Universities need superfast computer networks now more than ever—to connect to global satellite campuses, to participate in international research, and to build better ties with communities near their campuses by providing broadband access—but a slew of financial and cultural obstacles stand in the way of their development.
That was the message of H. David Lambert, the new president and chief executive of the Internet2 college networking group, at its member meeting today in Atlanta. Mr. Lambert was appointed to the job at Internet2 in July, and he comes to the organization after serving as Georgetown University’s vice president for information services.
He touted the group’s big new project to bring broadband to communities, which received $62.5-million in federal stimulus money, calling it an important political tool to convince lawmakers that universities play a useful role worthy of support. As he put it, the project will start “the process of reconnecting universities to communities.”
“If we can do that, I guarantee it will make a difference when we go fight public funding battles,” he said. “This may be the best thing that’s happened since the Morrill Land-Grant Act,” which established public universities.
He identified many challenges, however, including a need for better cooperation among various national and regional university networking projects. “We have got to get our ecosystem healed,” he said, though he admitted, “I don’t know what all the answers are.”
Globalization of higher education was a major theme of his remarks as well. “Universities are recognizing that they have to compete globally,” he said in his keynote address, which was streamed online, noting that American colleges and universities now collectively have more than 160 campuses overseas. “To do business at a distance means you become very dependent on technology infrastructure,” he said.
He ended his talk by reminded his colleagues that colleges and universities played a key role in building the Internet, and argued that people in academe should remain leaders. “We have to think about how we get back in that leading edge—how we drive the innovation that affects the Internet moving forward rather than being driven by it.”