Saturday, May 29, 2021

Letter on IT Restructuring Concerns

Background: The central administration is proposing a centralization of IT functions referred to as "Hub and Spoke." Many department chairs in the social sciences are concerned. Some of them feel that there will be a cost reallocation that will strain their budgets. Others fear that they will lose the ability to adapt their IT facilities to departmental needs. Some are concerned about the cybersecurity implications. 

Yours truly has done a limited amount of prowling around to understand these issues. Not all schools and departments have these concerns. But obviously, many do.

Below is a letter from social science chairs that was sent to the chancellor and EVC a few days ago.

Dear Chancellor Block and EVCP Carter, 

As members of the faculty who wish to see UCLA thrive, we are writing to ask that you release detailed proposals on the Bruin Budget Model, the IT Transformation (previously referred to as IT Hub and Spoke Model), and the Research Hub and Spoke Model and that you put a pause on implementation of these plans until the proposals have been made widely available and have been thoroughly discussed, including how the changes fit together

We strongly believe that the public provision of detailed proposals (rather than the controlled release of power points and selective engagement with few faculty) will help avoid costly unintended consequences.  We believe you have already learned at the various listening sessions and fora that the deans, chairs, directors, and faculty generally, have expertise that can be used to improve the plans. We make this request not out of a resistance to change per se, but rather, because we have serious concerns about both the formulation and implementation of these plans.   

Our top concerns and priorities as faculty members, chairs, and center directors differ, but we enumerate below some of the issues faculty members have identified. 

We have several broad concerns about the IT Transformation and the Research Hub and Spoke Model

1) The premise behind Hub and Spoke may be false.  The management literature recognizes that Hub and Spoke models slow decision making, block innovation, alienate team members, and overload leaders.[1]  The IT Hub and Spoke initiative at the schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing and Public Health has degraded service.   The Academic Senate reports that, “The DGIT centralization created new administrative positions, centralized decisionmaking, and moved local IT services, which had been distributed at departmental and unit levels, into a centralized group structure.  The promise, like the currently proposed Deloitte model being considered for the rest of campus, was increased cybersecurity and efficiency.  However, many faculty have experienced a decline in service levels for their nonclinical activities and a frustrating tin ear from the new IT structure to ideas that have not originated within a more limited group of decision makers.”[2] 

2) UCLA’s prior experience has revealed centralized IT to be unresponsive to faculty needs and slow to catch up to the technological frontier.   

3) Our leadership is misinformed regarding network security. We request more consultation about this issue with faculty.  Provided they are properly managed, multiple networks are more secure than centralized ones because they limit the scope of damage, and do not act as a visible and more easily accessible target for hackers[3].  We are aware of no significant breaches of distributed academic networks on the central campus at UCLA.  The major breaches in the UC system have been at UCSF and the recent enormous one at UCOP.  We find it disconcerting that prior to the UCSF breach which cost them more than a million dollars in bitcoin ransom[4], their CIO was on the review team that concluded UCLA needed more centralization.  We are angry and frustrated that rather than monitoring its own systems UCOP is spending resources to monitor ours, and that ITS is spending time assessing research software even though the biggest security breach – the one at UCOP which has endangered not just us but also our children, arose from using an outdated file transfer system.   It is very upsetting that we have received so few details regarding this breach, although data revealed from the Dark Web indicate that this could be yet another failure associated with UCPATH[5].  We strongly support our leadership implementing the best security realistically possible on critical administrative data. Most faculty, however, have no desire to be centrally connected to what is clearly a very tempting target for hackers

4) There has been no transparency on the financing of the IT Transformation and of a Research Hub and Spoke system.  The suspicious will infer that these systems are likely to be highly expensive and that they will be financed by taxes or reduced transfers in the Bruin Budget Model. 

5)There has been no transparency on which units are unhappy with their IT services, making it hard to assess what the inequities are and how they should be resolved.  

6) While we recognize that IT security is becoming increasingly important, we fear that UCLA is not recognizing the limits to any risk assessments and insurers’ growing unwillingness to provide cyber insurance as hackers seek out those with insurance.[6] Bureaucratic unwillingness to take risks on academic software will lead a slowdown in research and will affect adversely the time to degree of our students.  Many of us already have seen a deterioration in research services because of demands for risk assessments of commonly used research software.

We humbly suggest that it would be better to establish the feasibility of centralization and Hub and Spoke models for administrative networks and computing over several years before any changes are made to academic networks and computing. 

