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January 22, 1998


Coverage of FAS finalist 'insufficient'

To the editor: T

here is a misleading statement in the University Times summary about the FAS dean finalists, and in general the article gives insufficient coverage to Janice Madden's remarks at her forum. Janice Madden has considerable fundraising experience; as director of women's studies at the University of Pennsylvania she raised sums of money in the six figures, as she discussed at the forum. While this does not equal the amount of money raised by Charles Cnudde as dean, it is more than almost any other director of women's studies across the nation has raised.

The forum also showed some of Janice Madden's range of information about graduate programs across the country and what they are doing to help their students; her knowledge was quite impressive.

Marianne Novy

Professor Department of English


Great Americans Day in March???

To the editor:

As a backwoods naif of a professor, an example of phenomena or behaviors about which I have not the competence to profess–but, what the hell, I'll do so anyway–is what in this cockeyed world the University administration had in mind when it chose to celebrate–as has been recently announced– "Great Americans Day" in March (Friday the 6th) instead of in February. After all, the "Great Americans" referenced are Presidents Lincoln and Washington, both of whom were born in February. While many Americans–some of them "great"–were born in March, for example, Washington, DC, Mayor Marion Barry (born 3/6/36), Bob Costas (3/22/52), Al Gore Jr. (3/31/48), Alan Greenspan (3/6/26), Orrin Hatch (3/22/34), Susan Molinari (3/27/58), Federico Pena (3/15/55), Pat Robertson (3/22/30), and Gloria Steinem (3/25/34)…Abraham Lincoln and George Washington they're not. But celebrating "Great Americans" Day in March honors them, but recklessly overlooks the February birthdates of the father of our country and the great emancipator. What a lovely example of post-modern revisionist thinking! Whatever Cathedral of Learning bureaucrat concocted this cockamamie date for celebrating our first and 16th presidents has some serious explaining to do and the chancellor should take him or her to the woodshed!

Robert Perloff

Professor emeritus Katz

Graduate School of Business


Vice Provost Elizabeth Baranger responds:

As the University Times noted in its Jan. 8 issue, the University is observing Great Americans Day in March this year to give faculty more contact time with students (by eliminating the need to cancel a week's worth of Friday classes) and to give all employees a more evenly spaced holiday schedule (roughly halfway between the holidays held in January and May). The University's academic calendar committee, a committee of faculty and staff, which I chair, recommended that a holiday be observed in March instead of February; this was accepted by the administration after the suggested change was sent for review to deans, directors, chairs, the University Senate, the Staff Association Council and student government boards.

We retained the name "Great Americans Day" to avoid the suggestion that observance of a traditional holiday has been lost. Retention of the name, however, seems to be causing confusion, so we will certainly discuss the possibility of changing the name of the March holiday at our next committee meeting.

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind the University community that the extended academic calendar is online (via should anyone wish to see projected dates through academic year 2002-2003. I also wish to thank Dr. Perloff for his summary of March birthdays; it led to some interesting musings on my part about who would show up on a guest list for a shared birthday celebration for Bob Costas, Orrin Hatch and Pat Robertson.


To the editor:

Over the last nine months, Pitt has been undergoing a metamorphosis of rather dramatic proportions. While hundreds of people have been involved at various levels, the story has generally been ignored in the University news organs. As the University Times might well appreciate with the recent departure of Mike Sajna, trying to maintain the status quo with a reduced staff is hard. When the staff feels unappreciated, things get even tougher. When the status quo is not enough, but new tasks are added, things get tougher again. Well, this is exactly the situation faced by Computing and Information Services (CIS) over the last year.

