Facilities & Academic Infrastructure
The physical facilities at the University at Albany meet the needs of the instititution's programs and functions. The University believes that its physical facilities are central to the quality and productivity of its academic programs. Accordingly, it has sought and succeeded in obtaining from the State substantial support to improve its physical facilities. In the l990s, 12 major construction projects were completed, and a new 58-acre campus was acquired. The newest funding will support the construction of five new major facilities and significantly renovate three others.
In 1997-98, the State University changed its policy of charging debt service on an average bed cost to the actual debt service for each campus. This resulted in significant savings to the University at Albany, which allowed the University to initiate major dormitory facilities renovations. These improvements have enhanced and made some residence halls more attractive to students.
The Team encourages the University to continue to move aggressively to renovate all other residence halls and, where appropriate, to add appropriate amenities, e.g., study lounges, weight rooms. Additionally, the Team applauds the priority established in the Master Plan to upgrade all older facilities.
The University's physical plant is effectively managed by the Office of Facilities Management, whose mission includes the planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, repair and disposal of real property of the University and its related enterprises. The Office is well organized, focusing on environmental health and safety and facilities acquisition. The Physical Plant staff are dedicated to the continued operation of the University's facilities and are responsible for facilities, maintenance, repairs, custodial, grounds, and utilities services. The Real Estate Department is responsible for the administration of all real property matters for the University, the Research Foundation, and the University at Albany Foundation.
The University Libraries at the University at Albany are clearly adequate to meet the needs of scholars and students at the institution. The program is well led, and it is clear that it enjoys the support of the University community and administration. For some years the Libraries have received a direct appropriation from the SUNY System to cover materials inflation. Those appropriations are now at an end, but efforts are being made to build support within the University community for a continuation of this acquisitions inflationary increase to be supported from campus funds. The recent addition of a new science library, 14 new positions, and a new equipment line of $125,000 in the Libraries' base budget reflects the University's commitment to working to be responsive to the Libraries' needs.
The new library building provides good space for the science collection and is designed to accommodate the latest in technology. Moreover, in the course of building this new facility, a sizeable storage facility was built that can accommodate the retirement of materials from open stacks in all of the campus libraries and alleviate overcrowding throughout the library system.
The University is currently renovating the University Library so that it can serve as an attractive, comfortable, and functional place for study and research. Appropriate computer resources are available for use, and the building is properly wired to support new equipment as it is added to the inventory.
In contrast, the Dewey Graduate Library on the Rockefeller College campus is in serious need of renovation. While it is a charming library directly from the turn of the century, it is barely accessible to handicapped students, poorly lit, crowded, has poor climate control, and is generally not conducive to study. Beautiful stained glass windows are surrounded by pealing paint, and beautiful oak furmture is in need of refinishing. Study space is limited and the general lack of comfortable space for study, shelving, and office space limits both the utility of the building and the comfort of those who use it. Finally, the fact that the peristyle entrance is just barely handicapped accessible and that there is no elevator for getting students into most of the study areas and into the stacks seems inappropriate as the institution tries to support handicapped students. The Team encourages the University to begin these renovations as soon as possible.
The staff of the library is of an appropriate size and is organized in an appropriate way to accomplish the task at hand. The librarians are competent and include within their numbers people who have developed national reputations for their ideas, most notably in web page design and user instruction. They seem to work together easily and fit comfortably within the organization. While the library budget is not overly large for a research library, funding just below the $10 million level is clearly adequate to support a student population of 16,000 and the research effort of this University.
Library service programs seem well organized and information literacy programs are being developed that can serve the needs of students. Outreach programs designed to place information literacy programs within the General Education program, technology literacy programs, and work with Presidential Scholars are proactively encouraging library usage and information competence. The libraries have also developed good web pages (including web based tutorials on library resources) and strong user education programs. Faculty commend the efforts of the library staff, and they are particularly appreciative of the willingness of librarians both to visit their classes and to offer instructional sessions on new information products available on campus. Librarians are also actively engaged with the teaching faculty in building the kind of collection that supports Albany's students and faculty. The library has not been particularly quick to add full text electronic journals, but many other institutions face the same problem. While much hope is placed on SUNY Connect, some effort should be made to move forward in this area, given that, even if SUNY Connect is funded quickly, it may take several years before it can affect the campus's capacity to meet local needs.
The Team suggests that the University invest in a richer array of electronic texts to support its student work in a wider variety of subject areas, particularly those in which the University is focusing its research efforts.
In general the University Library System at Albany is a well organized, congenial operation that is doing well given its resources. It enjoys the support of the campus community and the administration and continues to be treated well in terms of funding. The library program understands how it fits into the University and where it is going.
Several years ago, central computing on the SUNY Albany campus was perceived as not meeting faculty needs. As a result, ad hoc decisions were made to distribute processing, removing control over a variety of research and teaching activities from the Computer Center. In 1997, the campus formally recognized the dual need for computing support by creating a separate Academic Computing Center to support teaching, learning and research. In keeping with this organizational structure, the following comments focus on Academic and Administrative Computing facilities on campus.
