ASM Budget amendment #3: Shift technology support to the full-time staff

The motion: ‘Create line-items for “Technology Support Specialist’ and ‘Technology Support Specialist Fringe benefits” with a recommendation for “Add to IB”‘”

This is a long-shot, but ASM would be better served with another fulltime staff person, in support of technology and information management.

We have been extremely fortunate that ASM has had the services of Brett Epps for the past two years. Frankly, Brett is significantly underpaid, and it is extremely unlikely we will ever find another webmaster even half as good as he is for what ASM pays. However, that should signify how difficult a problem we face – the ASM website, even with Brett’s good work, is still a disaster.

The FY2011 budget draft we are considering addresses this by replacing the hourly webmaster with a graduate PA position, which would be a marked improvement over the status quo. However, I feel strongly that we would be better served with a fulltime staff person managing the website, technology, and the information and records of ASM. [Full disclosure: as a Computer Sciences student, it is quite likely that many of the applicants for this position will be from my department. I am certain I will encourage CS grad students to apply for the job, if it is created, and it would be to the benefit of my department if they were hired]

The graduate assistant and the staff member would probably do an equally fine job with the ASM website. The biggest difficulty with the ASM website is a lack of a plan for the website: Brett spent much of his time last year developing an interactive wall on the main page. The wall currently has 65 posts, half of which are from ASM employees paid to post on the wall. Was Brett’s time seriously worth 32 wall posts, especially when we could have gotten it for free through Facebook? External Affairs is charged with formulating options for the ASM website. Let me suggest a simple rule: even if you build it, they won’t come. ASM’s website should be a repository of information, and all outreach should be through other sites and services.

ASM lacks in-house time and expertise on technology issues beyond updating the static website. Electronic outreach is a rapidly evolving field, and is vital to producing the grassroots mobilization ASM prides itself on harnessing. Often, that can be done using existing services, but there are times when it requires more complicated data manipulation. Currently, many in ASM don’t even realize that with some technology help, they could focus more on achieving student goals and less on gruntwork.  Furthermore, many of our vital services are dependant or would be more successful with more technology. The grant submission and tracking application is in need of a rewrite, and we will have to contract that out to DoIT without internal capabilities. The Bookswap as a manual effort has nearly killed our Academic Affairs chair. A fairly simple database, a couple of barcode scanners, and a screen-scraping script could eliminate 90% of the work for the bookswap, while reducing the time students need to spend at the swap to just a few minutes. This would be possible with a fulltime staff member to provide us with technology support.

Finally, it is critical that someone in ASM understand Information Architecture, especially over the course of several years. ASM has virtually no archival institutional memory. Researching the members, material, or actions of previous sessions of ASM is virtually impossible. Even the actions of this years council, finance committee, or SSFC are difficult to discover, unless you happen to know what you are looking for and can get it from the chair or secretary of the appropriate committee. ASM is virtually opaque, even to those who know what they are looking for, because ASM unwittingly deletes information. (For example, find a list of shared governance appointees in 2007.) This isn’t malicious; it’s just the result of not knowing there is a better way. This is a problem for those of us currently serving in ASM, because we wind up repeating history. For anyone outside of ASM and can’t dig around on the server, it means that the information simply does not exist. Furthermore, if Mark Gottlieb’s bill requiring open records in student government passes, ASM could find itself in legal trouble. Therefore, I would include records management as part of the job of this new position, with a particular emphasis on the findability and transparency of the information.  The complete record of the 16th session should be totally available to say the 22nd session.

This position calls for a longer-term commitment, to preserve contacts with other information providers on campus, along with history and procedure within ASM. Admittedly, it is unlikely this position will move forward, as the current climate on campus is not favorable for adding FTEs. I think there may be opportunities for more creative solutions than just asking ODOS to hire another staff person – we could contract through another unit on campus, perhaps DoIT.  We should add a placeholder to the budget and further explore this position this year. Perhaps we will be successful, or perhaps our work will set the stage for the 17th session to take action.

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