In a period of dramatic growth of computing at the University, CIS was faced at one point about a year ago with staff reductions due to budget cuts and staff attrition that left the organization at about 80 percent of its former staffing levels. Like everywhere in the information technology industry, the losses and turnover included many key people who were tempted by greener pastures, large commercial salary offers, frustrated by the heavy workloads and lack of clear acknowledgment for their effort. Thus understaffed and overwhelmed by the demands being placed on them, the staff of CIS were asked last year to not only maintain the status quo, but to respond to new demands. The demand for World Wide Web services grew at a rate of 10 percent — per month! New software to address the year 2000 problem had to be written so that bills could be processed and paychecks issued without error into the next millennium. They were challenged to migrate to a ubiquitous computing environment where every student and faculty member had a high speed connection (the Resnet and UNA initiatives), and to a new operating system that would provide state of the art services (the NT initiative). All of these projects were undertaken on shoestring budgets and tight time frames. Each is worth a story in the Times that tells of funny anecdotes, individual commitment to the University of significant proportion, and cutting edge achievements worthy of our University. I know best the story of the migration to a new software environment, so let me tell a little of that story. Keep in mind, the others are just as significant, and they all were accomplished with gross under staffing at a time when the normal demands were growing at a rate that equated with triple digit compounded annual inflation! As chair of the working group responsible for software, it was my task to work with CIS staff to plan for the migration to a new operating system. I discovered that CIS had been working toward a new environment, but not very productively. Two factors seemed to be at work. The target being set by the many advisory groups kept changing as the technology changed and some of the key staff who would need to be involved had moved on to other positions. The political and the technological debates were heated. As the Software and Networked Information Working Group undertook the task of working with CIS on the project, we were able to get several agreements. Martin Weiss, the chair of the parent Executive Committee on Academic Computing (ECAC), agreed to give the total task to the Software and Networked Information Working Group. This would make CIS responsible to only one master on the project. Paul Stieman, director of CIS, agreed to appoint a team that would work with us and that would provide the kind of thorough planning we felt had been lacking. Walt Schneider, former chair of the ECAC and a vocal critic of the lack of movement, agreed to work with us to make the project come to fruition. Vice Provost George Klinzing offered any and all support required from the Provost's Office to make the project work. With help from these key players, we were able to promise the staff of CIS that we would support a comprehensive planning, design, development and implementation effort. It would be technically guided and politically isolated. The goal would be to focus on assisting the University community –students, faculty, staff and administration in that order — in moving effortlessly to this new environment. Keep in mind, a transition like this takes years, requires millions of dollars, and can often only be accomplished by administrative mandate — not something likely to be well accepted at a large research university. As if the deck wasn't stacked enough against the project as it started in March of 1997, the director for System and Network Services resigned. The interested reader may well want to look at the NT migration plan ( to get a sense of just how enormous the task was. After several false starts, we came to a clear agreement that our primary goals were to increase faculty and student productivity in a coherent environment and to realize cost savings through coordinated licensing and simpler help services. The operational goals were many and complicated. Large software systems must be thoroughly tested to make sure there are not unintentional negative interactions. (For example, one of many small, but very interesting and vexing problems causing significant hair loss, was the fact that Microsoft Excel would not save a file on a floppy twice in a row! After all of the logical things were checked out, taking several hours, the staff discovered a little known, but recorded bug: "on some machines, when the system profile was set such that boost to foreground processes was at the max, a floppy write operation can occur." Just one example, but in building a system that has to serve 30,000 users, there are hundreds of little bugs that have to be uncovered and fixed.) While technical problems were being resolved, documentation was being written that would provide guidance to a community of very different individuals, with differing backgrounds, experiences, and expectations. Faculty had to be alerted to software changes so that smooth transitions could be made for instruction and research. New application software had to be introduced. While some objective measures would say that new software is generally better, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and some faculty had years of investment in older, less capable, but well understood software. File format translations had to be tested and training classes developed. The new help desk had to take account of all the new software and operating system problems and issues and expand the help desk knowledge base. Site license software had to be obtained, license servers had to be built. (One of the big savings in the new system is that the University need only buy 20 or 30 copies of some software and while the software exists on all machines, it only runs if fewer than 30 people use it at the same time– licenses are "served" as needed.) Of course the astute reader will note that we also had to put software in place to monitor usage so that as the usage patterns changed more licenses could be obtained. The goal from the start was zero denial of software requests, but only as many licenses as we needed. Between March of 1997 and January of 1998 — a mere nine months — the system was designed, developed, tested and is now in active implementation. Over the fall term, the system was installed in 200+ faculty offices, and a 29-station test lab was built and stressed for a term. After the last final exam, and before we all returned from the Christmas break, 80 lab machines were converted to the new system. In the first 24 hours of lab operation, these machines were used by 775 different students! Before next September, the system should be up and operational on about 500 faculty desktops and more than 400 public laboratory machines. Not only that, but the system will offer capabilities never before available in a distributed environment of this type. The systems and network staff have written some unique code — already requested by our sister institutions with reputations for being at the cutting edge. By the end of January, a Pitt student will be able to move from a machine in a computing lab in the Cathedral to one in Forbes Quad and the "desktop" he/she closed in the Cathedral will magically reopen in Forbes Quad. In the future, a faculty member will close his/her "desktop" in the office and open it at home, or in the classroom down the hall or across campus. This may not mean a lot for a faculty or staff member who always uses one machine, but for students it means that their desktop preferences, bookmarks and other personal information will be maintained rather than lost. For faculty who use Powerpoint in the classroom, it means that information flows invisibly with the faculty member throughout the environment. This solution involved a unique marriage of Microsoft Windows, NT operating system, Kerberos Authentication, and AFS client coding. The significance of the solution goes well beyond the comfort and productivity it will bring to students and faculty using the system; it will also be a cost saving measure for the University which will be able to use and capitalize on its existing multi-terrabyte storage system. Well, I have rambled on longer than I should have. At the same time, I believe it is crucial that a University that is extraordinarily self-flagellant takes time out every once in a while to say: "Well done, you make us proud."

Michael B. Spring

Associate Professor

Information Science and Telecommunications School of Information Sciences

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