How to grow campus technology amid shrinking resources

Baker led CSU Northridge's conversion to Gmail, which saved the university $160,000 annually.
Baker led CSU Northridge’s conversion to Gmail, which saved $160,000 annually.

Being an IT official at a California university today requires a close look at any measures that can save the campus cash. But Hilary Baker, vice president for IT at California State University Northridge, has found ways to maintain—and even improve—technology services despite massive statewide budget cuts.

Baker, who came to the Northridge campus in 2006, said budget planning has taken on new significance during the country’s economic slump as university technology officials brace for a 5-percent budget cut this year and another 5-percent reduction next year.

“They probably are worse than any of us thought they would be,” Baker said, adding that open IT positions will be left unfilled this year as a cost-cutting measure.

California legislators cut the state university system’s budget by $584 million, or 20 percent, for the 2009-10 school year. The Northridge campus has operated this academic year with $41 million in cuts—24 percent of its overall budget.

Baker and her staff responded to the money squeeze in many ways, including the use of Google Gmail for student and faculty eMail accounts—saving $160,000 annually.

CSU Northridge also plans to use the open-source learning management system Moodle this year, instead of the popular WebCT and its expensive software license.

The university also joined the growing higher-education movement toward server virtualization, or using off-campus servers to maintain technology services rather than using space and massive amounts of energy storing and powering server racks on campus.

“We’ve made some very deliberate moves,” Baker said. “But it’s really allowed us to start a dialogue across campus departments … and plan out the overall direction and mission of the campus. We want other departments [and university officials] to know what we’re working on and why we’re working on it.”

Before her time at CSU Northridge, Baker—who moved from England to California in 1978 to attend UCLA—was the chief information officer at Pepperdine University in Malibu.

In two years there, Baker headed efforts to upgrade classroom technology standards, manage the technical aspects of campus construction projects, and remodel Pepperdine’s library to include an IT/library information commons area.

From 1999-2004, Baker worked in the state university’s Office of the Chancellor as a senior director for IT services, where she led the largest technology infrastructure project in American higher education. She created finances, human resources, and a host of other categories across 23 campuses that included 400,000 students and 45,000 faculty members.

Baker said teaming up with other CSU campuses has emerged as a cost-savings measure this year. The Northridge campus in March will be one of eight institutions participating in a pilot program that forms a virtual information security center, allowing the campuses to share information security resources.

“It’s a new concept, and it’s pretty exciting for us,” Baker said.

Faculty training has become a centerpiece of the university’s switch to the open-source option Moodle.

Baker and her IT staff have scheduled a series of workshops and training sessions to show professors how they can use Moodle to manage class schedules, students’ grades, comprehensive reports detailing student participation and classroom performance, and class collaboration.

“We didn’t choose Moodle strictly because it is open source,” she said. “In these budget-constrained times, we want to look at open source and see if it is indeed one of those areas that could … incrementally all begin to add up and eventually [save money]. It just requires us to really reevaluate some of the decisions we have made and challenge ourselves again.”


California State University Northridge


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