We Asked President Holloway for Answers about the Canvas Outage

On March 1, Rebecca Givan, president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, and Amy Higer, president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union, wrote the following letter to President Jonathan Holloway regarding the problems with Canvas experienced by students and faculty alike five days earlier.

Dear President Holloway,

We write to apprise you of a major disruption to Rutgers’ online instruction that occurred this past Saturday afternoon. At approximately 2:30 p.m., students began contacting professors to report that they were unable to access their Canvas course sites. We faculty members found that most of our students had disappeared from our Canvas rosters. The same students missing from Canvas were also wiped from the REGIS rosters. Upon trying to contact the Canvas help desk, we discovered that weekend Canvas support is limited to students and excludes faculty. Also, only student workers were handling calls; no senior technical staff were available to assist. We immediately posted announcements on our courses and sent emails to students, but, of course, those who had been disenrolled had no Canvas access. Those of us who had Saturday night assignment deadlines or were giving exams were especially affected.

It was well over an hour before any communication from OIT was received acknowledging the problem, and no interim guidance was given. Eventually students were restored to both REGIS and Canvas; however students had been removed from their project and discussion groups and were unable to participate in coursework. This was disruptive for students meeting deadlines and who need to complete their coursework in a small weekend window. Some of us discovered a workaround and were able to fix the problem ourselves. At about 8 p.m. on Sunday, we received a message from the help desk saying they had been able to restore the subgroups. Unfortunately, the OIT fix destroyed the work that some of us had done ourselves.

We have still not received an adequate explanation for what caused this problem. Apparently the technical staff who manage our remote instruction services do not believe that faculty and students can understand the intricacies of the systems we use every day. The fact that there are no senior staff available on the weekends for faculty consultation suggests that the University does not fully understand how the instructional process works in the age of virtual learning. Much of the work by both faculty and students takes place on the weekends. This is not only true for online classes but also for in-person courses that make extensive use of Canvas to supplement live class time. Weekend work is especially common for our PTL faculty and so many of our students who work full time while trying to carry full course loads to conserve tuition dollars.

In our view, this incident is just another example, like the imposition of Infosilem, of the distrust and disrespect that the Rutgers administration displays toward faculty and students. We are, after all, the reason that the University exists. And we all strive to perform our duties as scholars and teachers at the highest level. Surely we—and the students we serve—deserve the highest quality technical support. This is not to disparage the staff who tried to help on Saturday—they did their best. Surely they deserve better support as well. 

Rebecca Givan, President, Rutgers AAUP-AFT
Amy Higer, President, Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union (PTLFC)

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