“Pacific doesn’t do technology.” That was the prevalent attitude about IT at University of the Pacific for decades, from board members to the students. University of the Pacific is based at a residential campus in Stockton, California, and has two urban campuses, one in Sacramento and one in San Francisco. Our mission to provide a student-centered learning experience integrating liberal arts and professional education didn’t seem to need technology. Our seven schools at the main campus, the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, and the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco each developed their own local IT operations, complemented by an under-resourced central office of information technology.
In spite of technology’s potentially important role in helping us achieve our mission, we took the “mushroom approach” to IT—keep it in the dark, and it will take care of itself. Without attention from our board or, for that matter, our cabinet, we reaped what we sowed: A lackluster technology operation that didn’t serve our students, faculty, or staff very well. Nor was it ready to play a key role in our strategic future.
But that had to change. Our recently adopted strategic plan is dependent on robust technology at University of the Pacific. We are expanding our offerings at the two urban campuses, intent on reaching working adults. Only technology can deliver those courses from faculty members who may be located 100 miles away and provide seamless services for our students and faculty members, no matter the campus. And most important, this technology must contribute to the “Pacific experience” of fostering close interactions between our students and faculty, regardless of location. The board of regents and our university leadership knew that the status quo was not going to get us to this future. But the rest of the university wasn’t so sure.
And then the unthinkable happened. During an upgrade last summer, our system crashed and left us without a network or Internet access for five days. There was no longer any ambiguity about the need to improve our technology. The board committed to hold a full-day retreat focused on the topic and its role therein at its next meeting.
The board chair and I agreed that the primary goal of the retreat was threefold: to provide the board with insights on the status of technology at Pacific, to reach an agreement on technology’s role in our strategic directions, and to decide how actively the board wants to be engaged in the governance of technology.
The retreat was a success. The board came away informed and of one mind about the state and role of technology at Pacific, with an understanding of the gaps we have in technology as we implement our strategies. We were all reassured that while the cost to upgrade is high, it isn’t insurmountable.
And the board agreed that its role is to provide guidance on how technology enables and supports the university’s strategic objectives and to hold us accountable for effective planning and implementation. The board formed an ad hoc committee on technology with the possibility of transitioning it to a standing committee after a year or two.
As a corollary, our cabinet agreed that it is our responsibility to be more informed about technology, to include the chief information officer on the cabinet, and to hold regular cabinet retreats to make strategic decisions on technology priorities and investments.
All of us now, from board members to the faculty, believe that “Pacific can do technology.” We have a plan for enhancing technology that our board committee reviews and responds to. The university is developing IT metrics so the board can monitor our progress. And we have the funds to support the multi-year improvements.
Most important, the board and university leadership have taken ownership of our essential roles, albeit at different levels, in governing technology. At Pacific, technology is no longer treated like a mushroom. It is now front and center as a key to our future.