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Innovative Staffing to Meet Technological Changes: A Case Study at Wake Forest University

Is your college wired? Recent reports in the The Chronicle of Higher Education emphasize the importance of the Internet on college and university campuses.[1] Wake Forest University, a private university of 5,500 students, found itself ranked as number 33 in the country of colleges and universities currently wired for students, faculty and staff by Yahoo! Internet Life Magazine.

Wake Forest University began a thoughtful and thorough plan to enhance student life and curriculum in January 1995 under the title Plan for the Class of 2000.[2] It was in this plan that faculty, staff and students studied Wake Forest's current academic goals and moved the institution toward a greater concentration on information technology services.

With stronger areas of emphasis on institutional technology comes a need to examine staffing issues supporting such dramatic changes. This case study examines the changes surrounding information technology as it relates to staffing issues at Wake Forest University.

Staff to Support Plan for the Class of 2000

Before Wake Forest University began implementation of the technology initiatives outlined in the Plan for the Class of 2000, changes in operational strategies and organizational structure were necessary and deemed critical. The infrastructure had to be in place from a staffing perspective in order to effectively achieve the goals in the plan.

Information Services department staff members were already stressed and their capacity to take on additional duties was nonexistent. No organizational slack existed in the centralized information services function. The significant changes that followed included:

  • New staffing level in the organizational hierarchy with an increase in total headcount of employees involved in information services;
  • New reporting relationships with a focus on decentralizing the information services function; and
  • New human resource processes for attracting, selecting, interviewing and hiring employees.

When the Plan for the Class of 2000 was set to launch, those involved with the technology component understood that additional staff needed to be hired. Funding for the additional staff salaries and fringe benefits was factored into plan initiatives and was not a critical issue.

Instead, integrating new staff members into an organizational structure designed to meet the comprehensive information services needs of the entire campus was the challenge. How would faculty members be trained in the use of their IBM ThinkPads? How would faculty be supported in the classroom with technology? How would students be trained and supported? And, how would the campus' technological infrastructure be staffed to meet the needs of the various users?

To address these challenges, Wake Forest University came up with a revised organizational structure adding the following new positions:

  • 17 Academic Computing Specialists (ACS)
  • 20 Resident Technology Advisors (RTA)
  • 18 additional Information Services positions.

These positions were recognized as just the beginning of the staffing needs, with an estimated price tag of $1,450,000 in annual salaries and fringe benefits.

Academic Computing Specialists (ACS)

Academic Computing Specialists (ACS) are located in the field including all academic departments, such as the English and Education departments. The 17 ACSs have direct reporting relationships to the academic department heads, not to the centralized Information Services department. The ACS reports to the academic department head, who in turn reports to the dean of the college in the provost's division of the university organization chart (see Chart 1). The ACSs' location and reporting relationships with faculty department heads foster support and promote the technology initiatives at the grass-roots level.

However, the ACS position is not just limited to academic units. One ACS reports to the administrative units, and four ACSs are assigned to the Z. Smith Reynolds Library to assist with campus training for all employees and students. The four who report to the director of the library once again break the centralized barriers, placing technology in all units as seen in the organizational chart. The library ACSs report to the library director, who in turn reports to the vice president of instructional resources and student affairs.

Resident Technology Advisors (RTA)

The RTAs are students who, while living in the residence halls, are hired to support students at in maximizing their use of ThinkPad notebook PCs. The RTAs receive a stipend and a computer. In the spring of 1997 there were 12 RTAs, with an increase of an additional eight in the fall of 1997.

RTAs report directly to the Information Services department. The director of information services reports to the chief information officer, who in turn reports to the vice president of finance and administration. The Information Services department had to be reinforced with 18 positions additional during this period. Consequently, Information Services restructured into five management teams.

Changes in HR Department

The human resource processes were witness to and affected by the paradigm shift in technology at Wake Forest University. Attracting, selecting, interviewing and hiring functions typically performed by a campus HR department were decentralized, allowing the faculty an opportunity to bring in staff members who best fit their department's culture.

In terms of attraction, Wake Forest University did a national search for the ACS positions. The search included both traditional methods (such as advertising in the The Chronicle of Higher Education) as well as the non-traditional method of advertising on the World Wide Web. Use of the Web in advertising for jobs was a great selection tool. Those who found the site evidenced a computer literacy that often qualified them as potential applicants. A faculty committee was set up to review the resumes, select the candidates for interviews, and finally to hire.

ACSs were hired based on a number of factors, but most were hired because they reflected the department's culture and function. For example, an ACS hired by the Foreign Languages department possessed foreign language skills. Contrary to normal procedure, the faculty committee was responsible for staffing the technology initiatives and supporting their grass-roots implementations.

