At Hofstra University, the search for a vice president of information technology this year turned out to be just like any other executive-level search on the campus: More than 150 people applied for the job.
Such a strong response would have been unheard of just a few years ago, when colleges struggled to find information-technology professionals in the face of more-lucrative opportunities in the private sector.
While hiring committees are seeing a stronger pool of applicants for CIO positions, job candidates are seeing a steady stream of new opportunities. A growing number of colleges and universities, like Hofstra, are consolidating their information-technology offices under one executive and creating the new position of CIO, or chief information officer. And experienced professionals are still being courted for these top jobs with lucrative salaries.
"More and more, the leadership of universities recognize that information technology is a critical asset that needs to be strategically managed," says Brian L. Hawkins, president of the education-technology group Educause, whose annual meeting is under way this week in Atlanta.
The CIO position did not exist 20 years ago, and there continues to be no standard career path to the job. Some CIO's come from campus information-technology offices, others from academic administration, and still others from the faculty or the library. The job, Mr. Hawkins says, calls for someone who can "work with the campus to develop an appropriate vision for information resources" and someone who has "the technical savvy to be able to manage a large, complex organization."
Most colleges would prefer to hire CIO's who have worked in information technology in academe at some point in their careers. M. Patricia Adamski, senior vice president for planning and administration at Hofstra, says that kind of experience helped Robert W. Juckiewicz land the top technology job at the university. (He served as deputy vice president for administration services at Columbia University.)
Hofstra's search, which began in February and ended in July, attracted 155 candidates, which the search committee narrowed to 13, and then to 4 finalists. Ms. Adamski says the committee was looking for someone who could "understand and interact with faculty and students and who understood that, from a university perspective, the purpose of technology is to enhance teaching and learning."
"It was a huge pool, a strong pool," Ms. Adamski says, "but there were a lot of people you could eliminate out of hand because they didn't have the academic experience. Some of them I'm sure were looking around because of downsizing of corporations."
That's also been the case at Paul Smith's College of Arts and Sciences, which has received 80 applications for the CIO position it first advertised in August. "We've gotten a really nice response," partly due to the economy, says Susan Y. Sweeney, director of human resources at the college. "Higher-education positions are probably looked at as more stable than some industry positions." The CIO search has generated the same kind of interest as the college's other continuing search for a vice president for enrollment management, which has received 80 applications.
Although Educause does not keep track of the number of CIO's in academe, it does ask representatives of its 1,626 member institutions to characterize their positions. At latest count, 653 representatives had described themselves as "chief information officer," says Peter B. DeBlois, director of communication services.
In each of the last five years, at least 10 to 20 major research universities have conducted CIO searches, says Mark Polansky, managing director at Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm, who's been involved in academic CIO searches for six years. Mr. Polansky says the job market for experienced higher-education CIOs continues to be "robust."
Others say it has slowed somewhat. James I. Penrod, vice president for information systems and CIO at the University of Memphis, was one of the first academic CIOs (he got his start at Pepperdine University in the mid-1970s, although CIO wasn't his exact title there). Several months back, he was receiving about four to six calls a month from search firms looking for chief information officers. Lately, he's been receiving half as many calls. "I assume it has to do with the recession," Mr. Penrod says. Still, "there is very ample opportunity for people who are well qualified for these positions."
Everyone knows where the good CIO's are, Mr. Polansky says. "Getting them to the table and interested in considering a change -- that's the art of the search." The best way for colleges to fill these jobs is not to go looking for candidates at peer institutions but "to seek out successful CIO's at smaller schools," he says. "Everyone wants to move up in class, stature, and ranking" and not just make a lateral move. CIO's, like other professionals, need incentives to change jobs.
"The previous generation of IT leaders would maintain and operate systems and put in old Legacy software applications but were not the caliber of CIO's today that really create a broad institutional vision of how technology helps the school fulfill its mission," Mr. Polansky says. CIO's, he says, are much more involved in pedagogy, distance learning, and research. They now oversee cable and long-distance satellite service on campus as well as the whole spectrum of telecommunications. Ten years ago, he says, "the facilities guy handled the phones because it wasn't a big deal."
