Santa Ono is the president of the University of Cincinnati (UC) and a familiar web presence to his more than 50,000 Twitter followers. The university is a leader in using technology to benefit the campus community, and President Ono talked with Trusteeship about why it’s well worth the time and effort to stay ahead of the tech curve, both as a university president and as an institution.
Why is it important for you as a university president to maintain a highly visible online profile?
For me, connectivity is key. I place a premium on being accessible to all members of our community, not just the designated leaders. Social media enables me to connect with a broader cross-section of folks, especially between meetings and after office hours. And while hearing from them is great, learning from them is even better. Almost daily, I receive real-time feedback on what’s working well and not so well on campus. This information helps us get better faster in how we serve, support, and celebrate our community. Additionally, social media has greatly enhanced my ability to interface with prospective students and their parents. This type of personal touch, according to our enrollment management team, can play a pivotal role in their decision-making process. Finally, last year I partnered with our advancement team to launch two alumni-focused social media fundraising campaigns that raised $300,000 from more than 1,800 donors. In a broader sense, social media helps me be the type of leader that I want to be—open, accessible, relevant, and, above all, responsive.
What is this ‘Canopy’ that UC is building?
Today’s students, so we’re told, bring an average of five mobile devices to campus. This phenomenon contributes to the “anytime, anywhere” climate for learning and to an ever-growing expectation for robust services and support. Canopy is our student-centered eLearning ecosystem designed to support 21st-century teaching and learning. It’s a one-stop destination for accessing software and hardware for the broader campus community. Faculty and students are encouraged to identify and experiment with various technological tools and then recommend them—via a comprehensive vetting process—for enterprise-wide adoption by the university. This year, for instance, Canopy is hosting a pilot of Echo360, a lecture capture tool. Canopy is as much a perspective as a platform: It’s driven by bottom-up innovation, purposeful growth, collaborative leadership, and shared governance.
What should board members be paying attention to in the fastchanging world of tech?
Board members, like all of us in academe, should be thinking deeply about the extent to which social media can blur the lines between personal opinion and professional statement. We should discuss complex cases—such as Saida Grundy at Boston University—to determine how academic freedom relates to Twitter, Facebook, and other fast-emerging technologies. We might also want to study the circumstances that led Emory University’s student government to denounce Yik Yak, the anonymous gossip app, and then attempt (unsuccessfully) to ban it from the campus. As for the upside of technology on a college campus, it’s worth hearing whatever President Michael Crow from Arizona State University has to say on the matter.
How, for better and for worse, will technology change our campuses in the next decade?
Technology likely will graduate from popular to pervasive. It will make more and more things faster, easier, and increasingly automated. But along the way, it may further complicate our notions of self, sense of community, definition of privacy, attitudes toward health and well-being, interest in security, attention to design, and so on. In my mind, no sector is better suited to study the aims, ways, and multi-dimensional effects, both intended and unintended, of technology than higher education. Over the next decade, technology will become even more of an object of inquiry across all disciplines, giving rise to new theories, courses, and research programs.