TITLE: Money as Technical Contribution AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 17, 2004 4:54 PM DESC: When administrators don't understand software, sometimes all they can do is buy it. ----- BODY: A technical person who works at a university recently lamented:
Our administrators want to be involved in technical decisions, but they don't understand the technology. So they buy stuff.
In his view, these managers think that selecting the software everyone uses makes them relevant. It's about power. I have noticed this tendency in administrators as well, but I think that we can find a more charitable interpretation. These folks really do want to contribute value to the organization, but their lack of deep technical understanding leaves them with only one tool available to them, money. (Ironic that this so, in these days of deep cuts in academia.) Unfortunately, this often leaves the university supporting and using commercial software -- sometimes rather expensive software -- when free, open source, and better software would serve as well. If we believe the more charitable interpretation, then we need to do a better job helping administrators understand technology, software, and the values they embody. It also means getting involved in the hiring administrators, to help bring in folks who either understand already or who are keen on learning. Both of these require the gritty sort of committee work and meetings that many academics run away from, me included. In a big organization, it is sometimes hard for grassroots involvement to have a big effect on hiring and promotion. But the effort is almost certainly worth it. -----