ICPSR: The 2000s

Erik Austin

The following text was excerpted from a personal history written by Erik W. Austin, whose career at ICPSR lasted 41 years and included service as interim executive director. Austin says: "I have written these pages from my recall of events and developments described below. These recollections are my own, and do not reflect 'official' institutional history. Admittedly, some aspects of the consortium's programs and activities will be slighted due to my tangential involvement in them. Contemporary survey data developments, the details of computational matters, and the Summer Program are three such areas that won't get as much ink as they undoubtedly deserve."


The work of the staff on major internal and grant-funded projects continued apace in 2000 and the first part of 2001, while we awaited the arrival of new leadership. Just as in the turbulent 1980s and 1990s, the organizational politics that swirled all around the Consortium did not deter or slow down staff productivity. Attention to those politics was localized among the top managers, while the staff soldiered on with highly professional dedication and industry.

New leadership, in the form of the Consortium's fifth Executive Director, arrived in August of 2001 in the person of Myron Gutmann. His vision and energy levels quickly became apparent to the staff, the Council, the Official Representatives, and the social science research community. He actively supported the ongoing projects, and launched a number of new initiatives that immediately increased ICPSR's visibility to the "outside" world and to our colleagues in ISR and at the University of Michigan.

He initiated four major archival projects, each robustly funded by grants from federal agencies we had not previously been able to tap, and each continuing through and past the time of this writing (October 2006). The first of these helped establish a new topical archive, the Child Care and Early Education Research Connection (CCEERC), sponsored by the Child Care Bureau of the US Department of Health and Human Services. A joint archival and research project funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is focusing on disclosure risk in ubiquitous and archived social data. It is intended to measure disclosure risk in such data as sample surveys, and to develop and disseminate "best practices" for mitigating such disclosure risk. A third major initiative, Data Sharing for Demographic Research (DSDR), is also funded by NICHD and focuses on complex collections of demographic data that are currently being collected with NICHD support by scientists throughout the US. This project will provide archiving and reference assistance to project groups collecting complex demographic data, including such services as "virtual archiving" and help in dissemination of highly sensitive ("restricted") versions of these scientific data. These three projects are collaborative in nature, each involving other institution(s) in partnership with ICPSR.

The fourth of these projects initiated by Gutmann has a formal structure of partnerships built into it. The Data-PASS project (Data Preservation Alliance for the Social Sciences) is a component of the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program (NDIIPP) mandated by the US Congress, and funded by an appropriation to the US Library of Congress. Its mission is to identify and preserve endangered digital social science material that has enduring value for understanding our society. ICPSR's partners in this venture are the Roper Center, the Harvard-MIT Data Center, the Murray Research Center at Harvard University, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and the Odum Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Through this project, ICPSR staff will be introduced/re-introduced to the mysteries of the "punch card," and use of a punch card reader for preserving social science material stored only on punch cards. For this writer, the re-visiting of punch card technology truly is a "closing of the ring!!"

Gutmann arrived at ICPSR with an active research agenda, which he continued to pursue while Director of the Consortium. Having an ICPSR research presence is important for our relations with the other Centers at ISR, and one that had not been much emphasized in the previous decade. Myron added a number of research staff to the ICPSR roster, including two Post-Docs and a number of Faculty Associates.i He was also successful in convincing the rest of ISR that ICPSR should be entitled to hire persons with faculty titles to oversee critical activities for the Consortium. Recruited to fill important management and leadership positions were two individuals with extensive research credentials. Amy M. Pienta was lured from the University of Florida in 2003 to become Director of Acquisitions. Felicia B. LeClere left Notre Dame University in 2005 to lead ICPSR's Data Sharing for Demographic Research (DSDR) project. These individuals also qualified for scientific titles, thanks to their research productivity [Pienta remains with ICPSR as of 2014, while LeClere left to take a position at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago in 2010. —Ed.].

