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Academic Sacred Cows and Exponential Growth Copyright 1991 CAUSE From _CAUSE/EFFECT_ Volume 14, Number 1, Spring

1991. Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage, the CAUSE copyright and its dateappear, and notice is given that copying is by permission of CAUSE, the association for managing and using information resources in higher education. To disseminate otherwise, or to republish, requires written permission. For further information, contact CAUSE, 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301, 303-449-4430, e-mail ACADEMIC SACRED COWS AND EXPONENTIAL GROWTH by Robert C. Heterick, Jr. ABSTRACT: This article is the text of a keynote address delivered by the author at the 1990 CAUSE National Conference in Miami Beach, Florida, in which he proposes that it is time for higher education to reexamine several time-honored beliefs in light of linear growth of resources versus exponential growth of costs. The article identifies opportunities arising from the ability of information technology to transform teaching and learning through the creation of a new scholarly information delivery system--opportunities that can be seized if we focus on what information technology can do to improve the quality of the learning process rather than viewing it as a mechanism for cost reduction. Finally, an integrated approach to planning is proposed through cooperation of the triad of communications, computing, and library organizations on campus. Among our academic sacred cows are the entrenched beliefs that the library is a public good and should grow with the growth of the scholarly information stock; that teaching and learning take place in the classroom between a professor and about twenty students; that higher education is increasingly affordable to all; and that institutions of higher education form an unlinked chain of resources--guided by some kind of "invisible hand" that provides maximum opportunity for our citizens. We are confronted by a situation in which many of these sacred cows are bumping into the limits of exponential growth--growth that doubles every five to fifteen years, equivalent to a 15-percent compound growth rate. Unfortunately, the resources that fuel our system of higher education are growing only linearly, determined principally by the growth of the economy. The prospect of a Malthusian solution to our problems in higher education is not particularly gratifying. As the current economic recession deepens, there is little news from which to take heart. If there is a discernible mood in the country, it is that voters are not likely to raise taxes to assist higher education. In fact, to the contrary we see increasing evidence that both our public and elected officials tend to see higher education more like the fatted calf than a sacred cow--something to be sacrificed at the altar of fiscal prudence rather than protected in the face of economic downturn. By probably any measure you wish--ratio of staff to students, total expenditures per student, or whatever--higher education has been experiencing reduced productivity for two decades. In Tyrannical Machines: A Report on Educational Practices Gone Wrong and Our Best

Hopes for Setting Them Right, Lynne Cheney, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, observes: When faculty members teach less, there is a financial consequence. Because more people must be hired to teach, the costs of education escalate--and so does tuition. Between 1980-81 and 1989-90, average tuition charges rose an inflation-adjusted 50 percent at public universities (and) 66 percent at private universities ... Between 1977 and 1987, while the number of full-time arts and sciences students decreased by 14 percent, the number of full-time arts and sciences faculty members increased by 16 percent, but it is hard to find evidence that instruction benefited. Abundant other indicators of the decrease in productivity in our institutions of higher education are published and well known and will not be repeated here. The cost of medical care is about the only segment of our economy that has risen faster than the cost of tuition and fees. Nowhere is the impact of this exponential growth more apparent than in academic support services such as computing, libraries, communications, and instructional technology. We continue to subscribe to a teaching/learning paradigm that envisions an instructor and about twenty students in the classroom. It is increasingly evident in the public four-year colleges and universities, where the vast majority of our undergraduates are taught, that the instructor is likely to be a graduate assistant and, in the lower division courses, the class size is more likely to average between sixty and seventy students. The situation, both in terms of studentteacher ratio and average class size, in our two-year and community colleges is better, but unfortunately on the same trajectory. The extraordinary tuition and fees of our better private institutions are testimony to the cost of remedial action. To reclaim the goal of the 20:1 class size would require something like doubling the number of teaching faculty, an even greater increase in the stock of classroom space, and such an incredible amount of funding that one shrinks from putting a number on it. The challenge we face is to bring consensus in our institutions that the problem will not be remedied by going back (at least not in our lifetimes), and to set a course that will bring forth other strategies for improving the teaching/learning environment on our campuses. Every year our libraries hold a decreasing amount of the world's stock of scholarly information. For the past several years subscriptions to scholarly journals in our research libraries have actually decreased in an absolute sense while the amount of scholarly material has been increasing at about a 10-percent growth rate. It is typical for our major research libraries to add over two miles of shelf space to their stacks each year and they still fall behind. In many respects this is the "flip side" of the problem Cheney discusses. As faculty devote their attention to scholarship and "grant getting," more and more research papers in increasingly arcane and specialized areas are creating a veritable flood of new journals and additional pages in established journals. If current growth rates could be sustained, to provide "full service" library space in the year 2020 would require a physical plant about four times the size of our current libraries. Further exacerbating the problem are pricing trends that themselves exhibit exponential growth. The past three years alone have seen a

