Paul Penfield, Jr., From the President, NEEDHA Newsletter; Volume 4, Number 4, December, 1996; p. 5.

From the President

Paul Penfield, Jr. (MIT)

You can read elsewhere in this issue about the Annual Meeting in Orlando, March 14 - 18, 1997. The program promises to be one of the best ever; you can see your colleagues and trade ideas for effective running of your department. If you are a new on the job (as many of you are, since there is always a lot of turnover among department heads) you will especially appreciate the workshop for new chairs. There will also be coverage of the new ABET 2000 outcomes approach to accreditation, which has many perplexed. See you there.

NEEDHA has many means of communication among its members: the annual meeting; informal gatherings at various conferences, like FIE or ASEE; this Newsletter; the World Wide Web site (; the IEEE-maintained e-mail list; and the annual Directory of departments. Now there is another, the on-line version of the Directory. To access it, go to the NEEDHA home page and you can't miss the link to it.

You may be interested in knowing more about this Directory. It is actually more complete than the printed version. There is more information, including e-mail addresses for offices and people, and a bigger list of degree programs. The individual entries have hyperlinks to Web pages for universities, departments, people, and student organizations. The information can be maintained up to date at all times, whereas the printed Directory gets out of date quickly. The data in the directory is structured, rather than being simply text, so it can be used for many purposes, including many types of reports.

As is true with most data bases, the most important yet difficult job is maintaining data integrity. The responsibility is split between department representatives (often you, the department head, often a secretary) and the NEEDHA office staff. You use a Web form to change the information. At the bottom is a "Submit" button that sends the data to the NEEDHA office staff, who review it, possibly do minor editing, and then approve it for insertion into the data base. This two-stage process puts responsibility for accuracy on the departments (where it belongs) while preserving the office staff's responsibility for consistency. The system uses 10 CGI scripts with over 4000 lines of commented Perl code. It is being developed on a university computer for convenience, and when stable, will be ported to NEEDHA's Internet access service in Chicago.

Let me mention a few interesting features.

  1. For some reason no Web browsers I am aware of let you save a partially filled out form so that you can come back later to complete it. Since this editing form is a long one, with over 100 fields, this feature is essential.
  2. The actual transfer of data is done using e-mail messages to and from the office staff.
  3. For security, office-staff functions are password protected, and copies of transactions are sent to department heads.
  4. The office staff manually changes the order in which the entries are listed.

You may be interested to know how all this is working out. The Directory went into operation August 31, 1996. It started with data from the 1995-96 printed directory with about 287 departments. During the first month, the directory page was accessed 555 times, from about 150 different universities, and almost 2000 individual entries were delivered. The editing form was called 400 times, and there were 100 submissions of updates from 88 different universities (including one new entry). For those who care, 45% of the accesses were from PCs running Windows, 45% from Macintoshes, and 9% from Unix machines.

The NEEDHA Board considered some interesting policy questions.

  1. Who should be listed? Is this a list of NEEDHA members, or a list of departments, not all of which may be members? We decided that it would be most useful if it listed all departments that qualify for membership, but indicated whether or not they actually are members. It was also agreed to list departments that are Associate Members (non-U.S. departments and those with non accredited programs), and, upon request, to list departments that qualify for Associate membership.
  2. Should access to the on-line Directory be restricted to NEEDHA members? No. In keeping with general Internet culture, it should be available to all.
  3. Should Web indexing robots be excluded? No. By the time you read this, it should have been discovered by various spiders, and indexed by the Web search services.

The development of this system has been an interesting project. The NEEDHA Board would welcome your ideas for improvements, additional types of reports, and other ways in which it could serve NEEDHA members better.

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Created: Jan 13, 1997  |  Modified: Dec 31, 1998
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