It's Not Easy Being Kiewit

by Dave Gacioch | 5/5/98 5:00am

It's not easy being Kiewit ... at least not in the past two weeks. Think about it for a second. Not only do Director Larry Levine and his staff have students beating down their doors about the new policy in public printing (distribution on the half-hour) and the new strict enforcement of the ban against printing multiple copies, but they have, in the past week or so, had to weather the storms of leaving nearly one-fourth of the campus without BlitzMail for extended periods of time and almost losing the student records of the financial aid and admissions offices. All in all, I would say that Computing Services has had better weeks.

Many of you, at least those who are on the Vixen BlitzMail server, remember a fun Sunday last week when your Blitz was down for about 18 hours. Not that that was the end of it, as your Blitz, if you have remained on Vixen, has gone down at least twice more this week. To add insult to injury, when the Computing Services powers-that-be decided to take some of you off of Vixen to reduce the problem, they managed to not only crash Vixen again in the process, but also crash the server to which the accounts were transferred. This, in and of itself, would be enough to give Levine and his staff headaches all week, but it certainly was only the harbinger of things to come.

As part of a major computer upgrade, the College's administrative departments are switching to a new program called BANNER, which will handle administrative tasks in the offices of the Registrar, Admissions, Financial Aid and others. As if the coordination staff (the same people who sort your printouts) didn't have enough to do with Blitz, the transfer of records to the BANNER servers this week resulted in multiple crashes which, in turn, supposedly knocked out Admissions Office databases, a portion of the College's financial aid databases and goodness knows what else. All of these had to be restored as quickly as possible, a task done substantially by the coordination staff.

Thought that was enough? What about the fact that Vixen went down yet again on Sunday as did the print spooler (which runs the public printing queue) twice and the Adams server (which serves all of you who have PCs rather than Macs)?

I think everyone gets the point. Computing Services has been a busy place of late, wildly cleaning up the messes caused by major computer failure at the campus which was recently ranked the "most wired in the nation." The coordinators are the people right in the middle of all of this, in charge of (in addition to sorting our papers) administrative printing and retrieving from magnetic tape files lost through computer error.

The problem is, those coordinators can't spend more than 20 minutes at a time on any of those important tasks (and no more than 10 to 15 during the day) because they have to go to the print window at least every half-hour and 15 minutes before each class to sort and distribute public printing. Every time they get into a project of resurrecting, for example, the Admissions databases (can't you see the next round of admissions letters going out: "We, er, had a few problems with our records this week. Please get in touch with us to tell us whether or not we admitted you this year ..."), they have to drop it to go out and deal with all of us impatient students demanding our papers, assignments, labs, sports scores, party invitations, etc. immediately. As soon as they finish sorting, the whole cycle starts right back at the beginning. Pretty efficient use of resources, don't you think?

Couple all of that with the fact that students have been up in arms about not being able to pick up their printing as soon as it is sent through, and you have yet another big reason for Levine to develop headaches. He's been hearing from students for the past four weeks that the new policy about print distribution has caused their assignments to be late, their printing to be mis-sorted and their lives to be just generally more inconvenient.

He's heard from Dean of the College Lee Pelton that perhaps it would have been a good idea to consult the Student Assembly before changing the printing policy, and he has, I'd guess, heard from several of his administrative colleagues (in offices such as, maybe, Admissions and Financial Aid) about the quality of administrative computing and records-keeping of late. He probably needs a vacation right about now. In fact, even though he was in the office last week, Student Assembly representatives who tried to meet with him were given the impression that he was indeed on vacation. Go figure ...

There is light at the end of this tunnel, though. Those same students met instead with William "Punch" Taylor and Mike Hogan, Levine's middle managers in charge of the print window and of the coordinators who staff it in addition to performing the tasks described above and others. In a meeting which should become symbolic of cooperative efforts between student leaders and College departments, the group came to an agreement that the Assembly would work together with Kiewit to reduce waste in printing which is not picked up by students and that Computing Services would relax the multiple-copies ban to allow students who need to print extra copies for legitimate purposes to do so.

The students and administrators also discussed the possibility of Kiewit hiring students to continuously staff the print window so that current coordination staff could focus on other duties. Such an option would cooperatively solve many of the problems of the student body and of the Computing Services department without incurring significant costs to anyone involved (not to mention that it would create another opportunity for students to earn money on campus). In sum, the meeting set in motion a cooperative effort with plans to solve all of the issues raised in recent months.

What's the catch? The catch is that Levine has to be the one to set these efforts in real motion. He is the person who holds the authority to put these cooperative solutions on the books. He is the person who has the power to allocate the few thousand dollars necessary to create the student position continuously staffing the print window, thus allowing printouts to be sorted continuously while also allowing current staff to spend its valuable time on other tasks.

It would seem that, as Pelton advised, a cooperative solution is the best way to address all of the problems with the current situation at Kiewit. It only remains to be seen whether Levine will foster this spirit of cooperation by enacting these solutions or if he has come to enjoy those headaches.