Successful Integration: Survey of Attitudes

Wake Forest University has made strides to fully integrate the Plan for the Class of 2000 technological initiatives into its campus community. These efforts have been deemed a success by staff involved in the project.

Table 1 features the results of a survey of attitudes given to staff in human resources, the library, and information services departments. The questionnaire was designed using a Likert scale of one to ten, with ten being the most successful. The average response when asking staff to identify the success of the overall program was an 8.67 -- indicating that, overall, the staffing plan has been viewed as a success.

Table 1: Response to Research Questions in Interviews
Survey of Attitudes
"On a scale of 1 - 10, how successful has the university been...?" (on scale, 10 is highest)

Avg.Human ResourcesInfo ServicesLibrary

In recruiting new staff?

8.67

9.00

9.00

8.00

In selecting new staff?

8.50

9.50

9.00

7.00

In training new staff?

6.67

7.00

7.00

6.00

In retaining new staff?

9.67

10.00

9.00

10.00

Trends for the HR Department

The trend most apparent from the interviews conducted was the fact that the decision processes for the department of Human Resources have changed significantly from previous practice. The decision for hiring was now routed through a faculty committee for selecting and interviewing job candidates.

The decision to use the Web in attracting and recruiting personnel was critical -- and changed the previous advertising mechanisms designed to reach regional and local job markets. The Web was an inexpensive method for the direct targeting of the job market and the technological skill sets required for the implementation of the Plan.

The use of bonuses and incentives was instituted to ensure retention of key employees with the desired skills, which changed the decision process for compensation. These decisions affected selection processes, interview processes, recruiting processes and compensation processes.

A change in couplings is another trend determined from interviews. Couplings can be defined by Robert Birnbaum as, "the extent to which subsystems have common variables between them and the extent to which the shared variables are important to the subsystems."[3] Tight coupling occurs when a direct departmental or supervisory relationship exists; loose coupling occurs when a cooperative, but not departmentally linked, relationship exists.

The couplings changed for the Information Services function. Reporting relationships were previously based on a bureaucratic direct-line structure. The new structure reveals many dotted-line relationships and a new level in the structure. The Academic Computing Specialists, the teams in Information Services and the ACS library trainers all have loose coupling relationships that indicate cooperation and information sharing across departments and between vice presidential units. This relationship indicates a loose coupling that did not previously exist since that staffing did not exist. This loose coupling is also evidenced by weekly "alphabet soup" meetings where members of Information Services, ACS library trainers, and other ACSs meet to discuss their needs and challenges.

A tighter coupling, however, is evidenced by the reporting relationship of the ACSs directly to the department chairs. This reporting relationship has changed the older bureaucratic Information Service structure into a new service-oriented structure designed to meet the needs of individual faculty members and academic units.

Conclusion

This case study demonstrates an organization that has moved beyond the traditional ways of operating. As stated by Miles and Snow, "The greatest barrier to success will be outmoded views of what an organization must look like and how it is managed."[4] Wake Forest University created an ambitious initiative with its Plan for the Class of 2000 and has allowed people to move beyond the traditional hiring and staffing barriers. Staff involved in the project express success in creating an organizational culture change that allows the university to reposition itself in terms of technology when competing with like institutions. Faculty and students benefit from a campus that is technologically wired and has a staff structure in place to support the extensive wiring of campus.

Dawn Watkins is the Director of Student Activities and Events Planning at Guilford College. A current doctoral student in Higher Education Administration at the University of North Carolina - Greensboro, Watkins received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from Virginia Tech. E-mail: watkinsda@rascal.guilford.edu

Robin Ganzert is Assistant Dean of Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University, and also a doctoral student in Higher Education Administration at UNC - Greensboro. Ganzert received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Wake Forest University, and is a Certified Management Accountant and Certified Cash Manager. E-mail: robin_ganzert@mail.mba.wfu.edu

References:
1. McCollum, K. (1997), "MIT and Northwestern Top Survey of Wired Universities," The Chronicle of Higher Education, Online: http:// chronicle.com/che-data/internet.dir/data.dir/970415o1.htm#wired.
2. Plan for the Class of 2000, Winston-Salem, NC: Wake Forest University (1995).
3. Birnbaum, R. (1988), How Colleges Work: The Cybernetics of Academic Organization and Leadership, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, p.39.
4. Miles, R. & Snow, C. (1989), Human Behavior at Work. Eight Edition, Eds. K. Davis and J. Nestrom, New York, NY: McGraw Hill Book Co., p.333.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.

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