Thursday, March 22, 2012

Remembrance by Bob Caster

I met Alex Fraser in my office in 1974 after he was appointed by Warren Bennis, the President of the University of Cincinnati, to  serve as a liaison between the academic and administrative offices and assist in the possible organization of a computer consortium between Miami University and the University of Cincinnati.

Ed: Miami University refers to the school in Oxford, Ohio

Our first task together was for him to get familiar with the computer center budget and for me to explain our computer hardware and staff capabilities. We had been providing  computer services to US EPA, NIOSH, and local high schools during 1973. I was charged with finding resources outside the University due to budget cuts in 1972. The President wanted to make sure we would not over-extend our computer and 'short change' the academic and administrative services to the University of Cincinnati through the sharing our resources with Miami University.

After Alex was satisfied we could handle the Miami load and our finances were sound, we mapped out a plan. The first project in which Alex was involved was a trip to Raleigh, NC, to visit Triangle University Computer Consortium (TUCC). Two vice presidents and two financial directors from both the University of Cincinnati and Miami University along with myself met with the TUCC president and discussed organization, budget, and politics in forming such an organization. Alex and the group mentioned above met again at Miami University to appoint the Director of the South Western Regional Computer Center (SWORCC) and this turned out to be me.

Ed: Modesty will prevent Bob from saying this but he led SWORCC to the point at which windows were required in the primary conference room so the many visitors could look into the computer room to get a better idea of what had been built. SWORCC was a spectacular achievement and there isn't anyone who was a part of it who doesn't look back on those times fondly.

After my appointment, the Vice Presidents from each University appointed members who would best represent their Departments and have some knowledge of computers and business matters. Alex was appointed Chairman of the SWORCC Policy Committee and there were monthly meetings at each University in which Alex introduced Robert’s Rules of Order to the members, most for the first time. He had the uncanny ability to keep things on track while keeping the respect of the committee.

Alex spent a great deal of his time in meetings and university politics but was always available when I would have questions concerning proposals on grants and contracts that we were trying to win. These negotiations were to provide the best computing for both universities while keeping their cost of computing down. It is hard to determine how many hours he devoted in the five years that SWORCC existed and I was very grateful that I had him as a friend and professional acquaintance.

Ed: Again modesty is holding back a significant part of the story. Bob's entrepeneurial talents were a huge contribution to building SWORCC from a second-rate data center to one of the largest computing organizations in the area.

It is too bad he never got any recognition for his work. One reason was the high turnover in the university administration and another problem was that not many understood the nature of SWORCC and what we had accomplished. The financial people understood but politics prevailed and SWORCC was terminated.

Ed: SWORCC was terminated through severance of the relationship with Miami University. It was the end of an era as that which followed was not even in the same league as SWORCC. That's one of the reasons I left.

I was very close to Alex and I can count on one hand how many academics and administrators I admired and respected. He was one of the five. I miss him.

Robert R. Caster

Past Director of SWORCC

Past Asst. Vice President of Management & Finance, University of Cincinnati

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