Blending Computers and Academics

With his two jobs, Lew Temares straddles the worlds of IT and academics.

With his two jobs, Lew Temares straddles the worlds of IT and academics. As vice president and CIO of the University of Miami, he oversees a significant IT organization with a staff of 212. As dean of the university's School of Engineering, he runs a 1,000-student undergraduate and graduate division that turns out freshly minted information sciences graduates.

Though the two roles might seem to have very little in common, Temares has been able to leverage his CIO experience and contacts to sharpen the engineering school's curriculum and, occasionally, add to its resources. Moreover, the dual role partly reflects his three decades of IT work in academic environments.

After college and a stint in the Army, Temares began his career as an administrator with IBM, dispatching service technicians. He later earned master's degrees from Columbia and Baruch, then a doctorate in marketing and statistics from the City University of New York's Graduate Center.

Temares began his blended IT/academic career after graduate school as registrar at Baruch. "Computing was growing," he recalls, "and I needed computing to do my job—to keep the records and to write the reports." In 1978, he moved to Hunter College, another branch of the City University system, and became assistant to the provost, in charge of computing, the registrar's and admissions offices and some grant administration.

At Miami, Temares rose from assistant vice president to vice president and CIO. Eight years ago, he also became dean of Miami's College of Engineering. The previous dean had resigned, he recalls, and the president reasoned that because engineering was largely about technology, and because Temares was in charge of technology, it might be interesting to add the deanship to his responsibilities.

Flattered, Temares took the job on a two-year trial basis and has since been re-appointed twice. "I may be the only dean of engineering in the country who doesn't have tenure," he says, "but it doesn't matter. My tenure is my ability, and if it doesn't work, they shouldn't want me and I shouldn't want the job." The dual role means long hours and hard work, and he credits a competent staff for making the dual role possible.

Strategic IT Plan
In his early years at Miami, Temares undertook development of the university's first strategic plan for information systems. "It was called the Long-Range Information Systems Plan," he says. "We interviewed all of the customers on campus, our stakeholders, and we mapped out what we wanted to do over the next seven years and how much it would cost."

One decision was to create a centralized integrated database management system (IDMS) that would serve as a basis for integration and future development of Miami's systems. Subsequent systems were either homegrown or rewritten to mesh with the database, and although the university's IT department uses a few packaged products, Temares thinks of them mostly as front-ends to his staff-written systems.

"The problem is that the packages don't integrate with the other systems you have, unless you're going to go to ERP. And when you go to ERP, you're talking about $16 or $17 million by the time you get done," he says. The university does use packaged development tools—a Micro Strategies product for data warehousing and mining projects and Vignette for Web design—and Computer Associates' Unicenter for operations. It uses Ariba's platform for purchasing and for personnel files. "These are basically front-ends for us, however. They don't change the foundation of what we're dealing with," Temares says.

Temares notes that the Internet was largely created by academic institutions, and that his university has been an Internet user since the 1970s. But over the years, Internet use has skyrocketed and demand for bandwidth has grown with it. Recently, IT upgraded its network to fiber-optic and wireless on campus, and is working with broadband suppliers Qwest and Yipes. "This is one of those things we didn't have in mind, but it's something we've got to keep up with," Temares says.

The university has also written Web interfaces for its systems, "so now you can register if you're in Shanghai or Bolivia or anywhere you want to be," he continues. "When you register, you can also see your financial aid, you can see how much money you owe, you can see what your grades were for the last semester, you can even see the teacher's syllabus for a course."

Budgets Under Scrutiny
Like many other universities, the University of Miami's IT assets are divided between administrative computing—substantially the same activities that go on in corporate IT departments—and academic computing—support for research and teaching activities.

Costs on the administrative side are fairly predictable, Temares says, but academic computing poses some problems. It's important for some departments and graduate schools—business and engineering, for example—to have the latest equipment and software, and that can get costly. Demand for bandwidth also has risen faster than planned.

His mixed computing and academic roles give Temares a unique perspective on IT education. They also provide him with some unusual resources. To keep the engineering school's IT curriculum aligned with skills the industry demands, Temares has created a "visiting committee" of high-level executives from engineering and IT companies—including some he does business with in his CIO role.

The committee advises Temares on important technical trends. Its members are also occasional sources for grants and leading-edge hardware and software. In return for their generosity, they get to expose their products to future IT leaders and, coincidentally, to some very tough testing.

Temares' contacts also convinced him that his curriculum fit well in his engineering school. "I was going to cut back a lot of the math and sciences requirements, but they came back to me and said they wanted more." he says. "I was shocked. I thought, ‘Why would you need this for information technology?' They said they were getting people from business schools who don't have a strong math and science background and couldn't perform what they needed performed."

The high-tech recession and dotcom collapse so far have had little effect on the university's IT graduates or on its enrollment, Temares says. "You see all the layoffs and you'd think demand would die off. Not at all. IBM is still hiring. Cisco is still hiring. Lucent is still hiring. These people are still out there, still looking. I don't have any trouble getting internships for my students."

About the Author

Bob Mueller is a writer and magazine publishing consultant based in the Chicago area, covering technology and management subjects.