nearly 45-percent increase in the cost of scholarly journals to our libraries. Major book jobbers are estimating an over 20-percent inflation in scholarly titles this year. The irony, of course, is that our faculty do the research, write the articles, peer review them, frequently pay page charges to publish them, and cap the vicious circle by buying back the work from commercial publishers. We pay a dear price for our tradition of passing copyright from academic authors to commercial publishers. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter written in 1820, observed: I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control without a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not take it from them, but to inform their discretion. We increasingly run the risk of offering to "inform discretion" at a price that is out of the reach of a significant segment of our society. We face the absurd situation of states encouraging their citizenry to begin purchasing tuition credits at the time of birth of their children--and the equally frightening concern of some economists that such "educational insurance policies" will be underfunded when they come due. Not so long ago we seemed poised on the brink of achieving Mr. Jefferson's dream of universal education; we seem to have pulled back considerably. The gap between higher education's perceived needs and society's ability or willingness to provide has never been greater. This differential seems likely to widen as we attempt to reconstitute higher education from a labor-intensive activity (payrolls typically account for more than 80 percent of the higher education budget) to one that places increasing reliance on a technologically-based infrastructure. The transition from budgeting in a sunk-cost environment to considering life cycle costs of a significant infrastructure investment will not be easy. The staggering bill for deferred maintenance of our campus physical plants is clear testimony to just how difficult the problem is. Thin Technologies In a different context, Gerald Weinberg proposed the Law of Raspberry Jam--the wider you spread it, the thinner it gets.[1] Weinberg was speaking of advice, but let me appropriate the metaphor to suggest that we need to spread information technology widely in our institutions of higher education. When we do so, we will be confronted with "thin" technologies. What has been true of science for several decades is increasingly true of scholarship in general--it is a nationally and internationally shared activity, increasingly a multi-disciplinary team effort across institutional boundaries. As our technologies "thin," they need to become more robust and intuitive. The academy has not been characterized by inter-institutional cooperation. In this new networked environment we must recognize that inter-institutional cooperation is not a zero sum game. One of the major challenges facing our society in general as we enter the "information age" is recognizing the shift from valuing the artifact to valuing the information content. Certainly since the beginnings of the "industrial age" we have built a value system (codified in law) around a tangible artifact that depreciates with use. The information age confronts us with an intangible that appreciates with use. It is no wonder that our whole system of copyright seems to be breaking down, anchored as it is

on protecting value only via tangible artifacts. Much university research is focused on the so-called computational grand challenges--the human genome project, the supercollider, 72-hour weather prediction, and so forth. These challenges tend to drive development of computer technology and, along with it, networking. The transfer of technological innovation from the high to low ends occurs on shorter and shorter cycles. The economics of current technology significantly favor the desktop. The transition from the mainframe to the desktop, beginning with client/server architectures, promises to be one of our most difficult challenges. Such a change carries with it a plethora of implicit strategic adjustments. One of our major challenges is to secure funding for the NREN (the National Research and Education Network). There has been movement in both Congress and the Administration on this issue, but we are still far from authorization to expend funds for its development and deployment. An even bigger challenge (at least in scarce campus funds) is the construction and upgrading of our campus networks. As one looks beyond the leading research institutions, the widespread campus availability of access to the Internet is spotty at best, and totally absent on too many of our campuses. It is exasperating, if not ironic, to live in a society characterized by terms like "information overload" and yet be unable to access conveniently the scholarly information so critical to the educational endeavor. A number of local projects and one major national effort, the Coalition for Networked Information, have begun to address this challenge. But these represent only the first shots in a major war. To be successful with "thin" technologies we must deal with three major problems--standards, standards, and standards. To achieve crossfunctional integration we must have standards that address a pluralistic environment. Someone once observed that "the nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from." While there is more than a little truth to that statement, I suspect our major challenge comes with the recognition that standards are not static--at least not standards that have more than ephemeral value. Higher education needs to take a more vigorous role in the development of standards--perhaps through organizations such as CAUSE, EDUCOM, and the Association of Research Libraries. A Foolish Consistency Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. It seems a propitious time to rethink some of our strategies for teaching/learning. We need to rethink not only the delivery/reception process, but also the fundamental economic infrastructure that underlies our approach to higher education. Such review will also call into question how well we are organized for our task and how we can most expeditiously put information in the hands of those who manage the tasks. It is my sense that we are beginning to attack 21st century problems with late 19th century organizations and ideas. This will not be an easy task for a number of reasons. The Carnegie Council, in Three Thousand Futures: The Next Twenty Years for Higher Education, made the interesting observation that of the sixty-six institutions in existence in 1530 that still exist in recognizable form, sixty-two are universities. On the whole, higher education has been