Hal Winsborough
Rita Bantom, human resources director

After ICPSR's separation from CPS in 1998, it became apparent to ICPSR leadership that the scale of the operation had reached a level that required professional staff trained and experienced in important administrative functions such as human resources, grant and contract management, budget and financial affairs, and marketing. Breaking with the habit of ISR (and other University of Michigan departments) to favor staff with University experience over those with experience gained elsewhere, we chose administrative managers who were formally trained in these areas, and whose experience had been acquired not at U-M but in the business world. The first of these was Business Manager Stacey L. Kubitz, who joined ICPSR in 1999, leaving a career at the General Motors Corporation. New Director Gutmann continued this pattern, hiring Rita Y. Bantom away from the Watson, Wyatt Consulting firm in 2001 to be ICPSR's Human Resources Director, and then bringing on board Linda M. Detterman in 2004 as Director of Marketing. (Detterman's prior career was with the Detroit-based market research firm MOR-Pace.) These individuals were easily the best qualified individuals in the respective applicant pools, and were able to bring to bear upon ICPSR's business affairs their experience from outside of "The University of Michigan way." [Bantom and Detterman remain with ICPSR in 2015, while Kubitz left in 2009 and was replaced by Diane Winter. —Ed.]

David Featherman
From left, Linda Detterman, marketing director; Felicia LeClere, associate research scientist;
Stacey Kubitz, assistant director for administration; and Lynette Hoelter, research investigator, at the ICPSR Council dinner in 2009

The Perry Building at 330 Packard Street became ICPSR's "home" in December of 2002. The Perry Elementary School had been built by the Ann Arbor school district in 1903 and was used by the district for 60 years.ii The University of Michigan acquired the school in the mid-1960s, and used it for a variety of purposes for some 30 years, in spite of its dilapidated interior. In the late 1990s, the University sold bonds to renovate the interior while retaining the historic exterior, as the building had been put on the Historic Register some years before. The occupants intended for the renovated Perry Building were from the Population Studies Center (PSC), with occupancy to occur when the University transferred PSC's internal affiliation from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts to the Institute for Social Research. The leadership of PSC requested that they be given space in the ISR building on Thompson Street instead, and the renovated Perry Building space was reassigned to the Survey Research Center's Survey Research Operations group. That unit began to grow at a furious pace, thanks to simultaneously conducting several large national surveys. SRO's space needs became urgent and couldn't await completion of the Perry Building renovations (scheduled for the end of 2002). In 2001, SRO moved its operations into rental space on Eisenhower Place, on the periphery of Ann Arbor. ICPSR leadership signaled its interest in occupying the Perry Building, while the other ISR Centers expressed their desire to remain in the Thompson Street ISR building. ICPSR relocated to the Perry Building in December of 2002, moving all of its staff from the Borders and Carver-Gunn buildings into the newly renovated Perry space. Few doubt that the Perry Building space was the best that ICPSR had ever been assigned. Soon, the historic façade of the Perry Building became featured on ICPSR publications, and the building is now the "symbol" of the Consortium.

Perry Building
The Perry Building

Gutmann accelerated the pace of change at ICPSR both in terms of technological innovation and process improvement. In 2001 he instituted ICPSR Direct, a service that permitted anyone on a member campus to download data from ICPSR without going through the Official Representative on campus. ICPSR Direct, which freed up the ORs to concentrate on providing local technical support, revolutionized the data delivery model for the organization after 40 years of reliance on the ORs as "gatekeepers" of ICPSR data. It also freed up ICPSR's own User Support staff from spending most of their time on order fulfillment, permitting them to concentrate on assisting researchers with data discovery and data use.iii Another of Gutmann's goals for the organization was the streamlining of the "data pipeline" processes and procedures from the time of data acquisition through final release. To that end, in 2003 he constituted a Process Improvement Committee charged with evaluating current practice and recommending needed changes. The Committee issued a report, which was then reviewed and approved by an external committee. The recommendations set in motion a larger plan for greater automation of the pipeline so that data processors could focus on higher-level tasks.

I retired on November 30, 2006. I hope someone else will pick up the ICPSR story past that point.

[Acknowledgment: Jerome Clubb, ICPSR's third Director, read two drafts of this "history," and provided me with many valuable suggestions for improving it. He also corrected my faulty memory of people, events, and developments, and reminded me of perspectives to which I had given short shrift. I am grateful to him for the care that he took in engaging in this history of ICPSR. Any remaining errors or oversights, however, are mine alone. —Erik Austin]


By Dan Meisler and Mark Thompson-Kolar, editors

Along with Erik Austin's retirement in 2006, ICPSR saw the retirement of longtime Summer Program director Hank Heitowit. Tributes to the two long-time leaders were published in the 2006-2007 Annual Report. Heitowit was replaced by Bill Jacoby, who oversaw record enrollment in the Summer Program from 2010-2013. Jacoby announced his departure from the Summer Program in mid-2013.

