Over three weeks ago, at the end of his Faculty Senate report to the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees, Senate President Phil Hoke pointed to current faculty concerns. Most could be handled internally, he said, but one stood out.
“One thing that is affecting faculty, staff and students at this particular time is IT. We need their help. We need their support. We need them back,” he said.
In the wake of the late July suspension of GCCC’s three-man information technology department, faculty members have pointed to noticeably extended response times from the school’s temporary replacements, delays they claim affect employees and students for the worse.
The GCCC IT department, including IT Coordinator Andy Gough, Network Manager Andrew Knoll and PC Technician David Larsen, was placed on suspension with pay July 20 amidst an investigation by the college into unauthorized monitoring of employee email accounts. At the time, GCCC attorney Randy Grisell said college officials decided to suspend the department’s employees not as punishment or accusation, but to keep them wholly separate from the independent case.
Since the suspension, Ryan Ruda, who became interim president of GCCC in early August, said GCCC has hired a full-time contractor from IT services provider ConvergeOne to respond to IT issues at the college, as well as assistance from Garden City USD 457’s IT support staff and an IT intern from St. Catherine Hospital, who is also the son of GCCC Dean of Technical Education and Workforce Development Chuck Pfeifer.
Jean Ferguson, an English as a second language instructor at the college, said she has built a list of her and other colleagues’ unresolved technical difficulties from the past weeks and sent it to Hoke with the request that they present it to the Board of Trustees.
Ferguson’s list points to her personal experiences with computer connectivity and software issues and her colleagues issues with missing timesheet access, confusion over a new employee’s laptop, voicemail changes, a shorted out laptop charging cable, unactivated computer software and outdated reservation software. A projector was not connected, continuous error messages has made a computer lab difficult to use for instruction, and the student writing center does not have a working printer or projector, according to Ferguson’s list.
English instructor Sheena Hernandez said she had witnessed other issues, as well, such as a broken computer in an adjunct professor’s kiosk and issues with the school’s projector system.
The problems are less unusual than the problems’ persistence, Ferguson and Hernandez said. With three full-time IT employees, technological issues or questions were addressed, if not fixed, immediately, Hernandez said. Now, issues last for days or weeks. Ferguson said previously the IT department was often available through an hotline, which now often goes unanswered.
Ferguson said that previously, an IT technician often responded to her problems the day she sent in a request. This semester, she has heard nothing about a concern she submitted three weeks ago.
While Hernandez and Ferguson don’t have any animosity for the replacement IT team, they asserted that delays were not just inconvenient, but detrimental to employees and students. Malfunctioning computer labs, writing centers, classrooms and online tools meant fewer resources for students and less effective instructional time for teachers, Ferguson said. Issues with employee computers or projectors slowed faculty and staff progress and decreased the time they could spend on students or their families, she said.
“For faculty, our greatest concern, especially at the start of the new year, is our students. This is so frightening for most of our students, just to be in college. Everything is new. Everything seems scary. And then when we have technological issues preventing them from accessing software that they need or assignments, that just creates additional stress for them. And I think the goal for all of us is to reduce that as much as possible. And that did not happen this semester…” Ferguson said.
Ruda said alongside the replacement IT department, faculty, staff and administrators have stepped up to offer support when they were able.
Glendon Forgey, GCCC CFO, vice president of business affairs and administrative IT director, said he had used his limited IT knowledge to step in when he could.
Hernandez said Linda Hill, GCCC programmer and analyst, was addressing any issues with the online curriculum platform, Canvas. Friday morning, Pfeifer emailed faculty and staff asking for patience as the makeshift department juggled dozens of requests a day, but encouraging employees to continue to reach out to the service in times of need.
Still, Ruda said, the staffing changes “definitely has an impact.”
“From my standpoint there, the individual with ConvergeOne and the things that we’ve tried to at least have in place there to get the semester started, our patches and short term fixes, definitely aren’t ideal, but what we have in place here right now. And that’s why we’re working as quickly as we can to be able to make decisions so that we can move forward in the best interest of faculty, staff and students,” he said.
Hernandez said morale at the college was still high and faculty, staff and administrators were powering through any difficulties.
“They’re doing as best that they can,” she said of the existing IT department and administrators. “They’re aware of the problems, and they work on them every time, but it’s like … trying to squirt a water bottle or a water gun into a blazing fire,” she said.
The investigation surrounding the IT department's suspension is still underway. Forgey said the college reported the potential breach to the Garden City Police Department and, per federal guidelines, to the U.S. Department of Education, both of which recommended a forensic investigation of GCCC systems. While ConvergeOne was initially brought in to investigate a possible breach and set up protective measures, cybersecurity company SpearTip was contracted on Aug. 2 to conduct a forensic investigation that would provide more details, he said.
SpearTip’s investigation is ongoing with no clear end date, though Forgey said he hoped it would come to a close within the next month.
GCCC administrators who originally directed the investigation, former GCCC President Herbert Swender and Vice President of Administrative Services Emily Clouse, have since left the college, leaving Ruda to piece together and move forward on decisions he initially had no part in. Ruda said that in August, he met with those involved with the investigation, including Gough, Knoll and Larsen, to understand the reasons behind the investigation and the suspension. He said he hopes to make a decision regarding both “very soon.”
“It’s definitely been a priority … What’s going to lead us to making that final decision, there’s not one thing. There’s not one thing that we’re looking (for). It’s trying to take the bulk of all the information we have and really unwrap and take a look at it and decide what truly happened and what’s the best decision for the college going forward,” Ruda said.
In the meantime, Larsen and Knoll said all they can do is wait. They have not heard from the college since their meeting with Ruda, but have every intention of coming back to the college if they’re given the chance.
For Hernandez and Ferguson, the best-case scenario is Larsen, Knoll and Gough returning to GCCC.
“Ideally, we would like them back, sooner rather than later,” Ferguson said.
Gough did not return calls seeking comment.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.