It is today, and universities are willing to pay for such expertise. According to the 2001-2 administrative salary survey for the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the median salary for CIO's at doctoral institutions was $137,350; at comprehensives, $85,452; at four-year colleges, $76,332; and at two-year colleges, $70,000. But those numbers don't tell the full story.
"We see CIO's at small schools in the Midwest making $100,000," Mr. Polansky says. "Typically in an urban research university [they make] $200,000 or more. The very, very top CIOs are approaching and hitting the $300,000 mark." In fact, higher education saw its first CIO earn that salary this year, Mr. Polansky says, although he declines to name the institution or the person.
Information gathered for The Chronicle's forthcoming survey of top salaries at private colleges shows that one such executive already hit that mark: Frank Sirianni earned a salary of $301,458 and $13,586 in benefits for the 2000-1 fiscal year as chief information officer at St. John's University in New York. He has since moved to the Fashion Institute of Technology, where he is vice president for information technology.
Still, most academic CIO's aren't earning what they would in industry.
Marian G. Moore, the new vice president for information technology at Boston College, will not disclose her salary, but says that CIO's in higher education probably earn half to a third of what they could earn in private industry. She chose academe for its environment: "You are here because it's a place to do scholarship, because you're working with very bright people, and because you've got a lot of latitude in devising new ways of doing things. That's exciting. There are reasons other than money to do this job."
Ms. Moore's long career in information technology has included stints at Yale University, Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, Boston University, and most recently, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was vice chancellor of information technology. "One of the factors that played in my decision to leave Carolina was four years of rolling budget cuts with the high probability of more to follow," Mr. Moore says. So she returned to Boston, a city she considers home.
She now oversees the college's academic and administrative computing, support networks, and telephone system, and has a staff of nearly 200 people reporting to her. She, herself, reports to the executive vice president.
As CIO, Ms. Moore says she has reached the pinnacle of her career. "At some point in this you have to decide whether you're going to stay on the technical side or go into managing," she says. "But if you continue to want to go on that management track ... you're most likely to climb up that ladder." And you don't need a Ph.D. to do so, she says, since the job is based on delivering services. "You can get a lot of real-world experience that doesn't require the Ph.D."
Mr. DeBlois of Educause estimates that about 10 percent of the representatives of its 1,626 member institutions hold Ph.D.'s, although Educause does not track that number.
Ms. Moore's lack of a doctorate did not deter Boston College. "I felt very strongly that we needed a person with a strong technical background and experience at the executive level but primarily someone who had been in a university setting," says Patrick J. Keating, the college's executive vice president.
The college hired Mr. Polansky last fall as a consultant and began its CIO search "by casting a very wide net," Mr. Keating says. Besides advertising the job, the college went through a list of all the CIO's at the top universities and contacted them to see who would be a good fit for the college and whether they were interested in moving. An initial pool of 25 to 30 candidates was ultimately narrowed to three or four finalists, who were brought to campus for interviews, before Ms. Moore was hired.
While the college was not flooded with candidates, Mr. Keating says the sluggish national economy seemed to generate a good pool for the position. Because the technology job market has slowed, "that market wasn't a competitor to us today like it might have been awhile ago," he says.
While some CIO's have had to face outside competition to land their jobs, others, like Dennis J. Gendron, have risen to the job internally.
Mr. Gendron, who became Tennessee State University's vice president for technology and administrative services in June, oversees three departments -- human resources, purchasing and contracts, and communications and information technologies -- and reports directly to the president, James A. Hefner.
A Ph.D. in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mr. Gendron grew interested in technology as a faculty member. He came to Tennessee State in 1989 as associate dean of arts and sciences and then became associate vice president for academic affairs under Mr. Hefner.
In May, the Tennessee Board of Regents suggested the creation of a CIO position at the university, Mr. Gendron says. "Dr. Hefner did not want the techies to be directing the planning of the technology," Mr. Gendron says. "He thought they were too narrow in their focus and not attuned to the academic needs of the university." So "he called me in one day and asked me if I wanted to do it."
Mr. Gendron, who earns $110,000 a year, says he doesn't need his Ph.D. for his current role because it's mostly a management position. In campus technology offices, each person has a particular area of expertise, he says. And since the organization is a flat structure, "what you need is a manager to keep all the pieces horizontally in place with each other and communicating with each other. If you can't do that, you're in big trouble."