Behind the News
IT IS A MOMENT THAT EVERY IT director dreads. The system goes down and data is lost. Usually the data can be recovered from archived files-unless those archives are also corrupt.
That's what happened to the Utah State University in mid-November when the school's Blackboard system, tied to the statewide Utah Education Network, failed.
The failure went undetected for several days, however, and any data entered into the system during that period has been permanently lost, according to Mike Petersen, executive director of Utah Education Network.
"The root cause of the November 16 Blackboard outage and subsequent data loss at UEN was a hardware problem-specifically a bad switch within the hosting infrastructure's storage area network (SAN)," says Stacie Gomm, USU's associate vice president for Information Technology Services. "It had nothing to do with the Blackboard software or its database."
The switch failure caused the database to produce a corrupt data file. However, because none of the applications tied to the system indicated a problem, it went undetected, and the corrupt file was copied into incremental backups of the system.
When USU began reporting problems with files uploading to the Blackboard system on November 16, the corrupt file was firmly entrenched in the backup archives.
UEN officials took the system offline on November 16, Gomm says, and after consulting with both Oracle and Blackboard support, it was determined that the only way to restore a stable system was to restore it to the most recent point in time at which the corrupt data file did not exist. In doing so, however, about two-and-ahalf day's worth of data was irretrievably lost. "At that point the root of the problem was still unknown," she says.
The quantity of information lost is unknown but, at a crucial point in the semester, students had to resubmit work, and instructors had to regrade assignments.
When backups began failing again 10 days later, UEN once again took the Blackboard system offline. This time the switch problem was detected and finally replaced.
"We believe that the problem has been fully identified and addressed," says Gomm, "and we do not anticipate any more occurrences of it, though we remain on heightened alert for anomalies in system performance." -Tim Goral
THE POPULARITY OF FRIDAY CLASSES comes and goes with students. It turns out IHEs are conflicted too.
Adding Friday classes could help in the battle against student drinking. A recent study from researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia (which holds Friday classes) indicates that students who don't have Friday classes drink twice as much on Thursday night. Professor of quantitative psychology Phillip Wood says he's been contacted by Penn State, Loyola University (La.), The University of Texas at Dallas, and Cornell, among others. The University of Iowa and The University of Mississippi have also cited the study as they consider schedule changes. In most cases, changes will take place in 2008.
On the other hand, dropping Friday classes could be good for the environment. Rose State College (Okla.), a community college, will eliminate Friday classes starting in spring 2008. Ric Baser, vice president of Academic Affairs, explains that high gas prices are taking a toll on the all-commuter population, and students are taking fewer class hours. Classes that currently meet on Monday- Wednesday-Friday are being retooled for a Tuesday-Thursday structure. An unintended benefit is that classroom space has been added without expanding the physical plant. Hybrid classes are being designed that will meet online two days and on campus on Friday. "The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive," Baser says. -Ann McClure
"IT'S HARD TO BE A COWBOY," SAYS BARRY DUNN, executive director of the King Ranch Institute for Ranch Management at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. An MBA in ranch management might not help with saddle sores, but it will come in handy to a modern-day ranch manager who has to be comfortable with everything from animal husbandry to environmental stewardship to human resources.
"I think it's the most complex business you could get into," Dunn adds. When he began as a rancher, people would obtain degrees in animal science and then have to learn the business side on the job. The institute covers those topics and more through classes, lecture series, and internships. The institute was launched in 2004, and enrollment is limited to four students per class in order to avoid flooding the market with ranch managers. Although current students come from a variety of backgrounds, they are required to have prior ranching experience and, so far, all have been male. "We're trying to recruit young women," Dunn says. Although the graduate program hopes to remain elite, a certificate program starting in 2008 will be open to people around the world. Think of it as professional development for cowboys. -A.M.
TRAVIS P. KIRKLAND IS NOT JUST filling a vacancy. As interim president at Del Mar College (Texas), Kirkland was appointed last August with an expectation: to make effective policy changes.
Though given backing from the Board of Regents to amend Del Mar's policy manual, some of his proposed recommendations are not sitting well with faculty members. A majority of them disagree with altering the college's current tenure policy and have formed a chapter of the American Association of University Professors to help oppose them, according to a media release.
With only a yearlong appointment, Kirkland is examining policies he thought were the most important to address before his successor comes, one of them being tenure. Right now the tenure policy, Kirkland says, "directly links tenure and promotion."
Kirkland's proposal involves the separation of promotion from tenure, to cease it from being an automatic process. "We are not doing away with tenure," he insists. Each of three ad hoc committees is forming a plan for his recommendation, developing specific procedures for tenure and post-tenure review as well as an evaluation process. On policymaking, Kirkland has been open to hearing suggestions from Del Mar employees, saying, "I believe that everybody has a right to chime in or not, but they should have the opportunity."
