|November 10, 1999||A Laboratory Newspaper at Cleveland State University||Vol. 1, No. 9|
CSU pres responds to issues
By Becky Muncy
Cleveland State University President Claire Van Ummersen addressed the issues of financial aid, PeopleSoft and Congressman Dennis Kucinich's (D-Ohio) visit to the campus, in an interview on Nov. 3.
Many complaints have been voiced about problems such as the inability to obtain financial aid, the loss of students' records and the Bursar's office dropping classes. These problems are being attributed to PeopleSoft and poor customer service.
Van Ummersen said when the PeopleSoft system went into place two years ago, a back-up system was set up for financial services and human resources, but there was not a back-up established in the student records area because the old system was in such bad shape.
The computer implementation team decided that resources would be better used funding the new system than trying to revamp the old system for back-up purposes, she said.
There are areas within the university that are and have been working from the beginning, Van Ummersen said. The Admissions area and Registrar’s office have been up and running successfully as well as the human resources function.
With 9,000 students on the university’s payroll, having the human resources area working is very important, she said. The income students receive from their jobs on campus is often used to help finance tuition.
Pieces of the financial aid area work, but Van Ummersen admitted that the interface between various components is not working properly. The same is true for the financial area, consisting of the Bursar’s office, which is the area responsible for refunds.
One major problem in the Financial Aid Office has been the loss of six people and the inability to find qualified people to fill the positions. AuditForce, an outside consulting firm, was brought in over the summer and into the fall to help with processing financial aid.
While the computer system has caused a great number of the problems, Van Ummersen said many of the situations have nothing to do with the system at all.
She said some of the problems stem from students applying for financial aid on Friday and expecting a check on Monday. The financial aid process needs at least four weeks or more to run its course before a student will receive an award notice followed by a check. Van Ummersen said students are not preparing financially to cover the lag time that is necessary.
Other problems stem from changes students make with schedules. Each schedule change made directly affects the financial aid award students receive. Thus, any schedule change will cause a delay in receiving financial aid checks.
A handbook is being developed for students so each student will know what to expect during the entire financial aid process.
Regarding any liability PeopleSoft may have to the problems CSU has been encountering, Van Ummersen said that there is some liability. CSU has been working in partnership with PeopleSoft to solve the problems.
Consultants from the company have been on campus continually working with staff members to fix the problems.
Van Ummersen said that during the summer PeopleSoft spent approximately $250,000 in consulting fees to help with the situation.
The consulting fees that PeopleSoft is providing will continue to climb through the fall and spring semesters, as solutions to the problems are found.
PeopleSoft has also given the university a 15-percent discount on general consulting fees.
Another complaint during this whole situation has been the lack of communication from the administration and more specifically the president’s office. Van Ummersen said she talks with student leaders on a regular basis, at monthly meetings.
She also said her office is open and if she is in, she will speak with any student about whatever problems the student may be experiencing. If she is not in, Van Ummersen said any other member of her staff could also speak with students.
She added that the provost and vice provost have been around the campus talking with students directly, and listening to the problems.
Van Ummersen said she personally worked on the service desk that was set up the week before classes to address problems the students were having. Along with staff members, she answered questions and talked with students about issues of concern.
Van Ummersen admitted that more communication would have been better.
“It isn’t that I didn’t care about what was happening. I kept myself fully informed about what was happening,” she said. “We have worked in I can’t tell you how many ways to get these problems solved.”
When asked if she feels CSU has been insensitive to students’ feelings, Van Ummersen said, “The students’ perception is we have been, but I don’t personally feel we have. I don’t know that we have done everything we could have, we have done everything we could think of, but I don’t think we have succeeded,” she said.
She is not proud or happy about the communication problem because the goal of the university is to be student friendly, Van Ummersen said.
Van Ummersen also addressed Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s visit to the CSU campus. When asked if she thought Kucinich was interfering, helping or politicizing, Van Ummersen said, “I think the congressman means well. He is concerned about the students and CSU, but I don’t think he is helping.”
She added that ultimately the Financial Aid Office is the only area that can help the students. She said, “You need people who know financial aid.” The way to help the students is to get the six open positions in financial aid filled.
When those positions are filled, Van Ummersen said, six more people will be hired to work in the office. Right now the problem is finding individuals qualified to fill any of the positions.
Van Ummersen said Kucinich’s visit has ultimately slowed the process down because the financial aid employees who are responsible for processing applications now have to research the issues the congressman’s office has brought forward.
She added that the financial aid employees are researching problems that have already been solved. This is time that could have been spent working on getting financial aid for the students who are still in need, she said. With an office that is already shorthanded, the additional burdens brought on by the congressman’s visit are stretching the office’s resources more thinly.
Van Ummersen said she also thinks the congressman involved the Department of Education prematurely for several reasons.
The first reason was the department was already on campus because of an audit. She said an unidentified individual contacted the Department of Education, requesting an audit of the university. Van Ummersen declined any further comment on this situation.
The second reason she said the Department of Education was brought in prematurely was because of the media attention that was attracted. Van Ummersen said the media portrayal painted an unfair picture of the university and its problems.
She said the unfairness was because the story was only one-sided. Her office was never contacted for comments, and no one from the media that ran stories asked her or her staff for the university’s viewpoint, Van Ummersen said.
Had any member of the media contacted her, she or her staff would have responded to the issues, Van Ummersen added.
The third reason she said involving the Department of Education was premature was it gave credence to student activists. This credence diverted students from going to the Financial Aid Office to seek the help that was needed.
Van Ummersen responded to the rumors that have been making their way around campus by saying the CSU campus operates on rumor more so than any other campus she has ever been on.
She said no one in her office, including herself, has ever issued instructions for newspapers or fliers to be removed from the campus. If any notices have been pulled down it has been because they were in inappropriate places or did not have the required approval stamp on them, she added.
“No official directive has come from the administration,” Van Ummersen said.
In retrospect, Van Ummersen said, “It was hard to know what we have should have done more.” She added that she was committed to doing whatever was necessary to see that all the problems are solved completely and as quickly as possible.
The Cleveland Stater is a laboratory newspaper put out by students enrolled in classes in the Department of Communication at Cleveland State University.
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