The Campus Chronicle
Vol. XVI, Issue 1
for the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts
Sept. 1, 2000

Page OneGrain & ChaffObituariesLetters to the ChronicleArchivesFeedbackWeekly Bulletin




Campus to assist in developing system-wide UMass Online

by Sarah R. Buchholz, Chronicle staff

Faculty and administrators are preparing to work through issues around the development of a system-wide distance learning program. The Board of Trustees approved moving forward with the project at its Aug. 2 meeting on the Worcester campus.

    At the meeting, members of the board expressed some urgency about getting the proposed "UMass Online" underway.

    "This is a race," said trustee Robert Mahoney. "We'll know by December who will win in New England. It's ours to win, but it's not going to be won automatically. ... Our strength is our risk. Ironically, because we have done so much work, it's harder to integrate."

     "Our faculty are already doing this," said Vice President for Academic Affairs Selma Botman. "What we will be doing is bringing together the disparate parts into an integrated organization."

     With the U.S. Army's recent announcement that it will spend $600 million over the next six years on distance education for its personnel, Harvard joining the ranks of institutions involved in distance learning, and the state's board of higher education granting a license to the state's first completely online college this month, speed may be a necessary ingredient to success.

     The trick, say campus officials, who also said speed is important, will be to iron out a myriad of issues related to governance, quality control and intellectual property, among other things, some of the very issues that make integration harder.

     "All chairs of councils and committees of the senate have been sent the Pricewaterhouse Coopers report [on the possibility of distance learning through the University system]," said Ernie May, Faculty Senate secretary. "We're going into overdrive."

     Though May said he is enthusiastic about the idea of UMass Online, he wants to do everything he can to make sure the details are fully worked out to ensure the success of the effort.

     "If we're competing against something like the U.K.'s Open University, which recently entered the U.S. market, we're kind of a start up," he said. "The competitive conditions within the distance learning industry look pretty treacherous to me. But face-to-face contact [part of the University's plan]—that's a good selling point. But then you're getting into a cost area."

     Robert Helgesen, vice chancellor for Outreach, is also both enthusiastic and concerned about costs.

     "The faculty here are already fully committed to activities in teaching, research and outreach, and as we look to a major commitment to distance learning, we're going to have to look at a major commitment to increasing the number of faculty who can offer distance education," he said.

     "The way you do that is you frontload the budget by making an initial investment of one-time money to allow the program to start.

     "We're also looking at issues of intellectual property and quality control and issues for the campus about governance. Anytime you have a new environment like this, you have a new set of questions you have to address, a new set of policies, a new set of procedures.

     "If you ask faculty, you get one response; if you ask department heads, you get another response; if you ask deans, you get another response. From the standpoint of the campus administration, we have some substantial issues relative to how we distribute new revenue generated by distance learning.

     "None of these things are negatives, they are simply things that have to be addressed as we enter this new and exciting component to our learning environment."

     The President's Office is planning an open meeting with faculty and staff to discuss distance education 3-4:30 p.m. Sept. 28 on campus. President William M. Bulger, Botman, and Lowell campus Chancellor William Hogan are scheduled to attend. The location will be announced when the President's Office makes its formal invitation to campus staff. Hogan and Botman co-chair the Distance Learning Transition Advisory Committee, and Vice President for Economic Development Thomas Chmura chairs a transition team that will provide the President's Office with technical expertise, Helgesen said.

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