The board will likely act on the proposals at the end of January. Kirkland has been reviewing other practices such as those regarding personnel and contract employees, and he has proposed creating a shared governance policy. "We have a number of gaps we are trying to resolve," he says.
Considered a change agent in helping colleges deal with accreditation and fiscal issues, Kirkland has led community colleges in West Virginia, New Mexico, and Oregon. Most recently, he was president of Blue Mountain Community College (Ore.). His career has also included 23 years in the U.S. Army. -Michele Herrmann
By Barry B. Lepatner; The University of Chicago Press, (www.press.uchicago.edu) 2007; 229 pp., $25
AS NEARLY ANYONE INVOLVED IN CAMPUS construction can attest, keeping projects on time and within budget is no easy feat. The author, a construction lawyer who has worked with educational institutions, notes, "We have become almost immune to the fact that most construction in this nation will result in serious cost overruns and schedule delays." He builds a case for reform by outlining problems such as bad management and ineffective supervision.
Just a few pages focus on higher ed, covering the problems with construction-related degree programs -including that architects and engineers aren't taught enough about each other's fields and that both academic programs don't teach enough about areas such as cost estimating. Still, the book's content related to the extensive use of subcontractors, construction worker culture, and government regulations that impede change are applicable to projects in any industry, as are the reform suggestions, which include the use of intermediaries to enforce fixed-price contracts and better construction contracts. The final chapter offers advice on securing contracts, contract language, insurance, winning with change orders, and hiring a project team. -Melissa Ezarik
DURING THE LAST WEEK OF November, Clarkson University (N.Y.) constituents had a graphic demonstration of how much garbage one person can generate in a week. Eight members of the student Environmental Conservation Organization carried clear plastic garbage bags filled with the accumulated non-recyclable trash each had generated. At the end of the week they had a combined 30 gallons of garbage totaling 9.7 pounds. "And we're the environmentally conscious students," points out Madison Quinn, ECO president.
The idea came from a radio report Quinn's environmental law professor Chris Robinson heard. Quinn hopes to repeat the experiment next semester with participants keeping a second bag of recyclable products, as well as non-ECO students participating for comparison. "It was eye opening," Quinn says. "It made me more aware of what I throw away on a daily basis-things you don't think about, like napkins and straws." Considering that the Clarkson administration has spent the last year trying to increase recycling on campus, perhaps the next frontier is a cross-college competition like RecycleMania (www.recyclemania.org), where campuses across America try to collect the least amount of trash and recycle the most per capita. -A.M.
MANY STATES ACROSS THE COUNTRY ARE CONSIDERING FOLLOWING New York's recent lead in banning trans fat oils from food preparation in its 26,000 restaurants and other food establishments. The oils are a common ingredient in food preparation because of their high melting point and their ability to prolong shelf life. However, unlike other dietary fats, trans fats are not necessary to diets and have been linked to an elevated risk of coronary disease.
Recognizing the trend toward healthier food preparation, Johnson & Wales University (R.I.) announced it will eliminate the use of artificial trans fats from its culinary and baking curricula, student dining services, and its owned and operated hotels and commercial bakeshop by the spring of 2008.
"As a leading educator of future chefs and executives of the food service and hospitality industries, we feel it is our responsibility to replace artificial trans fats with alternatives that provide an equivalent quality of taste and consistency," says Karl Guggenmos, university dean of culinary education. Johnson & Wales has more than 16,000 students in its four campuses around the country, and it boasts a 99 percent employment rate for its graduates. Guggenmos believes artificial trans fats will be removed entirely from the consumer food chain within a few years. -T.G.
A TWO-YEAR INSTITUTION IN rural Douglas, South Georgia College has had student housing since the 1970s. The new $9.1 million residence hall, Tiger Village, has increased SGC's residential enrollment by 61 percent (to 298) over last school year, and along with Tiger Village campus officials created a student center for both residents and commuters.
FUNCTION: Activities center with a student life office, video lounge, study area, food preparation area, and caf?, as well as game tables.
CHALLENGES: Years ago, recreational space in SGC's student union building had disappeared nearly overnight, when a temporary administration building was torn down. While there were certainly places scattered throughout campus for students to meet and relax, most of them had "noise and activity restrictions," explains Jim Cottingham, vice president for Student Affairs. Campus leaders didn't have to look far for a potential spot. Clower Hall, built in 1936 as a gymnasium, is located in the heart of the college's residential and sports facilities. Yet ready for a quick conversion it was not. Since a new gym was built in the 1960s, Clower had become a catch-all storage facility. Could that building get a second life while maintaining its historic character?
