The 5 Least-Flattering Details in Report on San Jose State’s Tech Spending (Chronicle)

October 7, 2014

San Jose State University’s spending on technology over the past year has made the campus ground zero for heated discussions about how university leaders should try to innovate—and the role faculty members should play in those decisions. And it hasn’t been pretty: Just five months ago Mohammad H. Qayoumi, the president, had to apologize for bypassing “longstanding SJSU consultation practices” in his attempt to move quickly toward his goal of “engaging SJSU with Silicon Valley.”

That was in May. Now the San Jose Mercury News has published an article that lends more context to how Mr. Qayomi’s administration lost the faith of the rank and file.

According to the article, Mr. Qayoumi struck a sweetheart deal worth $28-million with Cisco Systems, the locally based technology giant, to overhaul the campus’s communications infrastructure. San Jose State did not take other bids for the contract, which draws on the university’s operating budget (among other sources) to fund tech upgrades that critics say are either unnecessary or available at much lower prices from other providers.

The Mercury News article is worth reading in full, but here are some highlights:

1. San Jose State declined Internet-service upgrades that the California State University system was offering free.

The university paid Cisco for faster Internet service, the article says, “even though the California State University system—which is coordinating Internet upgrades for its other 22 campuses—is providing similar technology at no cost to the schools, with a company that offered CSU a proposal at one-fifth the price Cisco quoted.”

2. Members of the administration, including Mr. Qayoumi, became pitch men for Cisco.

Mr. Qayoumi and the campus’s information-technology chief, Terry Vahey, have written what the article calls “advertorials for Cisco-purchased advertising space” about the power of technology that appeared in the Huffington Post.

3. Campus leaders did not ask faculty members what technology they needed until two years after the administration had decided what to buy.

As a result, professors have found themselves in possession of expensive gadgets that go unused:

“Professor Rachel O’Malley, who heads the environmental-studies department, expresses her displeasure by keeping her videophone unplugged. She is not alone: Most of the professors interviewed for this story say that in an age of FaceTime and Skype, the fancy phones are simply unnecessary.”
4. An IT staff member might have embezzled $800,000 worth of wireless Internet devices.

That’s a bummer because Internet service is one aspect of the university’s infrastructure that everybody agrees required an upgrade.

5. The Center for Excellence in Adaptive and Blended Learning, one of the last vestiges of San Jose State’s foray into MOOCs, has been put “on hold.”

The “center” was really a series of workshops about how professors might incorporate MOOC materials into their courses. Mr. Qayoumi announced the creation of the center in April 2013 at a news conference with Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor. A backlash soon followed. The university later “paused” (and then quietly abandoned) another high-profile partnership with Udacity. With the Center for Excellence in Adaptive and Blended Learning dormant, San Jose State’s attempt to surf the MOOC wave appears to be over.

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