History of SIGUCCS

A Brief History of SIGUCCS by Jack Esbin

“After joining SIGUCCS in 1967, I soon met people who were not only nationally known in the field (in those days, some were pioneers in the profession), but who were friendly and more than willing to share both ideas and information they had gathered, not to mention discussing problems of mutual concern. Over the years I personally grew in knowledge and experience, and I attribute much of that to the sound advice and mentoring I received from those SIGUCCS contacts.

Today, exactly the same kind of mentoring and support is available through SIGUCCS. In fact, the general topics discussed have changed surprisingly little, even though the technology and approaches to problem solutions have matured so significantly. I cannot conceive of a successful career in our field without membership in SIGUCCS. Try it, and you’ll be so happy that you did.”

~Submitted by Jack Esbin, retired
ACM and SIGUCCS Member since 1968
A Penny Crane and Hall of Fame Award winner in SIGUCCS
An ACM Fellow and winner of the ACM Outstanding Contribution Award

Video: An Interview with Leland Williams

I. The SIG Movement within ACM

When ACM was founded in 1947, almost all of its members were active in direct computing fields, many of which were outgrowths of military and other war-related and government-sponsored efforts during World War II. In fact, that explains why the full legal name of the organization is “The Association for Computing Machinery”, a name which is seldom used today except for formal documents. At that time, anyone who was active in computing actually did work on computing machinery, since there were no computer operators, systems engineers, customer engineers, and the like.

As ACM’s membership began to grow, many of the new members came from large universities and research laboratories in industry, and new academic programs began to take root in higher education, often as a sideline in such disciplines as Mathematics and Physics. Accordingly, the areas of interest of ACM’s members became more diverse, and it became difficult to keep up with developments in all of these areas. Recognizing this trend, some members of ACM proposed that sub-units be created within ACM, pursuing those specialized, narrower interests. From this came what are known today as Special Interest Groups, or SIGs.

II. The Founding of SIGUCC(S)

While several SIGs were founded in 1961, SIGUCC (as it was known then) was not founded until 1963. The name “SIGUCC” stood for “Special Interest Group on University Computing Centers”, because small institutions had almost no computing equipment at the time. If you have seen the word “computer” used in place of “computing” in the name, that happened quite often, probably because many institutions used just such a name. See the section entitled “What’s in a Name” for further information about the eventual name.

In 1963, the typical pattern for the formation of a SIG was to first establish a SIC (Special Interest Committee), which at that time was a rather informal structure with a Chair appointed by ACM’s President. Once the SIC became established with members and ongoing activities (usually at least two years later), it normally petitioned to become a self-governing SIG, with elected officers, a set of Bylaws, and a mission statement related to its purposes. However, SIGUCC was proposed as a full SIG from the beginning, because the founders felt it had already reached the required activity level as an informal group.

E. P. Miles, the Director of the Computing Center and Professor of Mathematics (a common combination in those days) at Florida State University was the principal author of the proposal to the ACM Council to charter SIGUCC, with the help of Leland Williams, his Assistant Director, and Tom Keenan, who was then a professor at the University of Rochester, and later was known for his work in Computer Science for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Leland believes that the idea evolved out of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), where John Hamblen was responsible for computing activities. SREB had produced a publication on how to fit a computing center into a university (such centers were still rare at the time), and Leland felt that gave the impetus to the formation of an ongoing and geographically broader forum for people in university computing centers.

The proposal was on the agenda of the ACM Council meeting in Denver in August of 1963, but E. P. became ill just before the meeting, and was unable to attend. Leland Williams attended without him and made the presentation, and with the resulting approval of Council, SIGUCC was officially established. Other interested parties being on hand, the first meeting of SIGUCC was held immediately in Denver, and Tom Keenan was elected to be the first Chairman (E. P. Miles served as Chairman several years later).

III. The Early Structure and Activities of SIGUCC

SIGUCC had three officers, elected for two-year terms: a Chairman, a Vice Chairman, and a Secretary-Treasurer. It also had a Board of Directors consisting of four persons, similarly elected for two-year terms.

