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Monday, May 10, 2021

Pinpointing a New Provost

By McKenna Cardwell

It’s been nearly a year since Greg Smith took a break from backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail and came out of the wilderness to work for Western.

Smith is the university’s current interim vice provost for information technology and the chief information officer.

“I’m responsible for all technology: phones, networks, software and computers,” Smith said. “But it’s more about managing the people that have to deal with changes in technology.”

“I discovered that there was a significant amount of money, $400,000, in the reserve of the Student Technology Fee which accumulated for various reasons. I want to spend it on Wi-Fi. It is ridiculous that this university doesn’t have an enterprise level Wi-Fi strategy. You should be able to walk across campus and not lose your Wi-Fi connection.”

Greg Smith

During his time at Western, Smith has worked to not only increase the visibility of issues but to improve the overall efficiency of I.T, he said. This includes services like on-campus Wi-Fi. 

“I discovered that there was a significant amount of money, $400,000, in the reserve of the Student Technology Fee which accumulated for various reasons,” Smith said. “I want to spend it on Wi-Fi. It is ridiculous that this university doesn’t have an enterprise level Wi-Fi strategy. You should be able to walk across campus and not lose your Wi-Fi connection.”

During the 2015-2016 school year, the transition of Western’s president was underway. John Lawson, who held the position before Smith, was retiring. Until it was clear how the new president wanted to approach Western’s I.T.,  the information officer position was offered temporarily for one year.

Smith accepted the job and began working in June 2016. 

“Coming into the job knowing that you only have a year of commitment can actually make it easier. You can be truthful. You’re not building your own empire,” Smith said. “Early on I made the decision that I wasn’t interested in the permanent position. For me, it’s about being ready to move on to a different career.”

With a one year limit, Smith set out tackling the challenges facing Western’s I.T. department.

Mark Greenberg leads the town hall discussion in SMATE
Wednesday, Feb. 15. // Photo by Rachel Postlewait

One major issue is the lack of budget. Not having an established budget makes it difficult for I.T. to be proactive about solving problems, Smith said.

“That makes it difficult to be strategic,” Smith said. “You’re typically tactical and reactive. That’s part of the challenge that Western is facing because that has been happening for way too long”

Managing the budget is a concern the vice provost of information technology and chief information officer will have, said Rick Nichols, the assistant director of Academic Technology and User Services.

“Universities aren’t just academic institutions. They are also businesses,” Nichols said. “A lot of money goes into indirect support of academics and the [new chief information officer] is going to have to balance those competing needs.”

A town hall meeting was held Wednesday, Feb. 15, to get campus input on the qualities needed for the new position.

Mark Greenberg, chair of the search committee, said the new chief information officer should also have a direct impact on the lives of students.

“This is something that us as the committee could think of as a question to ask of potential candidates,” Greenberg said. “What will you be doing? What is your role? If a student were to ask you what your impact or importance or value to the daily lives of students, what would you say?”

As the search for a new vice provost for information technology and chief information officer begins,  Smith said helping prepare and lay the groundwork for a permanent chief information officer has been fascinating.

“I broke it up into four-month segments,” Smith said. “The first was about discovery, the second was more about exposure and maybe the last four months are about focusing on the big changes.”

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