After publishing David Arnow’s op-ed on the new CUNYfirst computer system (“CUNYfirst, Users Last,” May 2013 Clarion), we asked readers to tell us their own experiences with CUNYfirst. Some of the responses are excerpted below; most of those who commented chose to remain anonymous.
Users’ criticisms of CUNYfirst are specific, widespread and growing. You can read the original article and the full range of comments it drew at psc-cuny.org/clarion/may-2013/CUNYfirst-users-last.
Entering Grades for Spring 2013
At home, I tried on two separate days to access CUNYfirst, and each time it rejected my password as invalid. On Tuesday, I went to Borough of Manhattan Community College to enter grades at the Registrar’s [Office]. After passing through three levels of assistants in the office...the head registrar [had] to enter the system and enter the grades himself. It was a blood-pressure-raising experience! [But] it was handled most courteously by the people in the office: I only blame CUNYfirst.
If I Had Chosen This System, I Would Have Been Fired!
I want to thank you for not only the bold stand you took in your opinion piece in Clarion, but also for your recognition of HEOs at CUNY and the toll that CF (as we call CUNYfirst) and now Pathways have taken on us.
I am from a Wave 2 school and had to put in enormous hours of over-time in the year leading up to our conversion. Now that we are live, CF has slowed down our processes enormously, resulting in extra hours on a routine basis. I rarely leave my office on time. I still have to put in enough extra hours that I end up with a few days off in comp time about three times a year. (And that is with me being somewhat generous...)
A stack of paperwork arriving on my desk that would take about an hour in SIMS, can take anywhere from 3 to 7 hours, depending on the density of what is included, the complexity of the specifics involved, how slow CF will be on any given day, and how many times it will log me off for no apparent reason.
Even worse is how our end-clients, the students – Remember them? – have fared under this system. If those of us who have been using CF for one to two years still have problems with it, how can we expect students to master this crucial system?
We were told by someone who was supposedly on the university-wide committee from the beginning that was charged with choosing the vendor, that it came down to two finalists: Oracle and a European company. The person said that the European company was hungry to get into the US market and their presentation, product and response to questions ran rings around Oracle. Many members of the committee were dumbfounded when Oracle got the contract.
I wouldn’t care if this was a workable system, but it is not. It should be clear to anyone who uses CF that it was not meant as a university administration product and that the people who rebuilt it for this market know nothing about college administration and the tasks we have to do on a daily basis. Converting any system is an arduous task, but one usually can expect to get to a point where most things are working well. I don’t think CF will ever work well and we will have problems with it until we finally convert to something else.
I agree with other posts here about the training being inadequate at best. My colleagues who did the CF “Train the Trainer” training were never given any hands-on time in the system. Rather, they were taught how to read PowerPoint presentations out loud (and urged to “smile more”). They themselves were frustrated that they were supposed to train colleagues on campus but were not given the proper training or tools to do so.
Then, in the middle of all of the CF problems, we are supposed to implement Pathways, which requires a great deal of administrative retooling in addition to its pedagogical issues. And now we are told that there will be significant changes being made in how financial aid will be delivered, also starting this fall.
How much are we, as HEOs, expected to shoulder at one time? Most of my colleagues are extremely tired, some to the point of increased illnesses. We get little recognition (except for us lucky ones with supervisors who acknowledge our hard work and dedication in the only way they can: thanks and the occasional pizza party) and rarely are eligible for merit raises or other “hard” compensation....
Again, I thank you for recognizing HEOs and the work we do to make our colleges run. I feel that the people at Central have forgotten what it is like to be on the ground at one of the colleges.
A Total Mess
At Hunter College [in May] a printed notice was posted...telling students that graduate registration was suspended because of “problems” with CUNYfirst. This came after another notice, telling students that they were not registering correctly and while they think that they have completed registration, they really haven’t. A total mess.
CUNYfirst’s “Deprovisioning” of Adjunct Faculty
See page 16 of the Queens College Adjunct Task Force Report for details of how CUNYfirst “deprovisioned” hundreds of adjuncts:
“As the Adjunct Task Force prepared for one of its final meetings to review this report, many adjuncts at Queens College found it impossible to access the CUNYfirst system, or, if they were able to access CUNYfirst, were not accorded access to the Faculty Center screen which was necessary to post grades on the CUNYfirst system. The explanation given by the Office of Converging Technologies (OCT) was that ‘CUNYfirst de-provisioned 500-plus adjunct accounts on June 1, 2011, because the contracts ended May 31, 2011.’ The announced deadline for all Queens College faculty to submit grade rosters for the Spring 2011 semester was June 4, 2011.
“Just as teaching a course begins well before the professor takes attendance and ends after the class is dismissed, so too does the process begin well before the first day of classes for the semester and ends well after the final examination papers are collected. But the CUNYfirst system was programmed under the assumption that the adjunct faculty members’ relationship with Queens College was in all respects severed after midnight of the 31st day of May....”
