July 26, 1999TO: Dr. Ronald Douglas, Provost
The following recommendations of the Task Force serve as the final report to you on important new directions Texas A&M can follow in the areas of telecommunications and informatics. Part One of the report repeats the earlier recommendation for an umbrella organization to nurture interdisciplinary programs in these areas. Committee discussions since that date suggest that the existing Academy for Advanced Telecommunications and Learning Technologies could serve as the foundation for that umbrella organization.
Part Two of the report recommends development of an interdisciplinary program concentrating on the development of future telecommunications networks. The proposal calls for an interdisciplinary group focusing on teaching and research in Network Engineering, Communications Technologies, Telecommunications Management, Information Security, Telecommunications Policy, and Telephony. It would draw upon strengths in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Engineering Technology, Management Information Systems, Journalism, and the Center for Distance Learning Research. Mr. Willis Marti led the collaborative effort that produced this recommendation.
Should you approve this blueprint, the Task Force will proceed with development of an implementation plan, including staffing, budgetary, and programmatic requirements. We have constructed our plan assuming a $250,000 launch budget. Substantial follow-on funding will be required, perhaps including endowed chairs to spearhead the effort. Our recommendations are drafted with these modest initial resources in mind. The umbrella organization, the Academy for Advanced Telecommunications and Learning Technologies, would continue its efforts to help identify other telecommunications and informatics initiatives that could benefit from this collaborative, interdisciplinary approach. A rapid scaling up of activities would be possible as resources become available.
Balance. Relatively equal emphasis should be given to both research projects and curricular innovations.
Structure. The demands for academic programs of study in the fields of telecommunications and informatics transcend College and disciplinary bounds. The Academy will serve as an umbrella organization acting in the best interests of all of the colleges.
Mainstreaming. The presence of an instructional component will ensure the long-term integration of the Telecommunications and Informatics Program into the University's activities.
Model. The development path will be evolutionary, developing first an incubator sustained initially from start-up funding, and expanding as it develops into an entity capable of maintaining itself by responding to emergent programmatic demands and by its own entrepreneurial successes.
Faculty. Faculty should be encouraged to participate in the Program(s) while retaining standing in their departments and colleges. The Program should be seen as being responsive to faculty, providing opportunities for involvement at every level. The initial number of faculty participants should be small.
Administrator. An administrator with distinguished research credentials is desired, one who has administrative authority for the program and who responds to college and faculty-driven priorities on current and future initiatives. The primary functions of the Director are to provide leadership for research programs and to coordinate interdisciplinary instruction within the degree programs offered by the colleges. Search for a director will begin in Year Two, or as soon as sources of funding are identified.
Governance. Colleges making specified contributions (see Funding below) to the Program shall have seats on the Council of Participating Deans.
External Advisory Council. There should be an external advisory council that facilitates fund-raising and fosters industrial and corporate partnerships designed to advance both research and curricular development.
Space. The faculty should have access to an identifiable physical space of their own, common ground that encourages genuine, interdisciplinary, collaboration and ensures optimal cross-fertilization.
University Funds. Start-up funds shall be made available to purchase release time for a core group of faculty from across the University or to compensate colleges for other contributions.
College Contributions. At levels established by the Council of Participating Deans, colleges shall annually contribute positions, funds or other approved resources.
External Fund-raising. The Director should aggressively seek foundation support and corporate partnerships. The potential for external funding support is significant, as has already been demonstrated by other universities. Such partnerships can be invaluable in developing academic programs that meet the needs of students as well as potential employers.
After the initial three-year start-up funding, the Telecommunications and Informatics Program should seek to sustain itself on a blend of external funding and operational support from the University.
Strategic: Appoint a committee to pursue the creation of an NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) in some aspect of telecommunications, possibly in conjunction with other Texas universities.
Research: Provide resources for matching funds or graduate student support to foster industry sponsored research. In Year One provide $50,000 for matching funds to support networking proposals. Designate $25,000 to fund emerging Informatics recommendations.
Infrastructure: Provide funds to sustain and enhance the existing telecommunications infrastructure, including the Texas GigaPOP and the Texas A&M University Digital Library (TAMUDL). In Year One make $50,000 available for these purposes.
Academic Programs: Designate a Coordinator for Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Programs and provide funding annually for course development time and faculty positions (in existing departments) for a new Master's degree in Network Engineering. In Year One, make $100,000 available to secure faculty to support the Network Engineering degree. Designate $25,000 to fund emerging Informatics recommendations.
Facilities: Designate a Common Facilities Manager and provide resources in Year Two for facilities, possibly with industry matching. \smallskip
$250,000 should be provided during Summer 1999 to allow for course development, infrastructure upgrade, and solicitation of industry matching for new laboratories. The attached chart, Telecommunications and Informatics Initiatives, maps the recommended distribution of funds for Year One.