amazingly resilient in resisting change. We have certainly been consistent. The question we must answer is whether some of that consistency seems foolish in the light of the "information age." Creating a new delivery system for scholarly information must be at the top of our opportunities list. The vision of every member of our community having computer capability is achievable. But the computer is of interest to most of them not because it computes, but because it can assist in the process of acquiring, organizing, and disseminating information. The opportunities presented by universal access will only be recognized when we move beyond computers clustered in laboratories to computers in the hands of each and every student. The current situation is roughly akin to our position in the early 1800s when access to the text book was available only in the library or in the form of a single "copybook" in the classroom. Universal access provides the opportunity to put the library and the laboratory into the hands of the learner. Universal access assumes that each and every campus is "wired." It goes beyond this, even to the assumption that each and every student, whether on or off campus, has access to the campus network and, through it, to the Internet. It calls into question what we mean by "the campus" and the necessity to be "on campus" to participate in the educational offerings of an institution. Universal access clearly means that we must develop a new collaboration with the common carriers. Rethinking the economic model of the library as a public good must be high on our agenda. It is perhaps here that our opportunities are the greatest. Our academic libraries are chronically underfunded and the situation is not likely to improve--ever. Anticipatory collection development is not a model that will work in our information society. We will also need to develop some new form of "publication" integrity and authorial protection--copyright as we know it simply will not work. We have the opportunity to reinvent the model of readily accessible scholarly information distributed across our electronic networks. To do so will require that we place the value on the information content and its "on demand" availability. Our academic libraries have generally been graded upon the size of their collections--this being the pre-network measure of "on demand." This type of measure is totally unsuited for the information age. In fact, the concepts of press runs, collection development, pre-publication review, and a host of other current management strategies seem woefully inadequate for the library of the 21st century. While the opportunity to change the current paradigm has never been better, the uncertainty of what will replace it is unsettling, to say the least. There will be many pressures to postpone making a change, and very few working examples of what changes will be most desirable. Higher education must seize the opportunity to undertake many experiments to provide a flavor of this new world. Overturning the "Bean Counter" Mentality We have the opportunity to focus on quality rather than cost savings. If we set out to reduce costs we may be successful, but we are unlikely to do much to improve productivity and stand no chance of improving quality. A focus on quality may, in fact, improve the quality of the teaching/learning process and is much more likely to yield productivity gains and consequent cost saving. We must find our way out of the tar pit of justifying technology applications because they demonstrate tangible cost savings and into the integration of technology because it significantly improves the learning process.

