Sunday, October 22, 2006


On Monday, the second-year day students began to register for classes for the next semester. First year students and second-year evening students were auto-registered for their classes, and more advanced students got priority because they were closer to graduation, so they needed to fulfill their requirements.

The time was 7am. Hundreds of sleep-deprived souls logged onto the registration website. We entered our passwords, and clicked on the "Registration" tab. We were told we were ineligible. Puzzled, we thought that perhaps the clock on the server was running behind. Every minute, we refreshed.

By 7:10, students were calling each other and IM-ing each other. On AIM, a chatroom was created, and students went there to vent. The tension was palpable. People were calling the Registrar's office and the Dean's office. Nobody was picking up.

At one point, one of the students relayed a message to the chatroom from one of his friends, who had figured out a way to get the registration program to work. The workaround was to paste a javascript command into the address bar of the browser. Apparently, although the application did not give us the link to the add/drop classes function, it did not prevent us from seeing the javascript function for modifying classes in the current semester. The student who figured out the workaround basically took a look at the javascript command for modifying classes in the current semester, and changed two parameters, one of which simply stated the year and the semester. It was a brilliantly simple workaround.

As the news spread throughout the chatroom, people tested the workaround and confirmed their success. The excitement raced through the room, and students began IM-ing, e-mailing, and calling their friends to let them know about the workaround. It was a simple matter to dig up old e-mail lists that addressed entire sections from first year, and use that to spread the knowledge. People were elated.

As the day went on, however, the Registrar finally got wind of what was going on, and clamped down. Registration was rescheduled for Tuesday, again at 7am. The e-mail went out at 9am. I quickly jotted off a note to Dean Burcham, expressing my disappointment with the performance from the IT Department and the Registrar's Office. I wrote the following:

Dean Burcham,

I was very disappointed by the events of this morning. Many students cut back on their hours of sleep just to wake up in time to register for classes. For over half an hour, we worried about what to do. One student found a solution that worked. The solution was fairly obvious, and reminded me of a workaround that was used in June for about a month by those of us who were trying to figure out what our grades were so we could update our resumes. I.e., the solution required only some insight, but no genius.

Those of us who tried the solution then tried to help as many other students as we could. There was a great deal of satisfaction for those of us who were able to help others. This, I think, is truly the spirit of what we're trying to learn: Figure out what the rules are, succeed by those efforts, and help one's fellows. It was truly the best of our nature.

But now, we are told, all our efforts are for naught, and we all have to curtail yet another night's sleep. All this, for something on which the IT Department completely dropped the ball.

This is not the first time ITD has come up short. Others include:

  • The wireless outage that lasted half of Spring 2006.
  • The inability of students to see their grades during June.
  • The breakdown of events-mail.

All three of these occurred during 2006. In the same calendar year, tuition has gone from about $30,000 to about $34,000. While tuition hikes are to be expected, and minor glitches in IT are not completely out of the ordinary, the combination of debilitating breakdowns in IT and the higher rates causes one to wonder whether or not the IT Department, as it currently stands, is worth the money we spend on them.

I am writing only as myself; but I think I'm probably not the only one disappointed and upset by this experience. I don't think it's an answer to say, "oops, we messed up." I don't think it speaks well of the university to say that students who had the insight to figure out a way to get something accomplished, and then help their fellows, should now effectively be punished for their intelligence and their compassion. It is unacceptable, and it is contrary to the spirit of Loyola Law School.

The Dean expressed his disappointment at the performance as well, but stood by the policy of making everyone get up again at 7am the next day to register for classes. I understood that just fine. In fact, as I went to the library to study, I ran into a classmate who had overslept, and was cutting class just to go to the library to register. When I told her that would be no registration at all that day, she was elated. And I wouldn't want to take that away from her.

Still, quite apart from the question of "fairness" was the question of accountability. I replied to the Dean thus:

Dean Burcham,

I doubt that the concern is with the fairness of resetting things for the benefit of those who did not have the work-around. Coming into the library, I spoke with one student who was on the verge of breaking down because her computer had broken down at home, and she thought she wasn't going to be able to get the classes she wanted. She skipped class to go directly to the computer lab; but once I told her what had happened, she was elated, and could go do her reading. In the same spirit with which those of us with the workaround tried to help others, we would not want to deny fairness to those who did not have the workaround.

What primarily concerns me at this point is more of an accountability question. This also relates to the matter of tuition. Speaking with a couple of other people who have computer backgrounds, we noted that the registration system, as currently implemented, is open not only to workarounds for human error, but also possibly to abuse. (This is only speculation; nobody I spoke to had enough energy after getting through registration to figure out how further to exploit the web system.) Again speaking for myself, I consider it beyond disappointing that there have been so many breakdowns with IT.

To put it plainly: What are we getting with the money we pay into IT?

Human error is understandable. But when tuition has gone up faster than inflation, much else remains at its excellent level of quality, but IT is noticeably impaired, particularly compared with the previous year, it is only reasonable to wonder what we're getting for our money.

Finally, around 4pm, the Registrar sent out another e-mail, stating that all registration activity that was logged between 7am and 1pm that day would be purged, implying that nothing was done to prevent the workaround for about 6 hours. Sure enough, when I logged on to the school intranet, the "Registration" tab was gone. But, as someone pointed out, the "View My Schedule" tab was still available. I clicked on that, and then the "View All Enrollments" link, and all the classes I had signed up for were still listed. I guess the "purge" wasn't going to happen.

When I checked again a couple of minutes later, however, the classes were gone. Still, the page was similar enough to the "Registration" tab that I decided to give the workaround another try. It worked. I quickly spread the news to a few people.

Finally, around 6:30pm, the Registrar and IT disabled the entire registration website.

The next day, at 7am, hundreds of students again gathered in front of their computers. Those for whom the site loaded in less than 30 seconds saw that they were still ineligible to register for classes. A mad fury of refreshing began.

The Stud made it through on the first refresh, and was able to sign up for classes. By 7:02am, the Stud was done.

But the debacle took its toll. Thousands of student-hours of sleep, and thousands of student-hours of reading, were wasted as students spent Monday morning trying to figure out if the Law School Gods were, in fact, crazy.

The Stud attended the Dean's Forum on Tuesday to speak about the total breakdown of communications, and (unfortunately) of courtsey (on the part of the Registrar). The Dean attempted no defense, and apologized profusely.

Tuesday has come and gone, and registration is complete. But for many students, it was a bitter experience. More than one student who found out about the workaround late on Monday did not get the classes they wanted on Tuesday, because the site took too long to load, and they could not get signed up for certain classes in time.

Saturday was the PILF Auction, which brought together faculty and students for an essentially charity event. But more needs to be said by the IT Department and the Registrar's Office before second-year students can really appreciate them again. An official mea culpa is needed.

Where is the accountability?

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