Let me start by stating that I'm a huge fan of EDUCAUSE and particularly of the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. I attended the first joint EDUCOM/CAUSE conferences in the late 90's and I think I've missed no more than 2 in the last 15 years. Many of my best professional connections, and not a few lasting friendships have been forged through EDUCAUSE connections. So I speak as a friend.
A few years back, EDUCAUSE decided that it needed to offer more "value" to Chief Information Officer (CIO) attendees to the Annual Conference. I am guessing that they got feedback that at least some CIOs were finding the conference experience to be not valuable or perhaps less pleasant and enjoyable than other conference opportunities. This is, of course, a big deal for EDUCAUSE - I get it that to be viable EDUCAUSE has to be attractive to CIO's. Not only does the CIO approve the annual EDUCAUSE membership fee on most campuses, a vendor's decision to pay for space on the exhibition floor depends not just on how many people are at the conference, but on their roles. Since CIOs usually have control over the largest budgets, their attention is coveted by the vendor community. Without vendor participation the economics of the large edtech conference is completely different.
I get it - EDUCAUSE needs to make sure that the Annual Conference is attractive to CIOs. Special CIO roundtable discussions were added, there's a guide to items in the program that should be interesting to CIOs, and, there's the CIO lounge, pictured below.
|EDUCAUSE CIO Lounge (photo by Melissa Woo, used with permission)|
It's a pleasant place, with comfy chairs, a large screen to view the plenary sessions, lots of power plugs to charge your phone, and free (non-alcoholic) drinks and snacks. It resembles an airport "club" room. And of course, now that you've got a CIO lounge, you need a way to tell who's a CIO and who's not, so there's a special color or stripe on the name badges to let the attendant at the door (and, by the way, observant vendors on the trade floor) who is entitled to this special privilege.
And there it is - the assumption that CIOs are entitled to special privileges.
Being a CIO is a privilege and it can be a pleasure, as I and my co-authors talk about here
. The CIO has a special role and typically has more influence on campus than other members of the technology team. It's a senior academic position that pays well and (usually) engenders respect on campus. So yeah, being a CIO is something of a Big Deal.
But systems administrators are kind of important too. And instructional designers, programmers, web designers, user support specialists, equipment techs, network managers, and the list goes on. Oh, and not to mention librarians and (other) faculty members. I like to operate from the perspective of "one team, one goal", a motto I learned some years back from an A/V tech. What message does it send when we exalt CIOs above every one else at the conference and encourage them to isolate themselves among their kind? I think the message is pretty obvious, and I don't care for it.
At this point, someone else might say "hey, if you don't like it, stay out of the CIO lounge!" Starting this year, that's what I intend to do. But whether I'm in there or not EDUCAUSE is making a statement about CIOs and I think it's the wrong one. I encourage the leadership to ask themselves whether it's time to send a different, more inclusive message, and just add more chairs and power supplies that everyone can share.