The modern era of computing at Monmouth College began in 1975 when President DeBow Freed appointed math professor John Arrison as director of the computer center; and a suite of former classrooms in Wallace Hall was transformed into a center for academic computing and business data processing.
Punch cards were the medium of data entry, until physics professor Peter Kloeppel (who assisted Arrison in the center) convinced the administration to purchase CRT terminals — to the dismay of some faculty who were convinced that the data needed to be stored on paper or it could be lost.
Kloeppel, who wrote most of the programming for the center using BASIC language, remembers booting up the system in a long and complicated sequence each morning. The maintenance agreement also required that the system be shut down if room temperature exceeded 75 degrees, which was often the case despite two large window air conditioners.
The only disk drive in those days was a removable pack drive the size of a washing machine with a storage capacity of 40 megabytes.
Emeritus history professor Bill Urban, who was one of the first non-science faculty members to embrace computer technology, credits Arrison for helping to put Monmouth at the forefront of academic computing: “He persuaded, cajoled, and forced his faculty members to use the computer in their classes,” Urban said. “As a result, there are alumni today who learned useful computer skills long before a major was offered or word processing became fashionable.”
Richard Reno, who succeeded Arrison in the early 1980s, recalled that his first official action as computer center director was to purchase two additional disk drives, so that faculty and administrative users could each have their own drive; and there would be an extra drive for the storage of software and backup. The used drives, with a total capacity of 80 megabytes, were purchased from another college for $ 17,000.
Reno also remembered being shooed out of the computer center when it was time for data processing operator Donna Brown to print paychecks. “She was the only one who was supposed to be there,” he explained. “They were pretty paranoid about anyone seeing the amounts on the checks.”
Just as Kloeppel had earlier faced resistance to purchasing CRTs, Reno felt the ire of some faculty when he suggested the idea of a campus-wide computer network. “Putting software on each machine was a nightmare from a standpoint staff, plus a standpoint licensing,” Reno said. “A network was the only way to manage a growing system, but faculty were worried that students could hack into their machines and steal files or trash them.”
The client-server network idea finally became a reality under Reno’s successor, Daryl Carr. “We installed the network ourselves, stringing and burying coaxial cable all across campus,” said Carr, who retired in 2020. “That system constantly got overloaded, though, and it was replaced with twin fiber-optic cables in 1996.” Carr said a milestone in college computing history occurred that same year, when there was finally a personal computer on every desk.
“There was a time when a significant portion of the campus community resisted learning to use computers,” noted Carr. “The days of pleading with faculty and staff to make use of the equipment are gone. Now the tendency is for our clients to constantly request more functionality and bandwidth. ”
By the mid-1990s, a strange new phenomenon called the World Wide Web burst onto the scene. Bill Urban recalled in 2005: “President Huseman had been cool to the idea that everyone, students included, should be able to get on the web. But when President Giese (whose presidency began in 1997) was asked if general access could be permitted now, he asked our computer center director if it was practical; and when he was told that it was, we were on our way.
“There were some protests, such as ‘How can we keep our students from reading the wrong things?’ But that was the point: we now have to prepare our students to tell what is good from what is not, so that when they graduate, they can operate effectively in a rapidly changing world with ever-increasing sources of information. ”
The web and social media have transformed the way the college markets itself and disseminates information since I started working in College Communications in 1992. In those days, news releases were sent by snail mail, academic catalogs were published in print only, and most of the advertising dollars were spent on expensive TV and radio sports. I took nearly a decade before our first webmaster was hired, and about a decade more before social media was embraced as a formal mode of communication.
Meanwhile on campus, efforts had to be adopted to manage bandwidth. Pioneering digital music services such as Napster were blocked from the network. By 2005, faculty were allowed 50 Mb of storage space, but students were limited to 25 Mb.
Through a partnership with McDonough Telephone Cooperative (MTC), Monmouth’s broadband capacity tripled in 2017 and nearly tripled again in 2018. The advent of cloud technology is increasingly making storage issues a thing of the past.
Jeff Rankin serves as editor and historian for Monmouth College. A lifelong Monmouth resident, he has been researching local history for more than three decades.