University Business Systems, a unit of the Division of Finance and Business, is responsible for most of the mainframe activities on campus, including many of the administrative units of the campus. The University Telecommunications Department also controls telecommunications, including a robust Ethernet network supporting both Academic and Administrative Computing that connects all "podium buildings." University Business Systems is hard at work implementing software supporting an Integrated Administrative System (IAS) designed to replace outmoded legacy systems with systems capable of providing better, more efficient information and more useful services to students, faculty and staff. Peoplesoft was chosen for the Student Administration Financials and Human Resources part of this package. In the words of one staff member, a decision to forego using large scale consulting services to implement the system in favor of local labor has been beneficial because the University has avoided some of the problems other universities have had in making Peoplesoft perform to specifications. It was believed that local talent could make better decisions about changes to be made in this software package. At the same time, implementation was used as a training ground to acquaint local programmers and systems personnel with the package being implemented. While some consultants are being used, control of the project remains in the hands of University personnel who will be responsible for administering it. The first phase of the Student Administration was implemented in spring, 1999, and this common-sense approach bodes well for the HR package, scheduled for the fall.
Although the University decided at one point that Oracle would be the operating system as of next January, it is now understood that that date may not be firmly fixed as a result of creating benchmarks between now and then that would give early warning if the system is not ready by then. Given the critical nature of these activities and the fact that there have been so many false starts by institutions across the country in implementing large packages, the institution's decision to rethink its position and use a more cautious approach is to be applauded.
Two problems were raised that need to be addressed. The institution identified the need for a Network Operations Center to insure the safety of the network and a proactive approach to network outages. It also identified the need to respond quickly to breaches in network security. Both of these are critical if the University is to ensure the confidence of users. The Team recommends that the University establish a Network Operations Center and a mechanism for responding to breaches in network security as described in its self-study as soon as possible.
Academic Computing supports electronic mail and related services, applications software supporting research and teaching, network printing, the University Web server, faculty and departmental Web services, the University Calendar, and faculty and student directories and the domain name server for the campus. In addition it works cooperatively with distributed units to provide a variety of other services.
As noted above, this is a relatively new organization that has been challenged by limited resources and an established tradition of decentralization. It made a decision early on to use its limited resources to supplement the work of existing operations. Efforts have been made to establish coordinating councils that could identify ways that the distributed computing services on campus could contribute to the good of the whole while simultaneously using backup support from academic computing. This has proven successful. Academic Computing has set up more than 400 computers in open labs and has, or is negotiating for, access on a limited basis to perhaps 400 more in what are referred to as "semipublic" labs.
At the same time, a service called RESNet, of the Division of Finance and Business, is to be commended for providing the campus with an imaginative and useful approach to supporting student computer use in the dorms. RESNet consultants, composed of paid student labor, have been established in the dorms to provide residential students the help they need to install and use computers in their rooms. RESNet staff are available to hook up computers to the net, to provide peer counseling, and to troubleshoot problems as they occur.
In the final analysis, Academic Computing has made great strides in addressing problems in the past three years. Significant challenges remain however: (1) it is unlikely that 400 public workstations (even if supplemented by limited use of the "semipublic" stations) will be adequate to meet the current or future needs of students at the University; (2) no funding stream has been identified to allow for regular upgrading of computers in the open labs; (3) the campus will need to provide a help desk for users beyond 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day; and (4) attention should be paid to the need for specialized HVAC units in computer labs. (Temperatures as high as 90 degrees have been reported during times of high usage.)
The Team recommends that the University consider (1) purchasing additional computer workstations for students; (2) developing an amortization schedule for upgrading computer workstations in labs across campus; (3) extending the hours of the Academic Computing help desk; and (4) addressing the need for better temperature control in computer labs.
Training programs on technology literacy have been developed by Academic Computing, the University Libraries, and the Center for Teaching and Learning. While all of these agencies have separate reporting lines, they all seem to appreciate each other and understand that working together provides the best use for scarce resources.
The Center for Teaching and Learing (CETL)
CETL is a relatively new activity reporting to the Provost and located in high-profile space in the Science Library that is designed to help faculty who want to improve their teaching with or without technology. It provides a program designed to focus on the need for improved pedagogy throughout campus that includes providing standard templates for the design of course Web pages and other teaching aids, course management software, instruction on the use of new technology in the classroom, forums for the discussion of "best practices," and a modest amount of equipment. It also supports the best equipped classrooms on campus for computer training and a skilled training staff. CETL works closely with programs like Project Renaissance to insure that instructors receive timely support and that everyone on campus can find assistance that is not threatening when they address questions relating to the improvement of teaching and learning.
It is too early for a long-term evaluation, but the Center is a worthwhile effort that is appreciated by faculty and has shown results. For instance, CETL has to date helped faculty develop more than 400 course Web pages. The Team's only concern was that the Center's image seemed to focus primarily on use of technology with insufficient recognition of its broader role, but that will likely be addressed as the Center evolves.
The University at Albany has to date developed 11 "smart classrooms" on campus. These rooms are designed to encourage increased use of multimedia and computer-based resources in class. While to date most of these are large classrooms, there is a sense that various sizes will be needed. More are planned, funding is available, and a committee has been established to decide on the placement and character of these new rooms. The Team commends these efforts and encourages the University to build additional smart classrooms as quickly as possible
In conclusion, it should be noted that while the computing infrastructure is not on the cutting edge, the University is taking steps to address this situation. The University is well aware of its deficiencies and is taking steps to correct them.
In summary, the Team recommends that the University (1) continue working with SUNY System Administration and the State to implement the campus Master Plan for creating additional space and upgrading existing space; (2) focus on securing funds related to research infrastructure, including library and technology enhancements necessary to attract and retain the best faculty and graduate students; (3) continue to develop partnerships with government and industry in order to secure resources for additional facilities and equipment; and (4) develop a University-wide technology plan focusing on the research, instructional, and administrative needs of the campus.
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