University of Michigan information technology innovator John Gohsman has been appointed as vice chancellor and chief information officer at Washington University in St. Louis. The newly created position will oversee WUSTL’s academic, research and administrative computing services.
During his 30-year career at the University of Michigan, Gohsman has found new ways to use information technology to help in the classroom and the laboratory as well as in the university’s administrative offices. Gohsman currently serves as executive director of strategy, planning and solutions at the University of Michigan, where he leads a staff of approximately 250.
“Being successful at one of America’s largest, most complex and best research universities is great preparation for working here,” said Henry Webber, WUSTL’s executive vice chancellor for administration. “He will bring people together and balance the strategic and the tactical. He is a superb manager and has a strong record of getting things done.”
Laura Patterson, University of Michigan associate vice president and chief information officer, said Gohsman built the university’s information infrastructure and has helped faculty and staff use data to accomplish any number of goals from improving physics courses to streamlining computer purchasing.
“Michigan became an early user of analytics, both academic analytics and administrative analytics,” said Patterson. “The way he did it was by building a community across the university to share best practices. It was a significant and transformative change for the university.”
Patterson calls Gohsman a terrific manager and collaborator.
“If I had to very succinctly state John’s strongest skill, it’s that he can envision and lead large-scale change in very complex organizations,” said Patterson. “People trust him because he is honest. He is candid. He’ll go to a person’s office and listen.”
Gohsman was selected by a committee of university leaders after a nationwide search. He will report both to Webber and Provost Holden Thorp, PhD.
“The reason we created this position was to reach greater coordination and to bring together the three strands of administrative, academic and research computing,” said Webber.
“Students reasonably expect to have instantaneous access to a huge variety of information from their class assignments to articles. Our faculty expects to be able to communicate huge amounts of data on joint research projects anywhere on the globe. Our board expects us to produce financial statements quickly and accurately. None of those things happens without information technology,” he added.
Gohsman said his first task will be to meet with deans, administrators, faculty members and IT leaders across campus to develop an IT vision for the university. He said strong collaboration is as important as great IT services.
“I want to listen and learn,” said Gohsman. “Because we in IT talk to everybody, we see opportunities that people don’t see on their own. To me, the job of a chief information officer isn’t really to be the technical expert but to facilitate that collaboration. I’ve always seen my role as helping people find common opportunities.”
That does not mean centralizing systems, insists Gohsman. That would never work at a large, decentralized university like Michigan and it won’t at Washington University.
“Centralization doesn’t support the culture and aspirations of what each of the schools wants to do,” said Gohsman. “It’s figuring out what should be provided centrally that everyone needs and cares about and then deciding how we enable the academic units to innovate on top of that.”
Provost Thorp said that perspective sets Gohsman apart.
“Someone coming from a strong academic background like Michigan is going to have an appreciation for the different and unique needs of our departments,” said Thorp. “What we want to do is make all of it better by doing things centrally that can be done more efficiently and better and by supporting things that are being done in individual labs or departments the best way we possibly can.”
Gohsman, 52, has lived in Michigan his entire life. He was raised in Vassar, a small community in the thumb of Michigan and earned a bachelor’s degree in business data processing from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. His wife, Mary Gohsman, also is an information technology professional. Gohsman has two grown sons.
Gohsman said he is excited to move to St. Louis and claims to be lifelong Cardinals fan.
“Except for those years when they’re playing the Detroit Tigers in the World Series,” said Gohsman.“If I went to another Big Ten school, they would probably hate me there,” joked Gohsman. “But I think I can safely root for both schools’ teams.”
In his free time, Gohsman volunteers with his church and plays golf. He and his wife will move to St. Louis with their son’s dog, a miniature dachshund named Taylor after the brand of golf clubs. Their other son’s dog, Palmer, will stay in Michigan.
“Clearly our family has a thing for golf,” said Gohsman.