Years after overhaul, faculty still frustrated with research reporting system

Media Credit: Max Wang | Staff Photographer

Ajit Kumar, a professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine, said faculty don’t have much use for Lyterati because they don’t need to reflect on their accomplishments.

Five years after the University implemented a new website for faculty to submit information about their research and published work, faculty said the system is still difficult to use.

Some faculty said that despite a number of administrative attempts to fix the Lyterati system, an electronic reporting program, filling out the form is still an arduous process because it is riddled with technical glitches and often requires faculty to spend hours to ensure the information they are submitting is in the proper format.

Faculty members across all disciplines have to fill out annual online reports using the system on their research and progress during the year for deans to review.

Christopher Bracey, the vice provost of faculty affairs, said Lyterati is one of the lead faculty-reporting systems in the country and that the process at the University has been streamlined in the past two years to allow faculty to simultaneously view their forms while they are being reviewed. He said faculty’s information uploaded to the system is put into an expert finder on the University’s website.

“Lyterati was launched in 2013 as a web-based centralized reporting system to replace the multiple layers of paper-based filing methods used previously,” he said in an email.

After an overhaul in 2014, faculty attacked the system because they weren’t taught how to use it and demanded an interface that was easier to use.

The system is used to determine merit-based pay and potential faculty conflicts of interest, which are violations of University policy or federal and state law, Bracey said. He declined to say how much the University paid to use of the system and whether he’d heard concerns from faculty about difficulties with the database.

Ajit Kumar, a professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine, said faculty don’t have much use for it because they don’t need to reflect on their accomplishments. He said Lyterati’s only apparent benefit to faculty is to allow them to view what they have accomplished, which Kumar said was not worth the hassle of filling it out.

He said it takes two to three hours to complete the report and he only accesses the form once a year, which leaves functions of the website unused.

“Somebody designed it to satisfy their own IT prowess rather than really helping out the people they are trying to reach,” he said. “It’s not something people find user-friendly.”

Kumar said the system might be useful for faculty looking to advertise their accomplishments to land better jobs, but there are other free or low-cost websites that achieve a similar aim.

Faculty have been complaining about the system since it was launched, but little seems to have been done to address those issues, he said.

Margaret Soltan, a professor of English, said it was important to keep track of faculty achievements. She said she doesn’t have serious problems with Lyterati, but there should be a better way to use it. Soltan, who has been using the system for several years, said there is still some discomfort using the system, and even more so for first-time users.

“Most of us, by this point in the 21st century, are pretty computer literate, and we can deal with electronics forms and all of that,” she said. “But, Lyterati is pretty difficult to use.”

Entering data into the forms feels like an “absurdly bureaucratic” exercise because the system won’t accept certain data points if they are not in the correct format, Soltan said.

Lyterati prompted a similar reaction from faculty at the University of Maryland, who pressured officials there to drop the system last year, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Robert Combs, a professor of English, said it took time to adjust to the system, but he found some features – like being able to quit and resume using the form when needed – made it easier to use.

“I am pretty tech-challenged, being an old guy, but when I got used to it, I found the format helpful,” he said in an email.

Ryan Meneses contributed reporting.

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