SOLUTIONS: "The building had so much promise," Cottingham says. "It's just a large open structure that said, 'Do something with me!'" Students got on board in a big way-voting in a referendum to pay a fee that will, over time, completely finance the project. Without needing to wait for state funding, officials could move quickly.
Completed over the last school year, the project involved maintaining most of the building's exterior appearance so that "the historic envelope remained intact," Cottingham notes. The former back service entrance now has a new look and serves as a "second front door"; a new porch connects it to the exit stairs of Tiger Village, says Joe Greco, principal and director of the education studio for architectural firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent. Insulation was added atop the existing roof so that the original look upward from inside could be preserved, he adds. The feel of the original gymnasium also remains. The open area, about 9,000 square feet, is partially subdivided with 10-foot-high, three-foot-thick acoustical wall installations. Both residential and commuter students now enjoy the center. "It's a dynamic facility ready for so many different uses," Cottingham says, adding that its flexibility is key. As needs and interests change, even three years from now it could be used a bit differently. "We just feel good about it."
COST: $2.1 million (funded by a $55 per student, per semester fee)
COMPLETED: August 2007
ARCHITECT: Lord, Aeck & Sargent (Atlanta) -M.E.
HERE'S A PIECE OF DOCTOR'S ADVICE FOR higher ed administrators: The health of your students is central to your mission. That's the message behind the findings of a survey conducted by the University of Minnesota Boynton Health Service. About 10,000 students from 14 campuses in Minnesota completed the survey.
Carried out last spring, the 2007 College Student Health Survey Report examined everything from alcohol, drug, and tobacco use to physical activity, mental health and obesity, and health insurance coverage.
One finding indicates how technology may be impacting students' health and their studies: 28.7 percent of students reported excessive computer/internet/television use, and 41.8 percent indicated the activity affected their academic performance.
Health issues affect all aspects of a student's life, including academics, says Ed Ehlinger, director and chief health officer of the Health Service. "Since college students will be the leaders of our society for the next several decades, an investment in their health will pay dividends far beyond their time in college," he says.
Results also showed that 27.1 percent of students surveyed have been diagnosed with a mental health illness within their lifetime, and 15.7 percent were diagnosed in the last 12 months.
This data verified observations by the Health Service that not every student who needs help for mental issues is receiving it, says Ehlinger, while at the same time showed that on-campus resources were used more than community ones.
The survey data will be presented to the Board of Regents and used to start discussions about policy issues, says Ehlinger. -M.H.
EVEN IN THE INTERNET AGE, HIGHER ED INSTITUTIONS STILL turn to direct mail and phone solicitation for fundraising endeavors, according to "The Survey of College Offices of International Advancement or Fundraising."
The survey, by Primary Research Group, finds that more than nine out of 10 colleges rated direct mail highly as a fundraising method. The average college in the study's sample sent out more than 50,000 pieces of mail over the past year; four-year and graduate colleges sent out on average 14,000 more pieces than community colleges.
On phone solicitation, public colleges spent much more heavily than private colleges did, by a factor of roughly six to one. Mean annual spending on telephone solicitation (e.g., labor and scripts) for fundraising appeals was $53,339, though median spending was only $10,000.
Schools of all sizes and types relied most heavily on e-newsletters, advancement office websites, campaign specific websites, and general college websites to get the word out. About 22 percent of all survey participants used listservs in their campaigns. More than 13 percent of private colleges have used banner ads in campaigns, but otherwise banner ads were not extensively used. The highly personal nature of college fundraising renders broad-based internet advertising vehicles generally unsuitable, notes James Moses, Primary research Group's research director. But, he believes some college sports websites use them to conjure up support from fans.
High-endowment colleges used e-mails to past donors more heavily and made the most use of e-newsletters in fundraising campaigns, with 83 percent of respondents having used them in the past two years. More than 87 percent of survey participants post campaign-specific content on their college's website, and more than 70 percent have posted content on college website pages designed to carry fundraising news.
In some ways, higher ed institutions appear to lag behind in electronic fundraising, which is surprising since technology has become a key component, notes Moses. Colleges seemed ill-prepared to handle nonmonetary assets, he says, estimating that some 18 percent of total assets and funds raised in the last year fell into that category. Nearly 70 percent of respondents say bequests have become more effective or as important in fundraising efforts over the past two years.
Other findings included that, on average, colleges spent over $14,000 on plaques, medals, and other mementos or gifts to reward donors. Seven out of 10 respondents staged campaigns aimed specifically at faculty and staff.
The survey can be purchased for $295 at www.primaryresearch.com. -M.H.