Howard Bugs Typify Challenge Of Updating Technology
WASHINGTON — Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That’s what Howard University administrators here may be saying in light of criticism that has come their way in recent weeks.
Anxious to update an old mainframe with new software in time for the Y2K turnover, administrators implemented a system that has left students with errors in transcripts and that professors say could endanger scholarships and applications to graduate school.
Some students and faculty members at the 11,000-student school say the university’s new student administration software system has been plagued with problems since the fall, and students have had to stand in long lines at the registration office to clear up missing or wrong grades. Moreover, professors wonder whether the problem will be fixed in time for seniors to graduate in May.
Despite reports from professors and students however, Howard University administrators are steadfastly denying media reports that the computer problems are widespread.
“Computer systems are in order and working,” Dr. Antoine Garibaldi, Howard’s provost, says in a prepared statement. “Students can, have been and will continue to be able to obtain accurate official grade reports and transcripts for graduate school, professional school, employment, or other opportunities.”
Garibaldi did acknowledge that “in a very few instances the university did experience some transitional challenges similar to those experienced by other colleges and universities moving to a new computer system.”
“Everybody knows it’s a problem,” says Dr. Taft Broome, a professor of engineering at Howard and president of the university’s Faculty Senate. “It’s a nightmare of a problem.”
Broome says professors became aware of the problem when students came to them complaining of missing or wrong grades.
“What happens to students who aren’t getting their financial aid? Will this problem be corrected in time for graduation?” questions Broome.
The fracas here at one of the nation’s largest historically Black colleges highlights similar problems that other institutions have faced in moving to upgrade their registration and other administrative systems. Howard is not the only university experiencing computer nightmares. Several institutions that installed PeopleSoft Corporation’s student administrative software have been plagued by bugs and cost overruns.
At Cleveland State University, financial aid was delayed and students received incorrect bills. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, grades couldn’t be printed for the university’s 1999 spring semester.
Many institutions bought new integrated application systems because of their concerns over making their aging mainframes Y2K complaint, says Phil Farley, a technology analyst with the Gartner Group, a consulting firm in Stamford, Conn.
The new applications allow universities to take labor-intensive tasks like registration and integrate them on the new software.
“It’s tough,” Farley says. “The data conversion takes a long time to convert from a mainframe application to a client-server.” Farley says universities must have well-trained staff in place and have enough time to plan and implement the new system.
Howard’s problems began when officials switched from the university’s old system to SCT’s Banner student information management software. Broome says the university faced a deadline to implement the new system because the old system was not Y2K compliant. But he says the university underestimated the amount of time and manpower needed to install the system so that it wouldn’t be plagued by errors. Officials from SCT were not available for comment.
Meanwhile, after administrators met earlier this month with faculty in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences, the faculty passed a scathing assessment of the situation.
The evaluation stated that “the computer system is not generating accurate transcripts and the administration does not know whether it can resolve the problem before the end of the semester. If we do not act now, the [computer] system problem could endanger the careers of our students and the future of this university.”
Arana Hankins, a Howard anthropology student, says she had to go to the registration office repeatedly to get a problem fixed with a transcript so she could send in her application for an internship with the Smithsonian Museum.
“When I enrolled in the class in the fall, the computer was saying I hadn’t registered for the class,” Hankins says. “Then for my final grade, the university said I was auditing the class, even though I got an A.”
Hankins says she had to go to her professor to get her grade corrected. When she received her first semester grades, three of them were missing. Moreover, she says, the university records still do not show that she has completed previous work and can graduate in May.
“This whole year has been a mess. There have been huge lines at registration. And there’s still no information about graduation,” Hankins says. “I just hope people can graduate this spring.”
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