The Chairman was responsible for representing SIGUCC to ACM and to the other SIGs and SICs, for organizing and conducting meetings of the officers and the Board of Directors, and for reporting on SIGUCC’s status and activities.

The Vice Chairman was usually given the responsibility of arranging a program to be given during meetings of the SIG at the annual ACM Conference, which at that time was held every August, and at such other meetings as the officers might deem necessary. Those programs consisted of presentations on or discussions of issues germane to university computing centers.

The Secretary-Treasurer had the usual duties of tracking and reporting on the finances of the organization, and keeping minutes of any decisions made in official business meetings.

The Board of Directors was an advisory group, members of which nevertheless had a vote along with the officers on any question that required a formal action on behalf of the SIG.

The first change to the basic structure was when then-Chair Gordon Sherman established the position of Newsletter Editor at the ACM Annual Conference in Chicago in August of 1971, and appointed Jack Esbin to that role. See Section VI-A, “The SIGUCC(S) Newsletter”.

For the first seven years of its history, SIGUCC’s activities consisted almost entirely of the sessions that were held at ACM conferences, many of which were the result of activity by its committees (see below). The Chairman sent a general newsletter to the members when he felt that sufficient information had accumulated to warrant one. The first such newsletter was developed and sent out to the members by Tom Keenan in January of 1965. In it, Tom outlined the procedures and rules for submission of materials to future newsletters, indicated the scope of SIGUCC’s activities, and defined four committees to encourage those activities. Those were:

1. The Planning Committee, under the leadership of Sam Conte of Purdue University – This committee was charged with planning one or more SIGUCC sponsored sessions at ACM national meetings.

2. The Committee on Instructional Use of Computer Facilities, under the leadership of Charlie Davidson of the University of Wisconsin – This committee was charged with studying the problems of providing educational computing service with either large or small machines.

3. The Committee on Organization and Operation, under the leadership of D.R. Shreve of North Carolina State “College” (at that time) – This committee was charged with developing recommendations for colleges establishing or reorganizing computing centers. One step that had already been suggested was to build a network of “consultors” capable of presenting and interpreting the committee recommendations to colleges, and recruit qualified individuals interested in providing such services.

4. The Committee on Information Processing in University Administration, under the leadership of John Hamblen, of Southern Illinois University – This committee was charged with collecting, evaluating and reporting on applications of data processing to educational administrative problems.

Note that SIGUCC declared an interest in administrative computing from the start, despite the emphasis on academic computing during most of the 1970’s through the 1990’s. Also, the idea of consulting with other educational institutions on their computing needs and how to organize such was a concept that far preceded the establishment of the Peer Review process mentioned later in this history.

IV. Conference Activities The first activity of note other than those already discussed was the sponsoring of a conference on “Unbundling” in Atlanta in February of 1970, which was organized by John Hamblen of SREB. The topic referred to the announcement by IBM that it would no longer “bundle” an operating system with its large computers, thereby requiring an extra expense for those centers that used IBM computers. This was the first of what has turned out to be a long list of conferences and symposia sponsored by SIGUCC, primarily the annual fall “SIGUCCS User Services Conference” (now just the “SIGUCCS Fall Conference”), which began in 1973 and has continued ever since, and the annual spring “Computer Services Management Symposium” (now just the “SIGUCCS Management Symposium”), which began in 1974 and also continues each year.

A. The Unbundling Conference

As noted above, the very first SIGUCC conference was organized by John Hamblen of the Southern Regional Education Board, or SREB. Apparently he first invited only those institutions involved directly in SREB, but upon realizing that the topic was germane to every institution in North America and beyond, asked SIGUCC to become the sponsor.

