CSUN Web Portal a complete disaster

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Imagine a world where the management at Target or Wal-Mart hid the checkout registers way in the back so people couldn’t find them. Now, consider how funny it would be if security guards stopped people trying to walk out with unpaid for items.

“But I couldn’t find the register!” the customer would cry.

“Not our fault, m’am. We’re going to have to call the police.”

This is essentially what’s happening with our university’s funniest little online service: the CSUN Campus Web Portal. I now spend the majority of my Sunday nights sipping a glass of whisky trying to figure out what the heck I’m looking at on there.

The Web Portal is the central online hub for students as they navigate through various payment deadlines, registration procedures and financial aid dealings. It’s a simple frame webpage setup that can be logged into from anywhere. It’s meant to create synergy with registration, payment and everything else administratively inclined.

Alas, it’s a mess.

Simply trying to log on to the damn thing is a hassle. Administrators willingly offer up the fact that not all browsers can handle the uber-technical processes of the Web Portal, and I’ve had to switch between AOL, Netscape, Internet Explorer and Mac’s Safari program to find a browser that can register the data. Convenience achieved.

But that’s hardly the most annoying part of the system.

I love that the top of my browser reads “Employee-facing registry content” whenever I log in as a student user. I love that the left side contains links that mean nothing to me (i.e. the recently-defunct general education honors program). I love that, as a graduating senior, one of the most high-profile links I see on my Web Portal is a really important notice for first-time freshmen. It keeps getting better.

The dreaded DARS report is maybe my favorite part of the Web Portal. I admit that the new interactive DARS that Information Technology Resources helped develop this year is a vast improvement on the old asterisk-heavy model, but it’s far from perfect.

This semester alone I’ve had to explain the DARS online submit/refresh/view thing to three people who have no idea how to view their handy-dandy interactive report. I feel special when I can tell people how to do it, like I’m part of a little club or something. I just wish the club had more meetings, so people could learn what the deal is.

Moreover, trying to find out what I owe in tuition or student housing fees at any given point is akin to reading Aramaic, and that makes it kind of fun, admittedly. I don’t know why lingo such as “1098T Data” and “Pay by Credit Card – Non ExL” are used when they have perfectly reasonable substitutes. On my “Summary for all Terms” menu, I see negative numbers and positive numbers that don’t add up to $0.

Does that mean I’m even? Who knows! It looks like I owe $1,685.12, but no creditors are knocking on my doors, and to my knowledge, the rent I pay to Student Housing is monthly, so it’s not all due at one time. How I wish that were reflected in my “Summary for all terms” page. I have no clue what’s due when, why or how.

Trying to keep track of how much I need to pay at any given time using the Web Portal is next to impossible. I need an accountant, a calculator, an abacus and an Aramaic-to-English dictionary to balance out all the negative and positive numbers. One time, I accidentally made an early payment because of this confusion, and I was sent a check from the school for $900 without an explanation.

My favorite part is that I think university administrators know the Web Portal system is goofily set up. In discussions, I’ve heard rumblings about clarifying things.

I hope a committee is set up, as that seems to be what happens when something goes wrong at CSUN. But until that committee comes back with their results – “The Web Portal is confusing students. That’s not good” – I’d hope that the university pursues the August non-payment debacle from a different perspective:

Instead of approaching it in way that says students simply need to be reminded of their “obligations” to the university, administrators need to get really curious about why students got confused in the first place, and fix immediately the technical flaws that plague the Web Portal system, as the two problems are one in the same.

Worst yet, spring registration is fast approaching – so hurry.

Ryan Denham can be reached at ryan.denham@csun.edu.