ICPSR also began to focus in the middle and late 2000s on educational resources for undergraduates and graduate students, creating a research paper competition in 2005 and an internship program in 2006. By the 2014 competition, there were four research paper contests: ICPSR, IFSS, NAHDAP, and RCMD. And in 2008, the Online Learning Center (OLC) was created; it continues developing Data Driven Learning Guides for undergraduate classrooms in 2013.

ICPSR has continued to grow in recent years, reaching a total of 724 in 2013. Revenue from grants and contracts also increased dramatically, from $6.2 million in fiscal year 2006 to $9.1 million in fiscal year 2013. Revenue from membership showed a more modest increase, from $2.9 million to $3.7 million during the same period.

The consortium also has widened the scope of its holdings by establishing numerous new archives since 2006, including:

Myron Gutmann left ICPSR in 2009 to lead the National Science Foundation's Social, Behavioral, and Economics Directorate, at which point George Alter took over as interim director. Alter, whose research interests focus on historical demography and who came to ICPSR in 2007 from Indiana University, accepted a five-year appointment as permanent director in July 2011.

In anticipation of an NSF requirement that grant proposals must include data management plans (DMPs), effective in January 2011, ICPSR launched a data management plan website in October 2010. It contained detailed guidelines for writing DMPs, examples, an extensive bibliography, and a list of other resources on the topic. As a leader in data archiving for nearly five decades, ICPSR was in a unique position to help researchers meet the new mandate.

The years 2010-2012 brought development of the ICPSR Virtual Data Enclave, allowing remote access to restricted-use data for approved researchers. The new capability makes it easier to access restricted-use data while still protecting the confidentiality of survey respondents. It provides greater security and simplifies the data protection plans required for sensitive data.

ICPSR in 2011 became the one of the first six data repositories to earn the Data Seal of Approval. The seal was created by the Data Archiving and Networked Services archive in The Netherlands and is overseen by an international board. It is intended to demonstrate that data repositories take appropriate measures to ensure the long-term availability and quality of the data they hold. The seal is awarded based on an online self-assessment regarding a data repository's adherence to a set of 16 guidelines related to trustworthy data management and stewardship. (In October 2013, the second Data Seal of Approval Conference was held in Ann Arbor, the day before the ICPSR OR Meeting.)

In 2012, ICPSR celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding by Warren Miller. The year of events included receptions at various professional meetings and the Official Representatives meeting, and a symposium featuring Nobel laureate and former ICPSR Council member Elinor Ostrom. Also during 2012, ICPSR and the University of Michigan China Data Center became partners. The center provides an array of statistical and spatial data on China.

The following year, ICPSR launched the Building Community Engagement Project, sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Through this effort, ICPSR held two meetings with editors of peer-reviewed social science journals and with representatives of domain-specific data repositories to discuss data citation standards, access to research data, and sustainable funding models. Additionally, four research projects focusing on data citation and data management were funded by the project's grants. Also in 2013, ICPSR again showed leadership in data stewardship by supporting a February 2013 memorandum from the Executive Office of the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding public access to government-funded research results. The staff provided a written statement of support, and Director of Curation Services Jared Lyle presented verbal comments at a public comment meeting at the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, the development team began work on an open-access research-data sharing service named openICPSR.

iPost-Docs recruited by Gutmann to work on his Environment and Great Plains project were anthropologist Susan Hautaniemi (now Leonard) from the University of Massachusetts, and historian Kenneth Sylvester of the University of Alberta. These two scholars subsequently were given Research Investigator titles and, in 2005, were promoted to Assistant Research Scientist. The several Faculty Associates added to the ICPSR staff were James Q. Lee, an historian formerly at the California Institute of Technology; Library professional Diane Geraci, who came to the University of Michigan Library from Binghamton University (and who left U-M in early 2006 to take a position at Harvard University); and Margaret Hedstrom, a faculty member in the School of Information at U-M.

iiA second wing, which retained the architectural style of the original school, was added to Perry in 1923.

iiiMary Morris has been a stalwart of ICPSR's User Support staff for more than 20 years. Her career has spanned the Consortium's journey through technological changes, from magnetic tapes to file downloading off the Internet. In recent years she has been in charge of a burgeoning portion of the business, that of restricted dataset provision under licensing arrangements. In this realm, she has been able to apply her legal training (she has a law degree) to the social science enterprise.