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New computing policies

Topics/tags: Rants, long, rambly, footnote-laden

This summer, ITS [1] released two new policies, one entitled ITS-US-800-P Provision Reuse and Lifecycle Replacement of Endpoint Computing Devices and one entitled ITS-BF-800-P Software budgeting and purchasing policy [2]. Both are available on the ITS policies page [5], along with a variety of appendices [6].

Many aspects of these policies bother me. What aspects? Let’s see.

1. I am bothered by a failure to appropriately include faculty governance in the creation of these policies. What kind of governance would I like to see? For one thing, the Instructional Support Committee is supposed to provide not only guidance, but also leadership, on academic computing [7]. However, ISC was only consulted on a few aspects of the policies and did not sign off on the broader policies. These are also policies that have broad impact; in cases like that, Executive Council should be consulted [8]. In fact, Council had already asked about rumors that they had heard about shifts in computer purchasing policies and, in spite of their request for more information, this policy was not shared with Council before it was enacted. That represents a significant failure of shared governance.

2. I am also bothered by the failure to appropriately include staff governance. These policies also affect staff, and the designated staff representatives (Staff Council) should have a chance to comment on them. I would also suggest that broader input should be included, but I am not aware of an equivalent to faculty meetings for staff. In the end, many eyes help catch issues. (Conversely, too few eyes leave open issues.)

3. I am particularly bothered by the new endpoint computing device policy’s poor treatment of term faculty. In particular, the policy indicates that

New Endpoint Computing Devices are not purchased for Non-Regular Employees or Non-Regular positions. If requested, ITS will allocate a desktop Endpoint Computing Device from the Reserve Pool. Please note that there may not be a choice of operating system.

Because term faculty are not regular faculty. this policy suggests that someone the College hires for a one-year, or two-year, or three-year position gets whatever computer ITS feels like giving that person. But here’s the things, we should treat our term faculty well [9]. Telling someone that they can’t have the operating system they want for their research and teaching is highly inappropriate. In addition, at least in my experience, using the wrong OS also makes one much less efficient. I am probably at least 20% more efficient on my Mac than I am when someone forces me onto a PC. I hear that PC users feel lost on Macs. Term faculty are expensive [11]. Shouldn’t we make them feel valued? And shouldn’t we get the best possible work out of them? Is saving $1000 or $2000 really worth what we lose? I think not.

I hear that some staff members also do not get to choose their operating system. That also strikes me as troublesome. There may be cases in which it is necessary that staff members use a particular operating system, such as when software relevant to their position runs only on one OS. But other than that, they should also have freedom.


I raised these concerns as soon as I saw the new policy [12]. I believe I first raised them with my Council rep, but I can no longer recall. At some point, the Dean’s office got involved. I thought I’d made my point, and changes would be made. But I was wrong.

During the first week or so of classes, I learned indirectly that a new colleague asked for a Mac and received a PC. Because term faculty do not know what social capital they have, they are unlikely to complain [14]. From my perspective, that makes it particularly important that our default is you get what you ask for not you get what ITS feels like giving you. Fortunately, I have some social capital [15]. I raised the issue and it looks like my colleague will get the appropriate computer in a few weeks.

Does that settle the matter? No. Here’s the wonderful note I received from my Associate Dean.

On a related point […] the Dean considers this an exception made due to a special request, while following the policy and procedures of ITS. That is, in supporting [Faculty Member’s] request, we are not weighing in one way or another about the policy itself. If you remain interested in seeing changes to the policy, you should pursue that through other channels (which may nonetheless involve the Dean’s Office).

Here’s how I responded.

Thanks [Associate Dean]!

And yes, I am interested in seeing changes to the policy. I’ve already written to you about these concerns. What other avenues should I follow? Do you need a more detailed description of my objections?

Thanks again,

– SamR

I have not yet heard back.

I worry that this note suggests that our primary goal is to support the desires of ITS, rather than the needs of faculty and staff. I know that ITS has many challenges. But, in the end, the goal of technology policies should be making sure that people are appropriately supported (albeit at reasonable cost).

Returning from the detour

In case you have forgotten, I was enumerating some aspects of the new computing policies that bother me. Here are a few more

4. I am bothered about the timing of the announcement, particularly with regard to the budget cycle. The policies, which take effect for the 2019–20 budget year, were announced at the end of June 2019. On the other hand, department budgets were due in late 2018. Since the new policies suggest that departments may now be responsible for some software and equipment purchases, the announcement should have been made in time for changes to be incorporated into budgets. In fact, departmental budgeting is one of the reasons that Council asked about these issues [16].

5. The new software policy makes no explicit mention of software for scholarship [17]. Not so surprisingly, many faculty use software in their scholarship. Hence, one would expect that the policy would explicitly discuss such funding. As far as I can tell, scholarship falls under other academic use, but that is not made explicit.

The process diagram doesn’t help, since it has a decision point that reads Academic (Teaching) Use? Is the parenthetical remark intended to be an explanation of what we mean by academic, or is it supposed to represent a subset of academic use? If the latter, why not just use the term Teaching directly? If you choose the path labeled No from Academic (Teaching) Use, the next decision point is Other academic or administrative use?, with choices of Other academic and Administrative, suggesting that there are no other options. If your use is Other academic, you should Consult Office of the Dean. If your use isAdministrative, you should useIndividual Administrative Department Operating Budget" [18].

6. I don’t see evidence of people considering implications and connections. If ITS is no longer covering software for scholarship, and the Dean’s office may not be, shouldn’t we be able to use our Committee for the Support of Faculty Scholarship funds to pay for software related to our scholarship [19]? I also find it odd that we don’t seem to have released policies that apply to other aspects of computing, such as tablets or hard drives. Perhaps those are coming in the near future.

