratt said.

An Online Leadership Group has been formed to recruit a new central leader for online and hybrid education. The group hopes to fill the position by April 1, with full implementation of the plan in the 2020–21 academic year.

“I hope we feel a sense of urgency,” Lillis said, emphasizing the importance of the initiative to the board.

In a related presentation, the board learned the status of the President’s Initiative in Data Science from Bill Cresko, professor of biology, associate vice president of research and director of the Presidential Initiative in Data Science.

In other action, the board approved a multisport apparel agreement between the athletics department and Nike and an updated capital project budget for Tykeson Hall. Importantly, the board heard a detailed report on the status of the UO’s research enterprise and engaged in a discussion with the UO’s executive vice provosts, Brad Shelton and Pratt, about the importance of academic excellence and how the university will measure that concept.

By Tobin J. Klinger, University Communications