The impetus for this meeting was the announcement by IBM in late 1969 that it would no longer “bundle” an operating system and its support with the sale or lease of a mainframe computer system, but charge separately for it. While IBM was by no means the only supplier of mainframes at that time, it had a majority of the educational installations, and the announcement sparked fears that the policy would also be implemented by the other mainframe companies. A sizable group of people showed up in Atlanta for the meeting, proving that the issue had struck home. No formal proceedings had been planned, but “Recorders” in each session took notes on what transpired, and these were collected and published as a “proceedings” in the March 11, 1970 issue of the SIGUCC Newsletter.

B. The Small-College Conference

Later that year, and perhaps partially as a result of the Atlanta meeting, several members of SIGUCC pointed out that the problems discussed by large university computing people were not exactly the same as those experienced by staff at small institutions, and they suggested that a conference be held to discuss and look for solutions to the problems of those smaller institutions. A conference on that subject was organized by Harris Burns, Jr. and Gerald Engel, and was held in the spring of 1971. Proceedings were published, and a second conference, which used the name “Annual Symposium on the Administration and Management of Small-College Computing Centers” (indicating the intention of the founders to make this an annual event) was held the following spring. It also published a proceedings; both it and the one the year before were edited by Jack Esbin.

C. The User Services (Fall) Conference

In late 1972, SIGUCC Chair Gordon Sherman saw the need to arrange a conference on the issues and problems surrounding the responsibilities of folks “in the trenches” on computing center staffs. The term “User Services” had come into play shortly before that time, and so the conference was given the title of “User Services Conference”, and held in Chicago in April of 1973. Susan Nicum agreed to chair a committee for the conference, and a group was formed to organize and produce the meeting. The goal was to try to attract 100 people with an interest in the topic, and when 200 people registered, SIGUCC knew that it had found an important category of issues. A second conference on the same topic was held in Toronto in the fall of 1974, and every fall since then, another version of the conference has been held,. Currently, the name has been changed to simply “the Fall Conference”, since the term “User Services” is no longer in favor.

D. The Computer Services Management Symposium

In April of 1974, Ralph Lee of the University of Missouri at Rolla hosted a meeting of Educom (a forerunner of EDUCAUSE) in St. Louis. Since almost all of the attendees at Educom were directors or other high-ranking administrators of computing facilities at institutions of higher education, he invited those folks to remain an extra day to discuss problems and issues of common interest. The extra day proved very helpful to those who stayed, and it was decided to make such a meeting an annual event. Ralph agreed to coordinate another meeting the following spring (and for many years after that), and those meetings have continued every year since. They were eventually given the name of the “Computer (or Computing) Services Management Symposium”, abbreviated as CSMS, and met for 29 consecutive years in St. Louis. In 2001, the decision was made to begin moving that symposium to attractive cities around North America beginning in 2003, and that is its current status. The name was changed to “SIGUCCS Management Symposium” in 2007, to eliminate some confusion about the sponsor, scope and origins of both this symposium and the fall conference. The Symposium has never produced proceedings, although many papers presented there were later published in the newsletter (see below)

V. What’s in a Name?

In the summer of 1981, Barbara Wolfe was elected to chair SIGUCC. She had been on the Board the previous two years, and had started a movement to change the name of the SIG to better reflect its breadth of interest. Accordingly, when she had her first meeting with the SIGUCC Board in October of that year, she recommended changing the name to “SIGUCCS”, which would stand for “Special Interest Group on University and College Computing Services”. The SIGUCC Board approved the name change, and Barbara then took the request to the ACM SIG Board and the ACM Executive Committee for their concurrence. She obtained that at their meetings shortly after the SIGUCC meeting, and the name change became official. The organization has been known as SIGUCCS ever since. At about the same time, gender-specific titles were changed so as to be genderless (such as Chair instead of Chairman).

VI. Other SIGUCC(S) Activities

A. The SIGUCC(S) Newsletter

During the summer of 1971, new SIGUCC Chair Gordon Sherman realized that it was becoming a very onerous task to keep in touch with the members of the SIG through a Chairman’s Newsletter. Other SIGs had begun to distribute fairly formal newsletters on a regular basis, and he decided that SIGUCC should follow that example. He managed to corner Jack Esbin late one night in the bar of the Conrad Hilton hotel in Chicago at the ACM Annual Meeting in August, and as a result, Jack became the first SIGUCC Newsletter Editor.

