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The Hidden Blessings of Y2K

The Hidden Blessings of Y2K

As chairman of Spelman College’s Y2K campus taskforce, Adrian Evans worries most about the potential for off-campus technology mishaps, such as a regional power outage, hitting the college on Jan. 1, 2000. But, in his capacity as the senior technical officer for the Atlanta-based women’s college, Evans will be certain the school’s internal technology and computer systems function smoothly that day.
“We expect to be fully Y2K compliant,” he says.
Y2K’s coming has thousands of higher education administrators, such as Evans, working hard to ensure their campus computer and technology systems operate without failure on New Year’s Day. The Year 2000 problem, also known as the Y2K bug, has been one of the most insistent challenges facing the nations high-tech infrastructure since the advent of computer technology. The problem stems from some computers not having been programmed to accurately “read” the turnover from “1999” to “2000.”
At many higher education institutions, the coming of Y2K has forced administrators to upgrade their computer facilities and networks to ensure their systems don’t crash. For historically Black colleges and universities, who have historically lagged behind majority-White schools in ownership of resources, the pressure of Y2K compliance is representing an opportunity for HBCUs to play technology catch up.  
“This is an extraordinary time, particularly for HBCUs,” says Charles Moore, director of user support services at Howard University.   
“The [Y2K] situation presents obvious opportunities for schools and colleges across the country to upgrade as well as to meet Y2K compliance. If [schools don’t] take advantage, they will be missing out.”
“Black schools are under more fiscal challenges than others and this [Y2K] was an opportunity to raise the bar for a far more tech rigorous environment. But you have to be able to respond to the challenge in the first place,” he says, adding that Howard University’s computing networks and hardware are Y2K compliant.
For institutions that have traditionally lagged behind wealthier schools, implementing Y2K compliant computer and software systems can bring poorer institutions to a position on par with better-financed counterparts, according to observers. Turning the Y2K challenge into an opportunity is what a number of HBCUs are attempting to do.
At Spelman College, Evans, who oversees academic and administrative computing at the college, says that early planning for Y2K compliance has enabled the college to gradually install a single campus computing network that has capacity for both academic and administrative systems. 
In the past, campuses often had separate networks to facilitate academic, administrative, and research computing needs. Becoming Y2K compliant, however, is compatible with institutions taking  advantage of the latest trends in networking technology and computer hardware, Evans says.
At Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida, school officials report that by the fall the school will not only be Y2K compliant, but also the entire campus will be wired for Internet access. Y2K compliance and campus IT infrastructure development have become closely intertwined at the Florida school. 
“When the letters regarding Y2K the compliance came in 1997, I developed a proposal to Title III,” explains Narendra Patel, director of institutional research at the college. A portion of the Higher Education Act’s Title III funds are earmarked for assisting Black college campuses with technology and campus infrastructure development.
“It requested a number of things, but…. for an institution to be compliant….., it’s necessary that institutions be given some assistance,” he says.
Colleges and universities are expected to subject their technology systems through a rigorous process of inventory assessment, software and hardware replacement and testing to meet Y2K compliance.
The U.S. Department of Education of the agency’s Y2K activities and requirements has notified schools that participate in federal programs, such as those in financial aid and research.  At the state level, states are providing funding and setting specific compliance requirements for their public institutions.
“The problems are the same as you’d find in any corporation,” says Tim Marshall, a director at Collegis, Inc.  Collegis is an Orlando, Florida-based company that manages computer networks for colleges and universities. In recent months, numerous Collegis contracts have included Y2K compliance preparation.
“Financial and human resources are at the start of the trouble areas and range to payroll, accounting systems, budgets, research, and databasing. And then you have to concern yourself with your suppliers such as the power or the telephone companies,” Marshall says.
Collegis has published a Y2K plan at their Internet Web site that companies and colleges can access for compliance information. The Collegis site provides information on some 1,600 pieces of compliance software, and the plan covers the major points of Y2K compliance and testing. Three HBCUs, Norfolk State University, Virginia State, and Lincoln University (PA), are among Collegis clients.
Many schools are scrambling to beat the Y2K deadline.  “The majority of colleges and universities are behind the curve,” explains Mark Boyer, director of PC support services at Collegis. “They have committees and plans but the majority of what needs to be done isn’t completed.”
  “If you look at Y2K as a severe storm and not a hurricane, each individual has to prepare,” Boyer says. “Even though you have emergency service personnel, homeowners must still board up windows and get extra drinking water because that’s how you prepare….We aim to get everybody on campus involved. First we set up area and department captains-people who are comfortable enough with computers to represent their work areas and ask them to retrieve information on specific software. Manually set the date on a desktop and see how it responds.”
 Dr. Fidelis Ikem, the chair of Information Systems and Decision Sciences at Virginia State University, says it’s important that HBCUs work with top-notch technology companies to get comprehensive Y2K solutions.
 “It’s an enormous task for Black schools to completely develop and manage a network under the demanding upgrade requirements of the Y2K problem,” Ikem says.

Beyond the Obvious Concerns
The computing side of Y2K is not the only one component involved with a college or university becoming Y2K compliant, Evans says.
Higher education institutions have to ensure that campus facilities, research environments, health services, and security systems such as elevators, machinery, refrigeration equipment, and laboratories, are Y2K compliant as well. After internal technology needs are met, schools have to focus on their interactions with vendors and the communities in which they reside, which is the basis for contingency planning by the school, he says.
On many campuses, however, information technology professionals have assumed or been appointed to lead Y2K compliance efforts even though the computing component represents one of several elements.  Evans says his work in planning for Y2K computer compliance, which began a year before the college put together a Y2K taskforce, put him in a position where he became recognized on campus as the most knowledgeable about the topic.  Information technology has “probably gotten the most attention” with regard to schools becoming Y2K compliant, he says.
And because of that attention, many believe that HBCUs are giving greater priority to campus computing needs.  

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