Thursday, January 04, 2007

IUSoft

 Mr. Tweedy has some good examples on his weblog today of the typical nickle-and-dime highway robbery that we go through at the beginning of the semester at IU. There are hidden fees for just about everything at this school, and they charge them without scruple even if they only might apply. But the worst part of it, as Mr. Tweedy points out, is that the overwhelming majority of these annoying fees aren't really necessary anyway. Case in point is the $8 "late registration" fee that they charge you if you access the online registration system more than 48 hours after the first time you access it. Pardon my French, but what the fuck? It's an online registration system. The whole point of the bleedin' thing is to allow just this kind of access, no? I mean, there is a cost associated with the old kind of registration (which I had to do as an undergrad) - where you walk into an office and take someone's time telling them which classes to pencil you in for. In that case, I can see an $8 fee. That's about the hourly wage of the employee you're speaking with; whatever of the $8 isn't used to pay his wage (because you took less than an hour of the school's time, say) could have been applied to other administrative overhead, etc. But with an online registration system, there is simply no way that my extra 5min. in the system is worth anything like $8 in broadband time! It's fraud, plain and simple. And yes, I'm angry about this because I have, if I'm not mistaken, paid this fee every semester I've been here except possibly this one. It's almost impossible to avoid.

Of course, Tweedy's example is just the icing on the cake - because he's caught them red-handed applying the fee for a situation that arises from their own inefficiency - and that's my second, more pertinent complaint. We pay all these fees for online systems that suck donkey balls anyway. Onestart - the online "everything" system - was fully a year and half behind schedule when they finally got all features up and running. The grand irony here is that the old system was working just fine. There are, as far as I can tell, exactly zero advantages to the new one, plus it's slower and has a tendency to confuse itself. Then there's Oncourse - the system that manages grades and class registration. Since they "upgraded" Oncourse, one of the features that has disappeared has been the ability to upload a tab-delimited file (like an Excel spreadsheet) of student grades and have the system grade your class for you. Oh, it still calculates grades, but you now have to enter them by hand, student-by-student. How this counts as an "upgrade" on a system that is intended to facilitate grading is beyond me. It's Kafkaesque, really. And worse yet is how much classroom assignment has suffered since the "upgrade."  Here's one illustrative example. The first chaotic semester that room assignments were handled by the new Peoplesoft system I was (briefly) enrolled in Advanced Operating Systems. The first day we met in a room in the Fine Arts Building with about half the necessary space. There were close to ten people standing in the back, and the rest of us were squeezed into overflow desks we'd dragged in from the hall. This continued for the first week, and then they finally granted us a room change. Well, the new room was in the Education Building - which is twice as far from Computer Science as the Fine Arts Building. In fact, the Education Building is near exactly nothing else on campus. They did this (a) without bothering to send the professor an email informing him of the change (so we wasted half a class period waiting for him to show up, which he finally did after someone called him on a cellphone) and (b) without bothering to cancel another class that had also been meeting in the "new" room up to that point. This from a computer system!!! Finally, we moved the class to Lindley without telling the school about it because - get this - there was a room in the Computer Science building at our designated meeting time that hadn't been assigned to anyone.

The punchline is that all these Peoplesoft upgrades were expensive. Never in the course of human events has so much money been wasted on such poor quality (though Vista is due out soon...).

Anyway - a heartfelt "hear, hear!" to Tweedy's entry - and an addition of my own. The library catalogue was also "upgraded" over the holidays. Now, if I want to log on, I have to give my user password not once but twice. Yup - if you log on from a computer off campus the first thing it asks you for is your username and password. This then redirects to a page that asks you for....*drumroll*...the selfsame username and password you've just entered. Incredible.

They should just hand over IUCAT, Oncourse and Onestart to an undergraduate Intro to Databases course as a semester project. Somehow I think such a class could, in a single semester, come up with something roughly as efficient as the mess we have now and save the school millions (literally - the Peoplesoft project cost us in the millions - and this in a era of hiring new coaches at ever-more-lucrative contracts every 20min. with exactly no one's approval or permission at this school) in the process. Ah, but who would pay for the kickbacks?

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