Such a Terrible Choice
Dogged HEO staff members have been putting in 13- to 14-hour days to try to get CUNYfirst to work, basically trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. This on top of implementing Pathways.
The system is repeatedly “down.” Even when it is working, it takes about 15 minutes or more to use it to advise a student; whereas in the past, academic advisors could obtain the information they needed from SIMs in about a minute or two. Multiple 15 minutes times the students on your campus and you begin to see the magnitude of the problem.
In 2011, Montclair University sued Oracle [maker of PeopleSoft, the software used by CUNYfirst] for a failed ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning system]; in fact, the Montclair situation was named one of the 10 biggest ERP software failures of 2011 by Computer World Magazine. Montclair claimed that due to serious mistakes and delays on the part of Oracle, the project cost over $5 million more than the original budget. Montclair also alleged that Oracle staffed the project with unprepared staffers, missed deadlines, didn’t adequately test the software and even used a “rigged” software demonstration that falsely made it seem like some functionality was part of Oracle’s base system. This case was recently resolved [see tinyurl.com/Montclair-U-settlement for details].... The last I heard, Cambridge University was also considering suing for the same reasons.
[In] an older suit, Ohio’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against PeopleSoft, Inc., seeking $510 million in damages stemming from an allegedly faulty installation of the company’s ERP and student administration applications at Cleveland State University. Cleveland State University and PeopleSoft USA, Inc., reached a $4.25 million settlement in 2005.
These are just a few lawsuits against PeopleSoft/Oracle by universities; there have been others by private corporations, municipalities and others for cost overruns, poor functionality, missed deadlines, etc....
SIMS was imperfect, but was basically responsive to the needs of each college. I’ll never understand why an investment in enhancing SIMS to make it an integrated university-wide system was not done. Just yesterday I spoke to an admissions staff member at SUNY Buffalo where they use Oracle. She described it as a nightmare, saying she longs for the days when Buffalo used its own “homegrown” computer information system....
Duplicate Records – 1
...Because the formatting of staff information is different than it was in the legacy system, when we import faculty data into a separate, mission-critical database, it causes duplicate records. This has had the effect of making it impossible for faculty to log in to that database and check on information relating to their students.
Duplicate Records – 2
Duplicate record problems caused by CUNYfirst have exploded since the first campuses went live. I regularly have to deal with problems on the CUNY Portal and Blackboard, where students are suddenly duplicated because a campus they’ve never attended, or haven’t attended in years, has gone live on CUNYfirst and imported unchecked or incorrect data. As a result of the bad data, they experience severe account issues. They find their Blackboard courses are suddenly gone, or when they log in to Blackboard, they see a different student’s name and courses. Meanwhile, Blackboard is perceived as malfunctioning, when it’s actually due to bad data management by CUNYfirst. Ultimately, it’s the students who pay the price.
Department Chair Perspective
As an academic department chairperson, I needed to create requisitions and manage personnel actions, appointments, etc. I was unable to do anything at all in the financials because they were not made available to me despite my notifying the VP of Administration & Finance and the VP of Academic Affairs multiple times, over months, asking...for their assistance in rectifying the problem.... After this my access was enabled (no courtesy call, no apology, nothing), but things still did not go smoothly. They had to fiddle with it for months to try to get authorized users set up properly, [and] basically half of the year was gone by the time things were set up better (but remember, we have deadlines for submission of budget [requisitions], we do not actually get 12 months).
Horrible situations, still trying to get the system to work and receiving items is extraordinarily labor-intensive – [it’s a] library department, [so] we receive lots of items. Regarding personnel matters, I had to still submit everything in multiple-page forms typed with a typewriter.... No savings or efficiencies here....
The problems have been many, and extremely frustrating for students, too.
First, “Do No Harm”
David Arnow’s piece is excellent! And yet sad that it’s what I suspected: CUNY lowballed the cost and nobody had enough sense to either scale back, look for a different solution, or at least say “do no harm” and leave the cobbled-together, but functional, systems in place.
I avoid CUNYfirst as much as possible. I use it mostly to enter grades. What drives me crazy is that I never know if the grades have been accepted. There is no kind of confirmation. And why does it take so long for the grades I enter to reach the Registrar’s Office? Grades are sent to the “main” computer only at the end of each day....
Whenever I print out my roster or grade sheet, I sorely miss having a microscope! Could anything be printed in a smaller font?
I’m glad my grades are in and the summer is a-coming, so I won’t have to face CUNYfirst until the Fall semester begins.
CUNYfirst Good for Just One Thing: Wreaking Havoc
CUNYfirst has been, in a word, a disaster. It has hurt students, faculty and staff in ways no one could have imagined when it first arrived at our campus. The amount of hours in lost productivity, and the amount of money lost due to canceled classes is just staggering. (If something like this happened in the corporate world, heads would be rolling by now and the people who wreaked this kind of havoc would have been fired.)
