CUNY Technology Group

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Budget Constraints Nudge Grad Center Toward Open Source

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    Lee Hachadoorian

    Many of you will have seen the recent GC Community Notice “Fall 2011 Update from President Kelly” (attached for those of you who have not seen it). After describing how CUNY has fared relatively well compared to other state university systems, President list lists measures to keep the GC budget balanced without reducing student financial aid. Of interest to this group is the plans WRT Information Technology. Specifically I want to call attention to two items:

    ·The use of open source software will expand to replace proprietary products.
    ·VPN access will be replaced by enhanced remote computing resources.

    The prospect of an increased adoption of FOSS (free and open source software) is of course heartening. I was thinking about writing to the administration with some comments on this, but am holding off to give a shout on Academic Commons for the possibility of composing some kind of group-signed letter in support of FOSS, with suggestions for steps we would like to see taken. A couple of things come to mind for me:

    1) A fair number of people are not just unhappy but *extremely* dissatisfied with Blackboard CMS. The GC contribution is not itemized on recent Student Technology Fee budgets, but my recollection from being a student committee member a few years ago is that it is a significant portion of the Enterprise Initiatives charge ($100k for the last couple of years, budgeted at $78k for the coming year). The Grad Center doesn’t have any control over this expense, but maybe now would be a good time to start pushing for (a) greater support of a FOSS alternative, and (b) allowing individual campuses to choose not to join in the next CUNY/Blackboard contract renewal.

    2) As a geographer, I’m very interested in open source Geographic Information Systems. Baruch has been moving forward in this area, with a Geospatial Librarian who has been putting on FOSS/GIS tutorial workshops for students, faculty and staff. It would be nice to see the Grad Center move in this direction as well, with more widespread installation of FOSS/GIS tools, as well as workshops and technical support.

    3) I included the bit about the VPN because I have had a lot of trouble with using Citrix (which is what I think is meant by “remote computing”) from my home computer, which runs Ubuntu Linux. I got it working at one point a couple of years ago, after jumping through a lot of hoops, but a few months later it stopped working. I haven’t been able to fix it and eventually gave up. The VPN works flawlessly, and has two additional advantages. It can be used on the road for security when the user is on an insecure network. And I have also found that off-campus, the library databases do not integrate seamlessly with the web-based reference managers *unless* connected by VPN.

    Anyway please feel free to share your comments. Also, I did not see a way to post to more than one Commons group. Should this go to Open Education and Blackboard Alternatives as well?

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    Suzanne Tamang

    Hi Lee,

    Thanks for bring this up on the GC Commons! It is great to see executive level support for open source initiatives, even if it’s financially motivated. I am not sure where this topic belongs, but I feel it would be great if you had a dedicated group.

    Perhaps now is the time for students and faculty to put the pressure on CUNY’s CIO, Brian T. Cohen about ETI, and our own Director for Enterprise Initiatives, Matt Liston? I feel there are many students and faculty with at least one of the following interests: supporting the open-source community, reducing unnecessary costs, correcting what some view as increasing misuses of STF funds and alternatives to Citrix.

    Also, some estimations I dug up that you may be interested to know:
    Blackboard’s annual renewal contract costs GC about 15-20K per year
    The total cost of ETI to the GC will be almost 300,000 for 2011-2012 (the 78k is the direct contribution from our STF dollars)
    At GC, the STF fund is now about 600-700k annually


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