Computing on campus: An ‘accidental revolution’?

In 1981, Robert Gillepsie, the now-retired vice provost for computing at the University of Washington published a report stating, “higher ed has been slow to respond to the rapid challenges and opportunities of technological change.”

IT officials at EDUCAUSE 2013 reflected on the early days of campus technology budgets.

More than 30 years years later, Kenneth C. Green, the founding director of Campus Computing Project, quoted the report to a crowd of educators and asked, “Does that part sound current to any of you? Seem rather fresh?”

There were murmurs of agreement from those in the audience — instructors and administrators who had gathered for a panel discussion at the 2013 EDUCAUSE conference in Anaheim, Cal.

The panel was taking a look back at the historical National Science Foundation report “The Accidental Revolution,” which proposed that advances in computing on college campuses had been largely unplanned and unanticipated.

This left colleges unprepared for decades of technological advancement — an issue that the panel said continues to this day.

David Smallen, vice president of libraries and IT at Hamilton College, said part of the problem can be found in budgeting issues, particularly the slow start of computing budgets.

Smallen recalled, how in the 80s and 90s, campus leaders were debating whether computing would just be a one-time cost, not an ongoing budgetary concern.

“I remember at that point many institutions were purchasing technology with what was called ‘budget dust,'” Smallen said, “meaning that leftover at the end of the year.”

Hamilton College didn’t have a fully funded computer replacement plan in place until the late 1990s, nearly 20 years after Gillepsie’s report.

As educators and administrators recognize the opportunities of technological advances on campuses, budgets must reflect that, and that doesn’t always happen, Smallen said.

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