November 27, 2020

Webster interviews three candidates for VP of Information Technology position

Three candidates considered for the position of vice president  (VP) of Information Technology (IT) presented their five-year plans to aid the university to faculty and administration.
Webster University’s current Interim Vice President of IT Ken Freeman, Saint Louis University’s (SLU) current Information Technology Services (ITS) Director Michael Mueller and Clayton School District’s current Chief Informational Officer (CIO) Devin Davis are the final three applicants.
Freeman, who has been interim VP  of IT since April 2011, presented to more than 50 people Feb. 1 in the University Center.
Previously employed by corporations that include Monsanto, CIGNA and Fleet Financial Group, Freeman said he is willing to learn more about working in a higher education setting, as he had not before coming to Webster.
“I have experience across multiple industries and, with those experiences, I know how it’s been done in other areas,” Freeman said. “I have that experience and can say, ‘OK, you did this here, you may be able to do this along with some additional collaboration and thought in the higher education environment.’”
Freeman spoke in depth about student retention technology. He said in higher education, it is important to monitor and retain students while using the correct technology to do so.
“We spend a lot of time attracting students to come to Webster, but the next step is ask how can we do a better job monitoring their process as they are enrolled and going forward,” Freeman said.
He said that monitoring whether students are viewing their course syllabus, contacting student advisors or doing homework is information that can help faculty and administration better serve students.
“How can we make sure that once that student arrives here at Webster that they’re taking care of everything they need to do, and if we are enabling them to succeed as much as possible?” Freeman asked.
Freeman suggested using an e-portfolio where students could submit papers and applications, instead of turning them in or emailing them.  “You send them in to one tool,” Freeman said. “This increases the probability of student success and recognition of Webster’s commitment to them, because we spent a lot of time bringing them in; we want to make sure they succeed.”
Freeman also stressed that using Cloud computing will help organize information. Cloud computing is an online storage service that can store data from any device.
“Cloud based emails; that is an initiative that is on the table,” Freeman said. “Right now, we have to get that approved from a dollar perspective. Research was done last year and the team did present their recommendations and findings. I think since then, they’ve learned some other things.”
Freeman said he is pleased with decisions he has made at Webster.
“I have an open door policy; I don’t have a problem with any of the decisions that I’ve made, and I also don’t have a problem with people expressing their opinions,” Freeman said.
Mueller, who is currently ITS Director at SLU, said he would like to strengthen any weak points to Webster’s online infrastructure, if hired. He spoke in the library conference room Feb. 2.
“We would assess the infrastructure and see if there are any core points of failure,” Mueller said. “If you only have one leg to the Internet and it goes down, you can’t do too much. I would need to assess the IT staff, and look at who needs additional training, as well as address single points of reliance either by cross training or by supplemental staff.”
Mueller also said students are the main focus, which he sees as the biggest difference between being in IT at corporations or in higher education.
“Students are our customers,” Mueller said. “In the corporate world, people can set policies and they will be adhered to. You can be a dictator in the corporate world if you’re high enough up. And that’s not the way it’s done in higher education.”
Mueller also said that in order to be transparent, he would like to have annual meetings with student representation and faculty. He said he wants a customer-focused staff and wants to build relationships through the annual meetings.
Davis, who is currently the CIO of Clayton School District, presented Feb. 3 in the library conference room. He said he believes in utilizing more virtual tools to help students learn from both Webster’s home campus and around the world.
He said that if he were a student, he would wish there were more videos of lectures and interactive quizzes that fully utilize online functions.  Davis, who has overseen IT for over 700 Sara Lee locations worldwide, said he believes he is ready to lead Webster’s worldwide campuses.
Davis said virtual learning would not take away a professor’s job.
“This doesn’t mean we’re replacing teachers and the classroom,” Davis said. “It will give students more chances and opportunities to learn.”
Davis said if he were hired, he could not fully serve the university unless he got to know individuals on campus.
“There’s no way I can sit on the fringes of society and know what you’re feeling,” Davis said. “The first thing I’d do is walk around and try to meet people.”
Webster student Andrew Ryan, senior film production major and employee at the Media Center, thinks the new VP should have a background in higher education. As IT now manages the Media Center, Ryan said he would like the VP to understand how it serves production students.
“As a graduating senior, I would like whoever assumes that role to have a better understanding as to what the media center does and know the difference between it and IT,” Ryan said.
Shirley Torretta, accounts payable manager at Webster, said students should be the main priority, but that she’d like to see new infrastructure implemented into the university to aid faculty as well.
“We are at least five years behind; we do not have digital imaging, we cannot create reports and we cannot send documents to individuals for approval,” Torretta said. “We are doing everything manually, and with the growth of the university, it’s going to get to the point where we can’t handle it anymore.”
Torretta said Webster has used the software program Jenzabar for too long and looks forward to the new vice president making steps to help solve this issue.
As a member of the VP of IT search committee, Terri Jones, director of Information Services, believes her job is complete.
“Our job was to call down the applicants to the final three and present them to the university at large,” Jones said. “There’s going to be feedback available to the university community to give to the administrative group. I believe the president and the provost will take that and look at it, along with their discussion with the candidates, and make a decision.”
She said events like these are usually filmed and streamed throughout campus, but the interviews were not.
“The only thing I wish is that this was filmed and streamed out,” Jones said. “I’ve had questions about it, and I don’t know what the logistics were, but I feel that (filming events) makes us more of a one-university community when we act in that manner.”
Jones said she is not aware when the president and provost will make their decision.

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