As I suggested above, we miss implications and connections when we do not involve governance structures. Having more eyes consider these policies before they were implemented would help catch unintended consequences. Let’s hope for better governance in the future.

Postscript: Just to make myself clear: I don’t object to the creation of policies about selection and purchase of computing hardware and software. Clear policies help eliminate bias and can safe the College some funds. What I object to is the process for creating processes, which has left out important faculty voices, and the limited view revealed by the policies, which is likely affected by the lack of shared governance.

Postscript: It strikes me that I should turn this rant into a letter to appropriate folks. But I think that task is going to wait for another week. For now, it has let me get my frustrations into order. I expect that the letter will focus on governance (faculty and staff) and on the treatment of term faculty.

Appendix 1: More than you wanted to know about our software request form

There’s also a new Central Software Request Form. I tend to like to see what’s on a form before I fill it out. I couldn’t find a summary, so I’ve created one here.

Your name

Your email address (or username)

This request is for New Software / Upgrade of existing Software / Renewal of existing software [21] / Other (please specify)

What is the name of the Software or Application being requested? (Please note any specific version, installation options, or configuration requirements)

What operating system(s) [22] does the Software require?

What problem is this Software intended to solve?

Provide a brief description of the Software and how it is proposed to be used.

Requested date for first use (Note that all Software purchases are subject to purchasing and contract review)

Which of the following apply to this Software request? This Software is required for legal compliance / This software is required for a mandatory function other than legal compliance / This Software supports business processes, information flows, reporting, or data analytics / This Software has cross-organizational unit functionality / This Software would be available to all, and used by the majority of, students / This software would be licensed for all faculty / This software would be licensed for all staff

How much does this Software cost?

What are the ongoing maintenance or licensing costs?

Please check any of the following statements that apply to this Software: This Software is for academic use (teaching) / This Software is considered curricular technology / This Software is for faculty research / This Software is MAP-related / This Software is to be installed on all campus computing labs / This Software is for use in a single class / This Software is for administrative use / This Software is for commercial use

Specific funding requests: This is a request for funding from the DLAC [23] / This is a request for funding from the ISC Curricular Technology Fund / This is a request for funding from a different source (specify) / None of the above apply

Please note any additional funding information you would like to share [25]

What is the **expiration date* of the Software contract/license?

What is the termination notice (in days) specified in the Software contract/license?

Does the Software contract/license auto-renew? Yes / No / This is a perpetual license / Unsure

What is the name of the Software vendor?

What is the Vendor’s address? (Vendor Address, City, State, Zip)

Who is the main contact at the vendor for this order?

What is the main contact’s email address?

What is the main contact’s phone number?

Is there any additional information you would like to share in aid of the review of this request? [26]

[1] Grinnell’s Information Technology Services department.

[2] I don’t know why they chose different capitalization policies for the two documents. However, as too many people remind me, foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds [3].

[3] Am I required to cite that aphorism [4]? Should I put it in quotation marks? And does it matter that I seem to have changed little to small?

[4] It’s from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. I’m not sure why I have difficulty recalling that, particularly given how often I use or mangle that statement.

[5] Why can’t we put our policies on a public Web site? Are we embarrassed about them?

[6] The Software budgeting and purchasing policy has a Software funding budgets process diagram and an Additional funding sources list. The Provision, Reuse, and Lifecycle Replacement of Endpoint Computing Devices has a Lifecycle replacement process diagram.

[7] For those who have been here less time than I have: During an attempt to cut the number of faculty committees, the responsibilities of the Academic Computing Committee were (ACC) folded into the Instructional Support Committee (ISC). I can’t recall exactly when that happened, but I think it was around 1999/2000.

[8] The full faculty should be consulted; however, I realize that not everyone feels that way.

[9] I like to think we do generally treat our Term faculty well. They have full voting rights at faculty meetings, they receive some funding for research and conference travel [9], they are eligible to supervise MAPs and to be compensated for that supervision, and they are eligible, but not required, to advise students. They are also included in the Early Career Faculty and Staff group, which also plans some events for term faculty.

[10] I wish they received more.

[11] Not as expensive as tenure-track faculty, but still expensive.

[12] Admittedly, I only raised the first two. I still need to work on my own failure to uniformly acknowledge the appropriate roles of Staff Council.

[14] Some may also not have a personality that permits them to make waves.

[15] Or at least tenure.

[16] This may be one of those instances in which department is supposed to mean administrative department rather than academic department. If that is the case, I hope the administrative departments were notified of the shift in policy at the appropriate stage in their budgeting cycles.

[17] Grinnell has traditionally used the term scholarship rather than research. Scholarship seems to be more inclusive, particularly if one pays attention to sources like Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered.

[18] Strangely enough, those two options are the only ones that have a successor. What is that successor? STOP.

[19] The CSFS policies specifically forbid using your scholarship funds for computing equipment and software [20].

[20] I’ve been told that some exceptions have been made, but that seems to be somewhat ad hoc; the policies do not seem to be applied uniformly.

[21] My mind seems to keep getting smaller.

[22] Bold in the original.

[23] DLAC is the Grinnell Digital Liberal Arts Collaborative [24].

[24] While I think of collaborative as an adjective, it is also used as a noun. However, some people dislike that practice. Unfortunately, Garner seems to provide no commentary on this issue.

[25] I thought this would be the last question, and so I wrote Just looking at the form to figure out what questions I need to prepare to answer.

[26] Ah! I hadn’t read the prior additional information question properly. I think this is the last one [27].

[27] Why doesn’t Qualtrics let you know when you’re answering the last question on a multi-page survey? [28]

[28] That seems like a good topic to muse about. I’ll add it to the list.

Version 1.0 of 2019-09-16.