College without IBM support

Janet Paskin

The College can only do so much.

John Bucher, director of the Computing Center, has certainly run into his fair share of limitations as the search for a DOS/Windows support person has extended through the summer and into the school year.

Don Hilton, who was the Client Services Analyst specifically for Windows support, left last spring after 5 years of service to Oberlin College. According to Bucher, his departure was troublesome because he was the only professional Windows support staff, but Hilton left to pursue professional opportunities in the private sector.

The Computing Center hoped to fill the position by the time school started but ran into a number of obstacles.

"The job market for information technology professionals is incredibly tight right now," said Bucher.

The job search that lead to Hilton's employment in 1992 yielded 150 applications, 30 of whom were reasonable candidates. This time around only 15 applicants submitted resumes, and of those only two or three were qualified to be interviewed.

"It wasn't a very strong candidate pool to begin with," Bucher said.

A candidate was hired and was scheduled to start work on July 28. He called the Computing Center on July 25 to say that he would not be taking the job in Oberlin. He cited a family emergency as the basis of his last-minute decision.

The Computing Center began the search again, this time receiving 19 applications. The shortage in qualified information technology support professionals comes as no surprise to Bucher. "Everybody needs technical support right now," he said.

The increasing popularity of the World Wide Web has created positions like Webmaster and has placed increasing demand on the job market for computer professionals. The shortage is exacerbated by the "Year 2000" problem, which requires programs to be entirely rewritten to accommodate for the turn of the century.

In addition to increased demand, supply has gone down. According to the Information Technology Association of America, the annual number of Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science fell by 43% from 1986 to 1994.

Along with the problems posed by external circumstances, Oberlin finds itself unable to offer competitive salaries to candidates.

"Compared to other college of the same type, we hold our own, but our salaries are not adequate in today's job market," Bucher said.

Faculty have felt the impact of the lack of DOS/Windows support. "We rely heavily on DOS labs," David Cleeton, professor of economics said . "We rely on the Computing Center to install, maintain, and update those labs. [As a result of the lack of support staff] course development related to computers has come to a halt."

There is no argument that something must be done to support the Windows machines and users on this campus. Bucher cites a more aggressive advertising campaign for new staff and increased efforts to retain his current staff.

Cleeton suggested that those priorities were perhaps out-dated. "The problem is that people need to think about how to reallocate Computing Center resources to serve the people they have. The number of people who do Macintosh support is far out of proportion to the users on this campus. The College may need to think about moving money out of equipment and into staffing," he said in reference to the expensive new Macintosh machines installed over the summer.

Bucher defended the recent expenditure on Macintosh upgrades, distinguishing between the nature of a one-time commitment to new capital and the ever-lasting budgetary commitment to an across-the-board salary increase. Steven Shepherd, professor of economics and chair of the educational technology committee of the General Faculty, agreed with Bucher.

"One of our goals is upgrading the equipment every four years," he said. "The funds are not totally fungible, and there are a lot of management issues involved in salary increases."

Also, said Shepherd, "It's not realistic to maintain a staff that could solve any faculty or student problem on five hours notice. It is possible, but the cost would be astronomical."

Bucher also pushed for more realistic expectations. "Most people on campus don't realize how complex these things are," he said. "Part of my mission is to get the word out about what we are up against."

The Computing Center hopes to have hired the new Client Services Intern specifically for Windows support by mid-October.

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Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 1, September 5, 1997

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