The Newsletter became a medium not only for communications from the Chair, but a way to advertise the conferences sponsored by SIGUCC, publish the official minutes of business meetings of the SIG, and report on upcoming elections and the candidates for office. Eventually, it also included articles based on presentations given at CSMS and some other meetings not sponsored by SIGUCC, and such original articles as the editor could convince people to write on subjects germane to the membership.

The Newsletter continued as a quarterly effort until the basic structure and mission of SIGUCCS changed in 1999 (see the section on the Metamorphism of SIGUCCS). While planned as a quarterly publication, in reality it did not always appear as scheduled, primarily because of conflicting demands on the time of some volunteer editors. Other editors were very conscientious and creative, however, and did an outstanding job. It was therefore important for quite a while, and on the whole, very successful. ACM is in the process of digitizing all of the newsletters ever produced by SIGUCC(S), which will subsequently be available through the Digital Library. All but the early ones are already there as of this writing (May, 2007).

B. The Peer Review Process

Leland Williams (aforementioned as the presenter of the proposal to ACM Council to form SIGUCC in 1963) spent a one-year sabbatical at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1976-77. While there, he discovered a process whereby universities in Great Britain were mutually evaluating each other with regard to the provision of computing services, with resulting improvement in services in many of the institutions. Upon his return, he suggested to the SIGUCC Board that it organize a similar process in North America, which came to be called “Peer Review”. The Board was enthusiastic about the idea, and formed a committee to investigate how the process might be structured and initiated.

The committee came back with a proposal to organize a standing committee overseeing the entire process, and two subcommittees. One of the two subcommittees was given the task of proscribing qualifications for and recruiting suitable candidates for the small groups of individuals who would comprise the visiting teams; the other subcommittee was to actually develop a process and structure to arrange such visits. The Peer Review process that resulted was tested in a visit to the University of Missouri campus at St. Louis in the spring of 1980, and then offered broadly when that visit proved successful.

Over the next 20 years, a number of campuses were visited and recommendation for improvements made, but the process was hampered by its requirement that the visit be requested by the director of the facility being visited, not by the administration of the university, and that the report of the visiting team go to the director who requested it, for him or her to distribute as he or she saw fit. Not that campus administrators were forbidden from seeing the report, but the entire concept was based upon the idea that people in the field would be assisting others in the same field to provide better services, not as a criticism of the job being done by the local staff. Since the institution had to pay the costs of the visit, usually the administration felt that it should be considered the requestor, and that the report should come to it. By the late 1990s, the requests for visits fell off completely, and eventually the Board deactivated the process. It remains inactive, and no committee now exists.

C. Conference Proceedings

The Conference on Unbundling did not produce proceedings, but as explained previously, the comments and conclusions of that meeting were later published in the SIGUCC Newsletter in the March 11, 1970 issue. The two conferences on Small College Computing did produce proceedings, and those were bound and distributed by SIGUCC. At least one of those is still available through the ACM Digital Library

The first two User Services Conferences did not publish proceedings, although some of the papers on topics in the conference were published in the Newsletter. After that, conference proceedings became a regular outcome of the conferences, and were given to all registrants. Eventually, printed copies of those proceedings were also distributed to all members of SIGUCC(S). Beginning in the 1990s, CDs containing the entire proceedings were published as well, and both forms of publication were distributed to all members. Now, paper copies are no longer published, and the proceedings are distributed to all members only in the form of a CD. Many of the conference proceedings are available today through the ACM Digital Library.

The annual CSMS never had any proceedings, although many of the papers given there were published in the SIGUCC(S) Newsletter over the years. Since the newsletter no longer exists, the way to discover what is discussed at CSMS now is to attend it, although on occasion a speaker will supply SIGUCCS with an electronic form of his or her comments to mount on the web. However, most of the CSMS papers published earlier in the SIGUCC(S) Newsletter can be obtained through the copies of those newsletters in the ACM digital Library.

