Letter from Dr. Fitzpatrick to WCC Board of Trustees (January 29, 2015)

Members of the WCC Board of Trustees:

I am contacting you in regard to Tuesday night’s briefing on Student Success Software.  I am doing so both to express concern about the apparently rushed nature of the decision that is before you and also to correct the record.

Regarding the rushed nature of the decision:

One only need look at the large number of issues we encounter with Blackboard to understand that the decision on this new software needs to be done with a great deal of deliberation.  Blackboard is a badly flawed platform.  For every problem its vendor fixes, two more are created.  In the last year I alone have discovered two serious flaws in our current version of Blackboard.  Both have been “fixed” and those fixes will be in the next version of Blackboard when we transition to it in May.  Yet I fully expect that, with that new version, we will find new serious defects in the software.  I expect that because that has been the track record for Blackboard for as long as we have been using it.

For years the faculty have urged the College to look at other platforms, but the fact of the matter is that it would take a huge investment in software, equipment, training, time, and other resources to replace Blackboard.  We, then, are stuck with a platform that serves us poorly.

And, to be clear, this is really no one’s fault on this campus.  It is what it is.

So now we are looking at making another substantial investment in software, software on which we likely will become as dependent as we have on Blackboard.  It is therefore imperative that this software be fully researched, that discussions take place between the potential users at WCC and the users at other campuses, that it is thoroughly tested by potential users on this campus, and after these steps have been taken, that informed discussions take place between faculty and administration at WCC before the College makes this substantial investment.

If the vendor wants our business, they’ll keep the negotiated price until we have done due diligence and have had a thorough evaluation process.  If they are not willing to allow us to do due diligence, they don’t deserve our business, nor ought they receive it.

Correcting the Record:

There are three issues here.  First, the statement was made Tuesday night that this software would empower counselors.  That’s a wonderful sentiment, but the fact of the matter is we have fewer counselors now than at any time in my 19-year career at WCC.  In their place the college has hired low-cost, low-experience academic advisors who appear to work from a pretty restricted template when advising students.  This is doing a disservice to our students.  Moreover, it is the sense of those few faculty who are aware of the administration’s desire to purchase this software that its purpose is not to empower counselors and advisors, but to replace them.  If one wants to empower counselors, one ought begin that process by hiring counselors to empower, not by spending nearly $400,000 on software.

Second, the statement was made Tuesday night that those of us on the “inside” see the College’s admissions process as a straight line when it really is not.  This simply is not the case for many of us.  For years the faculty have expressed concern and frustration about the needlessly complex admissions process at WCC, and we have made clear that we feared the process was damaging enrollments.  Now the administration proposes to insert yet another impersonal piece of software into the admissions and registration process that prospective students must navigate.  The Board of Trustees, the staff, and the faculty deserve a clear and detailed explanation about how this software will be used, where in the process it will fit, and exactly how it “straightens” that line from a student’s perspective.

Finally, I want to make clear the level of faculty involvement in the acquisition process to this point in time.  Yes, the department chairs were told about the software—last Tuesday—without warning and without preparatory material that would have allowed them to come prepared for a serious and substantive discussion.  That “briefing” was conducted by employees of the vendor via teleconference while department chairs were listening to what several have described to me as indecipherable gibberish.  Because departments will not have their monthly meetings until February 12, whatever the department chairs might have gleaned from that briefing, it will not filter its way down to individual faculty for discussion until that date.

This is neither cooperation nor is it collaboration.  It is checking the box so that it can be said the faculty have been informed.

So, I urge the Board of Trustees not be rushed into making a $400,000 decision with which we likely will be stuck for the foreseeable future and likely at a substantially increased price after the third year.

Respectfully,

Dr. David Fitzpatrick

 

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