Editor’s note:

Update: September 11, 2013 – Due to design errors, the last paragraph was cut off in the Sept. 11 print issue. Below is the full article.

Update: September 13, 2013 – A copy of the petition is available for viewing at the bottom. Also, since publication, the number of faculty members who have signed the petition has risen from 25 faculty members to 34 faculty members and the article below will reflect such changes.

Thirty-four Fairfield faculty members, including one retired member, signed a letter asking to fully restore Mentor for faculty and students.

One week before classes started, faculty was informed by Chief Information Officer Paige Francis that Mentor’s course management system would shut down due to security concerns. The faculty reacted immediately.

Those who signed the petition included the long-time dean of the School of Engineering, the long-time dean of the Dolan School of Business, seven department chairs, faculty from every school in the university, everyone from full professors to adjuncts – a mix of those who are technologically savvy and others who are not. The lone retired faculty member was Dr. Alfred Benney from the religious studies department. He was invited because of his expertise in pedagogical technology.

Considering Mentor’s importance to Fairfield, “the timing and lack of faculty input to the decision to shut down Mentor should give everyone cause for great concern,” said Accounting Professor Dr. Dawn Massey.

Francis said, “Unfortunately, the issues only came to light the week before fall semester started so the decision was really disruptive for the faculty to prepare for the students coming in.”

Author and creator of the Mentor Course Management and Assessment and co-founder of Axiom Education Dr. Curt Naser said he received an email on Aug. 22 from Francis with specific security concerns.

These included faculty being able to see students’ ID numbers, gender and class schedules, which Francis said would violate the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, data that has been provided by Fairfield since 2003.

Within 18 hours, these security concerns were resolved, and the changes were deployed on Aug. 26 at 6 a.m.

Later that same day, a decision was made to terminate the Mentor course management system, but faculty can still access this same information through the my.Fairfield portal.

There was an additional concern that the Amazon cloud servers used by Mentor were located outside the United States, violating federal law concerning student records.

However, Naser said that Francis never asked to clarify the location of the servers.

Michael Graham-Cornell, former director of Computing and Network Services, did ask and was properly informed that student information was not leaving the country.

“All of the data in Mentor is housed in the eastern region of Amazon cloud in northern Virginia,” Naser said. “The reason for shutting down Mentor was based on an assumption which could have easily been answered. No data goes outside of the U.S.”

“Nothing we did in Mentor violated FERPA,” he said.

Francis did not provide specific details regarding the security concerns, saying “there are issues deeper than IDs and other FERPA-related display violations … but the decision was made based on protecting university data, nothing more, nothing less.”

Professors and students respond to Mentor shutdown

With 217 instructors, 4,190 students and 532 courses on Mentor for the spring semester, from all schools at Fairfield, the recent shutdown has led to frustration among faculty and students.

“It’s ridiculous and ludicrous that suddenly we decide two days before class to change the course management system” said Communication Professor Dr. Mike Pagano, who incorporates an online management system into all of his classes.

“With two or three clicks, I could move information from a class I taught in 2008 to a class I’m teaching now on Mentor, and I can’t do that on Blackboard,” Pagano added. “All I know is Mentor provided a way for me to archive my classes and reach my goals of teaching my students.”

Communication Professor Dr. David Gudelunas said, “Mentor was an incredibly useful tool … and the tools I am left to work with are simply inferior and ultimately students are the ones that suffer,” adding that Mentor was a system “superior to the industry standard.”

Considering that the decision was made before the semester began, “a standalone announcement” was not made to students regarding the change, said Francis.

“Students seem to manage new technology well, so we ramped up online training for students and will continue to publish those links,” Francis said. “Blackboard is a leader in online education, it’s easy to use and many Fairfield students already use it in at least one class.”

For students, the change led to difficulties.

Resident Assistant Malgorzata Kielbowicz ’15 said, “With Mentor I could access residents’ schedules, which is helpful when I want to have a floor meeting … I want to know where my girls are.”

Accounting student Marisa Mastrangelo ’15 found it “difficult to have both Blackboard and Mentor so it was good to standardize it to one system, but they should make sure everyone knows how to use the system.”

“I didn’t have readings for one of my classes last week because the professor couldn’t figure out Blackboard,” Mastrangelo added.

View the 30-page open letter here:


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