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The Scarlet & Black

ITS restructures: better or worse?

By Sam Hildebrandt

After the restructuring of Information Technology Services (ITS), which resulted in the laying off of three employees, the College has hired Donald Tom as the new director of ITS. In addition, the College has transferred assistive technology to Angie Story, Coordinator of Academic Support and Assistive Technology.

Tom, who has held similar positions at the University of Chicago and Brown University, is in the process of filling the two remaining positions and increasing the functionality of the College’s network.

Since the beginning of his tenure, bandwidth on the wireless network throughout the dorms has doubled due to new wireless access points. More bandwidth is yet to come with the planned addition of new network switches, which Tom admitted are “an expensive deal.” Tom also plans to bring collaborative technologies to campus.

“One of the things is that Grinnell is in the middle of Iowa. Sometimes it’s a good thing; sometimes it’s a bad thing. I don’t interpret it one way or the other. All I want to do is make sure that, if [students] have enough bandwidth, [they] can access resources from around the world,” Tom said.

As far as the restructuring of ITS, Tom envisions an organizational structure similar to that of other small liberal arts colleges.

“My goal is to have it be very typical of our peer institutions: that there is someone who heads up IT and that there are ‘team leaders,’ if you want to call them [that]—groups that provide functionality for the organization,” Tom said.

Like other peer institutions, ITS has a support group, headed by John Hammond, which includes the Technology Consultant (TC) Corps, as well as Infrastructure and Applications Teams, which are headed by Dave Ellis and Evan Otto, respectively. In addition to these, there is a Project Management Office, headed by Renee Rockwell. This new group is responsible for “business intelligence.”

“[Business intelligence is] important, obviously, because we have data [and] we have an Associate Vice President for Institutional Research who takes that data and helps make better business decisions for the College, but you can’t do that unless these systems talk to each other,” Tom said.

Although Tom just hired Rockwell, there still remain two positions for him to fill, and these empty positions are causing problems for the TC Corps, according to Chris Lee ’15, who acts as the Technology Consultant Coordinator at the student Helpdesk and in TC Training.

“The new director, Donald Tom, is trying to fill out the professional staff, which has been dramatically weakened over the course of the last semester, especially in light of the fact that, with a shortage of professional staff members, the TC Corps has been asked to step up and fill in some of the gaps, which is not something we were really designed to do,” Lee said.

Specifically, TCs were asked to do an inventory of computing devices at the College over last spring break. Some were also asked to update computers during the summer although many lacked the necessary administrative credentials to do so. These are tasks usually undertaken by permanent staff members, who have these credentials on the network, according to Lee.

The restructuring of ITS also resulted in the removal of Karen McRitchie, who was formerly in charge of technology accessibility, or the adaption of technology for those with learning and other disabilities. Story and her staff of four now fill this role.

Story and her staff deal with technologies such as smart pens for notes or alternatively formatted books for those who need them due to a disability.

Like Tom, Story and her staff are new to their positions, having only taken over their responsibilities from Academic Affairs in May.

“Right now it’s a higher learning curve for us because we’re learning some of the technology as we’re helping the students. It’s much easier when you have a bigger group working on it, too,” Story said.

Even so, the sudden firing of McRitchie and the relative inexperience of the current staff have caused problems for students, such as Jen Brooks ’15, who has cerebral palsy and uses Kurzweil, an audio reader program, to do her homework for class.

“One member of the team told me in August that I know more about Kurzweil than he does. That, to me, sounds really incompetent,” Brooks said.

Brooks made similar comments about the team’s knowledge of her smart pen, which she uses to take notes. Additionally, based on her interactions with members of the team thus far, she has been dissatisfied with the support provided.

“When I first met the team they seemed really uncomfortable with me and my disability. Although they have improved, I don’t think I will able to develop the type of relationship that I had with Karen [McRitchie],” Brooks said.

A student who preferred to remain anonymous thinks that McRitchie’s dismissal is indicative of a lack of concern on the part of the College.

“[McRitchie] was let go because this college does not value the work that people do for students with disabilities and [doesn’t] really understand how much work goes into it every day because they don’t need to,” the student said. “They don’t need to due to the fact that someone does it for them, so they have the ability to not care. She was fired because her job was misunderstood on campus. I’m afraid that might happen to other people that work with students with disabilities.”

However, Story and her team insist that they are working as hard as they can to assist students with disabilities.

“This is really the first semester that any of us have been involved in this at all. In a way we’re like a student that’s just coming to Grinnell,” said Doug Peterson, Academic Technology Support Specialist and a member of Story’s staff. “We’re learning this. We have technical ability and technical knowledge, but a lot of this stuff we’re still learning and the learning curve’s been steep, and we know we’re not perfect. I wish I was perfect … Hopefully we’ll get better.”

Similarly, David Lopatto, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, responds to students’ concerns by drawing attention to the work that Story and her team are doing.

“Angie Story is working very hard to meet the needs of students, each of whom may have different course material needs,” Lopatto said.

Lee, however, has his doubts.

“I would simply say that the [Academic Support Assistants], as competent as they are, were not designed to handle those kinds of technological problems. That is a function that should have fallen to ITS, but unfortunately, as the result of past policy, currently does not. I personally think it does a great disservice, both to the people on this campus and to the College’s tradition of social justice, which many at the College appear to be only interested in following in name, as opposed to in practice,” he said.

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    Jon BalmSep 20, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    I would like to know more about Lee’s qualifications to be used as an authoritative source on assistive technology and who is suited to manage it. Is this an opinion piece or does he have inside knowledge of what has transpired over the last few months?