To capitalize on this opportunity we will have to re-educate a generation of financial officers who have been convinced (sometimes by us) that the role of information technology is to reduce costs. It is a sad fact that in most of our institutions the really dramatic uses of technology occur only in the academic setting. Most of our administrative officers are still limping along on lowest common denominator, mainframe-based systems that were designed in the 1970s. We have the opportunity to begin an infusion of modern technology into our administrative offices that will foster decentralized administration and help blunt the all too obvious growth of our central administrative offices. Properly applied, information technology should permit us the opportunity to dispense with several layers of management and engage more of the faculty and staff in the management of the enterprise. John Sculley had it right when he used the word "knowledge" in describing machines of the future. Higher education is about more than just delivering information. While it is probably too much to hope to make our students wise, we must at least aim to make them knowledgeable. Creating a new environment for instructional delivery integrating video, computer simulation, and self-paced instruction is the exciting opportunity confronting us all. Unfortunately, few of our campuses were constructed with the "information age" in mind. Classrooms are neither designed nor equipped to take advantage of information technology. Few residence halls are designed to support the electronic complement of the modern student. As the desktop comes to assume a more central role in the teaching/learning process, we will need to find alternatives to contact in small classroom and office visit situations. Changing the institutional reward structure is a must if we are to make significant changes in the teaching/learning environment. The model of the modern research university as something to be emulated by all of higher education is under attack from both within and without our community. And well it should be. There is never likely to be funding, from either governmental or private sources, sufficient to sustain that model in more than about 100 of our over 3,000 institutions. While we generally eschew the commercial sector model of education as a business, it is nonetheless true that for the vast majority of our institutions, their principal if not only product is educated graduates. Far too little effort and funding has been placed on using information technology to improve teaching and learning. That situation will persist until we have devised reward mechanisms for our faculty that encourage study and experimentation in learning, at least equally to grant-getting and publishing. Our research universities must lead the way as they are the seed bed for most faculty in higher education. A university is like a piece of spaghetti--you can't push it, you have to pull it. I think that was an observation about armies made by General George Patton, but it fits here. For too long, but with some justification, our central administrative offices have been the tail that wagged the academic dog. We have constructed administrative systems that addressed the central office control issues and attempted appendages to make some of that information available to line managers within the institution. We have the opportunity to construct the next generation of administrative systems separating the "back office" transaction processing activity from the management query activity.

Building on source-point data capture, demand printing, and electronic delivery, we can move beyond our 1970s model to an architecture that places the line manager on equal footing with the central office. It is not that our old model was wrong; it is only that we must realize that technology has changed dramatically in twenty years and some of the concessions we made then are no longer necessary. Instead of systems driven by transaction processing and delivered via alphanumeric terminals, we can build systems around desktop platforms with intuitive graphical interfaces that extract data from central repositories and bring information to the desktop in formats that permit insertion into local spreadsheets and other end-user software. The Information Triad We have come a long way from the manure strategy of computing-spread it around and it doesn't smell so bad. We have witnessed the rise and fall of the "computer czar." The latest management paradigm appears to be the Chief Information Officer. Some wag once remarked that "if Machiavelli were alive today the Prince would be a CIO." I would hazard the heretical notion that the CIO position may not be well suited for higher education and may prove as ephemeral as the "computer czar." It is abundantly clear, as my colleague Brian Hawkins is quick to note, that it is easier to send electrons than sophomores around the campus. There are a number of campus service organizations that have in common the storage, organization, and delivery of information. Among these I would include the communications organization, the computing center, the library, printing and reprographics, learning technology, and even the campus mail. Joint planning among these organizations not only makes sense, but is a necessity if we plan to leverage information technology. Herein lies an opportunity and a choice. The opportunity is to bring these activities together under a common focal point. If we do so, we quickly realize that we have gathered together 10 to 20 percent of the institutional budget. On many campuses, this grouping will be larger than any one of the institutional colleges. The choice will be whether to institutionalize another vice presidency and to develop these services internally, or whether to see this as a fundamental part of the institutional planning effort and "outsource" all, or most, of these services. By "outsource" I don't necessarily mean a commercial alternative, although I wouldn't reject out-of-hand that possibility. Perhaps more likely would be the rise of not-for-profit service providers to the educational community. We have some fledgling examples in the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) and Advanced Network and Services, Inc. (ANS). We have an interesting set of opportunities in a period of economic stress. Conventional wisdom might suggest that we retrench, protect our sacred cows, and wait for better times. A bolder strategy would be to seize this opportunity to re-engineer our institutions--at least the information technology infrastructure part of them--not just to cope with economic stress, but to truly prepare our institutions to operate in the "information age." There is an ancient Chinese curse that says: "May you live in interesting times." These are indeed interesting times. ======================================================================== Footnote

1 Gerald M. Weinberg, Secrets of Consulting: A Guide to Giving and Getting Advice Successfully (New York: Dorset House Publishing, 1985). ======================================================================== For further reading: Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education. Three Thousand Futures: The Next Twenty Years for Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1980. Cheney, Lynne V. Tyrannical Machines: A Report on Educational Practices Gone Wrong and Our Best Hopes for Setting Them Right. Washington, D.C.: National Endowment for the Humanities, 1990. ************************************************************************