PSU's web presence

Our CIO, Dwight Fischer, recently attended a faculty meeting where he advocated putting "dirty laundry"--such as our faculty and committee meeting minutes--behind the firewall. He makes an eloquent argument for it here. In a nutshell, Dwight's argument is that prospective students are not arriving at our site through the "front door" of, they're coming through the attic window of Google and Yahoo! This, he argues, might make their first impression of PSU a messy one if they arrived at meeting minutes or one of the hundreds (thousands?) of other pages that are not properly vetted.

I think he's right that many of our pages are outdated, irrelevant, and even sloppy. I also agree that many people don't give a site a second chance if they arrive at a page that is confusing or unprofessional (why should they when there are so many to choose from). To that end, I'm in favor of surveying the site--including oz pages--and requesting that specific pages be updated, corrected, or even deleted. I'm sure we could program something to crawl our site periodically and automatically notify people of pages that are more than 1 yr. old (we could exempt specific pages if the owner notified ITS that those pages should stay). We should support this effort by making web-authoring courses/sessions widely available to faculty/staff/students and insisting that all student orgs, departments, etc. review their entire site periodically. In other words, if there are steps we can take to make our site better (better-produced, better-written, better-maintained, etc.) lets take them.

But let's not allow a marketing ethos to supplant our educational ethos. First, I think the Internet abilities of students have been mischaracterized. On the one hand, I think it's hype to say that a whole generation is busily blogging and podcasting and [the-next-big-thing]ing. I think young people are divided much as the rest of us. There are the bleeding-edgers (for whom blogging is already dead, replaced with vlogging), then there are the vast middle group who use technology when it's easy, sexy, and/or useful, and there are the resistors who disdain technology altogether. Once a technology meets that middle threshold, I think most of those young people become very adept, very quickly. And here's my point--Googling is no longer edgy. My students may not know how to use WebCT when they first get here, but they are already VERY adept at much so that I strongly doubt great numbers of potential students would accidently wind up in the Athletic Council minutes when they were really looking for PSU Football tryouts.

Second, and this is my real point, as a public institution, our decision making should be open to public scrutiny. If the minutes are sloppy, we should do better. If the issues are too complex for someone who stumbles into them accidentally, we'll just have to live with that. One faculty member argued that public discovery of the fact that we had heard a presentation on a "A Culture of Peace" at the faculty meeting might fuel the controversy over a liberal professoriate. Never mind the implication that our "Culture of Peace" would only succeed if it were secret, better Jane Q. Public stumbles on it accidentally, than a good muckraker finds the same information (because they WOULD EASILY find that info...unless we hide it even from students...who are paying the bill) hidden from the public. How can we advocate knowledge for those who seek it, then hide information? I think we should invite questions about our policies and about the deliberative process that goes into them. We often make tough decisions in these meetings--we should make the record of those decisions available. In fact, I think that civility is something we should proudly proclaim: "PSU newsflash--Faculty discusses 'Culture of Peace' -- No one is called a traitor!" Transparency in government (and folks, my paycheck says I'm part of the government) is vital in a democracy.

I come from a corporate background where marketing, branding, etc. often steer the ship. In a corporate context, I don't necessarily disagree with that paradigm--after all, their bottom line is usually THE most important factor in their $urvival. I'm still trying to understand how academia balances its priorities.