While we agree that we need a more transparent budget process which recognizes the political reality of decreased state funding, we also have several broad concerns about the proposed Bruin Budget Model

  1. The system of taxes and transfers means that units cannot rely on educational funds following students.   The starting point of the new budget model entrenches prior inequality in faculty and staff to student ratios.   This hurts our students.    It also harms our research mission because faculty recruitment and retention is harder when classes are enormous.  The experience of faculty at the University of Michigan under a similar model suggests that there is no reward for efficiency. 
  2. The model provides no guarantee that even over a period of five years taxes will not increase, thus creating disincentives for entrepreneurial activities, whether in fund raising or establishing new programs, both of which require a large fixed, upfront cost. 
  3. The model incorporates the false premise that we are sitting on many endowed funds which we could be spending.   This is an accounting chimera.  Endowed funds, including those which permit graduate student support, are allocated to specific uses.   
  4. Because units cannot rely on educational funds following students, units face the prospect of being in permanent deficit to the center.  The response of units will thus be to devolve costs to individual departments but, other than SSDPs and summer session, the new model provides no guarantees to individuals departments that they will benefit from serving more students
  5. The system of taxes and transfers enables the use of educational funds for administrative projects in the guise of education and without faculty oversight. 

We agree that it is important to implement reforms which will make UCLA stronger and enhance our teaching and research missions.  However, we do not wish to rush into a plan in haste only to repent at leisure.  Details have been so scarce that it is hard to assess the appropriateness of plans which would implement major changes in how UCLA is run.   The details matter.  Unfortunately, the engagement with faculty before the EVCP leadership transition has been selective and at a level where there would be no knowledge of the details of day-to-day administration.   Engagement now is complicated by the limits on faculty bandwidth imposed by the pandemic and more than a year of remote education.  An hour-long town hall on complicated plans with no chat function and no detailed documents to read beforehand is not sufficient.   Full disclosure of plan details, time for the faculty to study those details during the new academic year, and open discussions that are recorded for all to view will do much to build trust between the faculty and the administration

We acknowledge that you and the other VCs have been communicating with faculty and been receiving input, and we thank you all for this listening. We understand that there have been changes to these programs based on our conversations.  What has been lacking, however, is communication back to faculty about which concerns were taken seriously and what changes to the plans resulted.  For example, have the Academic Senate recommendations[7] on the IT Transformation been implemented?  As the plans are finalized, it is time to provide a clear working version that incorporates the faculty input so we may help identify remaining or new problems arising from these sweeping administrative changes. The State of California requires a comment period for proposed change to regulations, why should UCLA not also follow the wisdom of this approach?  UCLA has an outstanding team of academic experts that can and should be more involved, and who have legitimate questions regarding these initiatives that still need to be addressed. 

We also urge you to consider structural reforms so that there can be real faculty oversight into determining whether the Bruin Budget Model, the IT Transformation, and Hub and Spoke Models are serving UCLA’s academic mission. Many of the answers at the faculty forum on the BBM held on 5/18/21 amounted to “trust us, we’ll get the answer right eventually”. That trust simply does not exist. Oversight by faculty from across the University and the diversity of roles that faculty serve would help ensure the integrity of the process with regards to supporting the University’s core mission. 

Respectfully yours, 

Dora Costa, Professor and Chair, Economics 

Gregory Okin, Professor and Chair, Geography 

Jason Throop, Professor and Chair, Anthropology 

Andrew Apter, Director African Studies Center 

Susan L. Foster, Distinguished Professor, Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance 

Christopher Evans, Brain Research Institute 

Timothy Taylor, Professor of Musicology 

Dan Froot, Chair, Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance 

Alex Purves, Professor and Chair of Classics 

Peter Lunenfeld, Chair, FEC, School of Arts and Architecture 

Jenny Sharpe, Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Gender Studies and Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion for the Humanities 

Gavin Lawrence, Professor and Chair, Philosophy 

Tobias Higbie, Professor History and Labor Studies, Chair of Labor Studies 

Carla Pestana, Professor and Chair, History 

Colonel Sean M. McBride, Commanding Officer / Professor of Naval Science, NROTC Unit Los Angeles Consortium 

Michael Chwe, Professor and Chair, Political Science 

Greg Schachner, Associate Professor and Chair, Archaeology IDP 

Abigail Saguy, Professor and Chair, Sociology 

Leisy J. Abrego, Professor and Chair, Chicana/o and Central American Studies 

Abel Valenzuela Jr., Professor of Chicana/o Studes and Director, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment 

Kerri Johnson, Professor and Chair, Communications Studies 

Juliet Williams, Professor of Gender Studies and Chair, Social Science Interdepartmental Program 

Kathryn Norberg, Professor and Chair, Gender Studies 

Natalie Masuoka, Associate Professor and Chair, Asian American Studies 

Grace Hong,  Professor of Asian American Studies and Gender Studies and Director, Center for the Study of Women 

Randall Akee, Associate Professor and Chair, American Indian Studies IDP 

Willeke Wendrich, Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and Digital Humanities and Director, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology

Kathlyn M. Cooney, Professor of Ancient Egyptian Art and Architecture, Chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures 

Cheryl L. Keyes, Professor of Ethnomusicology and Global Jazz Studies and Chair, Department of African American Studies 



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