We experienced numerous insurmountable challenges during our first semester with CUNYfirst, but registration was the worst. Dozens of courses were canceled because exhausted students simply gave up. (Imagine spending hours trying to sign up for a class and having all the information disappear from your screen five times.) One section of a popular course I have taught for several years was canceled because only six students managed to register for it successfully. As a result, I lost thousands of dollars of my meager income as an adjunct. I was not alone; many of my colleagues also lost classes and there was constantly scrambling to rearrange teaching schedules. This system is so outdated and so broken I don’t think it can be fixed. The powers-that-be at CUNY should admit they made a terrible mistake with CUNYfirst and just start over.
My Experience with CUNYfirst
My experience with CUNYfirst so far is exactly as the author described: it is very rigid and poorly designed (feels extremely outdated)....
I don’t understand why faculty’s full social security numbers are displayed in the Personal Info Summary section. Unlike some other personal info, we cannot edit it and we don’t need a reminder like that. It’s useless and it’s just an invitation for some Internet hacker to steal it while you are managing your classes or looking for student info. With so many identity thefts committed every day and reported in the media, it’s irresponsible on the part of CUNYfirst management and Human Resources to display such info.
...When you enter your grades you have no idea if they went through. Twice I had to hand-write my grades because CUNYfirst never submitted the grades.
Printing from CUNYfirst
[One user commented that when trying to print out grade reports from CUNYfirst, “all I get are bits and pieces of the web page.” That drew the following response, from another user.]
My experience is that you should be using Firefox when accessing CUNYfirst. [This can help with the problem] that when printing...at times the screen will not print completely. You will, at those times, get just the outside frame of the screen.
Within Firefox, when you are at the screen that is not printing out correctly, you should right-click the area [with the] information you want to print. You will then see a pop-up menu [saying] “This Frame.” Then another pop-up submenu appears. Click “Print This Frame,” and click “OK” to print.
This is a Firefox-only solution that I got from our IT department [on] our campus. I was an IT tech [when I worked] in corporate, so I asked those I knew in our campus IT department if they experienced this, and what they were aware of as a solution.
Though CUNYfirst was difficult to use initially, and still has a good number of faults, it can be used to get the job done – albeit slower than the low-overhead systems that came before it.
...CUNYfirst definitely is not UI [user interface] coded as well as it could be. Half of [the reason] was CUNY Central’s decision in the amount it chose to spend. The other was PeopleSoft’s decision in not having a higher standard for its programmers when programming basic items. This unfortunately comes full circle due to the negotiated terms of the contract between CUNY Central and PeopleSoft. PeopleSoft can point to the contract, but, in the end it, was CUNY Central who signed on the dotted line.
From Technophile to Technophobe
EPIC FAIL. Those words can’t be strong enough. The worst example of corporatizing ever in CUNY.... Not only is it poorly designed and non-intuitive, it constantly breaks down. It is so buggy that everyone ends up spending much more time on it than the old system. The biggest frustration is that no one seems to know how to fix anything, so the same HEOs keep getting bombarded with help questions. One of our best HEOs has resigned because, after two years, she has had it and would rather retire than deal with CUNYfirst. For faculty it’s a nightmare, because instead of making it easy to register students, it’s harder. [In one case] it took five hours and five different offices to fix one small item. CUNYfirst help desks are staffed by non-HEOs, who are sweet but generally don’t have advanced answers. And so it goes... if this is representative of the conditions for teaching and learning at CUNY, then we, as an institution, are an EPIC FAIL!
I agree with the points made [by others]:
It takes forever to get to the course site.
Submitting grades is too complicated. I am not sure I did because I see no confirmation.
I do not need to see my employment data and feel prone to hacking knowing that that information is available on this site, which I use to submit grades.
Who wrote the instructions for grade submission at Hunter College? It is amateurish at best. Seven pages of instructions are too long. And why are there descriptions of features that are not even available?
It’s hard to believe that this site and its features could have made sense to anybody.
The “Faculty Quick Reference Guide” to CUNYfirst has 78 pages. That is all.
A Good Investment?
In 2010, I was chair of my department and was urged to attend [a CUNYfirst] training workshop. Of the dozen or so people who came to this event, I was the only one able to even log on to the system, and that was just due to sheer dumb luck. Even the workshop leader, a very savvy staffer at Hunter’s Instructional Computing & Information Technology Office, was unable to access the system. The workshop ended prematurely, but I stayed to explore the site and update my emergency contacts. I was tickled to find a page where I could buy “stock options” in “my company.”
Not long ago when “reclaiming” my CUNYfirst account after several years of inactivity, I found that the stock options page still exists – an artifact, no doubt, of having a system that isn’t “customized,” but only “configured.”
A good investment? I have my doubts.