On Monday, Feb. 14, Robert Juckiewicz, Vice President for Information Technology at Hofstra University, visited the College to conduct an external review of the Information Technology (IT) Department. Juckiewicz held an open lunch meeting Monday afternoon for students to share their opinions about IT at the College.
Attendance was relatively low due to a lack of advertising. However there was a good turnout from the IT Committee of the Amherst Association of Students (AAS), with a few other students also joining the discussion.
Dean of Faculty Gregory Call, who initiated the review, said, “Information Technology plays and will continue to play an increasingly important role in supporting the teaching, research and daily operations of all divisions of the College, thus making it essential to review both the structural organization of Information Technology as well as its ability to deliver services to the College community.”
Call’s main goal for this review was to discuss how Amherst might “incorporate technology into a century-old liberal arts model in ways that are true to our roots and mission, with the goal of enhancing teaching, learning, scholarship and our community.” The last external review of the IT department took place in 2009.
The AAS IT Committee, which includes Andreas Shepard ’11, Alex Stein ’13 and Dylan Herts ’13, did most of the talking. The committee members began by naming what they thought were IT’s biggest strengths: the move towards wireless internet and the access to computer labs on campus. In spite of an upgrade to the wireless network, which has caused some bugs, the committee reported that the wireless access is nevertheless good — it can be accessed from anywhere on campus, including all of the dorms and all of the quads. Furthermore, the wireless network includes an excellent reporting system, which allows IT to fix problems when they do arise.
Should the wireless network fail, students also have access to staffed computer labs from 9 a.m. every weekday, either on the A Level of Frost Library or in Seeley Mudd, until 3 a.m. Although the majority of students have their own laptops, labs nevertheless provide certain advantages, including larger, brighter screens and on-staff IT supervisors.
When it came time to discuss the biggest problems in the IT department, the College’s email system was unanimously named as the worst offender. The College currently runs the Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, which does not work well if a student is running anything but Internet Explorer (IE) on a Windows computer. This in itself is problematic, since the IT Department has advised students against running IE for various reasons.
The current email system also only offers between 200 and 300 megabytes of storage, causing inboxes to fill up quickly — an especially large concern since the process of deleting old emails is so arduous. Currently there is no easy way to select all messages, so users must click a box next to all of the 25 emails displayed on one page, and delete old emails page by page.
The College plans to begin running Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 this year, and switch to Gmail in five to six years. However, the IT Committee would like to see switch to Gmail made much sooner, preferably this year.
As the meeting drew to a close, Juckiewicz asked the students whether they felt that their experiences with IT at the College’s adequately prepared them for the 21st century technological society. Despite a few minor grievances, the overall answer was an overwhelming “yes.”