VII. The Metamorphosis of SIGUCCS

During the late 1980s, ACM changed its requirements for SIG formation and ongoing viability, and offered several ways for SIGs to describe and organize themselves. The choices included “full” SIGs, such as SIGUCCS, Publication-Only SIGs, and Conference-Only SIGs. The latter two were very self-descriptive, and need no further explanations.

In 1999, SIGUCCS had for several years been having a difficult time publishing a newsletter on a regular basis, because of lack of interest in having articles published there. It was also difficult to find candidates for offices, when election time came around. However, its two annual conference activities were still doing well, and the then-current Board of SIGUCCS decided to apply for a change to Conference-Only form. The application for that change was favorably received by the ACM SIG Governing Board, and the change became effective on July 1, 2000. The new status included provision for simple appointment of the Chair by the President of ACM, upon confirmation of the intention of a person to serve in that office and fulfill its duties. The Chair would then appoint all of the other officers and Board members.

After several years under this arrangement, the ACM SIG Governing Board decided that it did not like that kind of process in general, and drew up plans to return all SIGs to a form where they would have to elect officers and board members. SIGUCCS was returned to that status in 2005, and currently remains in it. It elects officers and Board members for three-year terms.

VIII. Awards

Various officers and members of the Boards of SIGUCCS had, over the years, suggested that SIGUCCS establish awards to recognize service to the organization. While there was general agreement that some kind of recognition was warranted, “Recognition of Service” certificates were available from ACM upon authorization from the Chair of SIGUCCS, and those were freely given for many years to those who were active in conferences and other activities. One event precipitated a more serious look at the subject.

One of the most active members of SIGUCCS over the years was Penny Crane, who chaired several conferences, served as an officer and Board member in many capacities, and in general was the mentor and “cheerleader” for countless inexperienced members of SIGUCCS. In January of 1999, the members were informed of the sudden death of Penny, and a groundswell of interest led to the formation of a committee to devise some way of honoring her long years and breadth of service. What evolved from that committee was a recommendation that SIGUCCS establish two types of awards: a “named” award in Penny Crane’s honor, candidates for which would have served the SIG in numerous ways over a significant number of years, and a “Hall of Fame”, which would recognize specific acts of service by individuals. The SIGUCCS Board accepted and approved those recommendations, and established a permanent Awards Selection Committee to implement them. The first awards were presented at the fall conference in 2000, and included the award of the first Penny Crane award posthumously to Penny herself, which was accepted by her husband. The awards continue to be presented each year at the Fall Conference.

In addition, SIGUCCS has for many years evaluated the publications and other forms of communication related to computing activities at facilities of higher education, as part of the fall conference. It has recognized those institutions that are providing excellent services in this regard via awards made at the fall conference, and those communication awards also are ongoing.

IX. Current and Future Activities

As indicated above, SIGUCCS currently sponsors two professional meetings each year: the SIGUCCS Management Symposium (formerly the Computer Services Management Symposium, or CSMS) in the spring, and the SIGUCCS Fall Conference (formerly the User Services Conference) in the fall. It plans to continue to offer those meetings indefinitely, depending on their reception in the user community. However, the format, length, and locations of those meetings are subject to change, as they evolve to meet the needs of the future professionals in academic computing.

SIGUCCS also continues to recognize service to SIGUCCS and the profession via the Penny Crane Award and induction into the Hall of Fame; there is a standing committee to continue that process. The awards for communication are also expected to continue indefinitely

No other activities are planned as of this writing, but additional activities may be proposed by any member of SIGUCCS at any time, and will be considered and evaluated for appropriateness by the Board.

X. Chronological Appendices (?)

A. Officers and Board Members

B. Conferences and Symposia, and their Committees

1. User Services Conferences

2. Symposia