Since the beginning of the semester, I have personally witnessed valuable class time wasted and multiple lectures delayed due to professors’ inability to configure classroom technology. In one instance, my professor had to push back an entire lecture because the projector would not display her class materials. A student remarked that another professor encountered the same issue with the same classroom’s projector, and, despite calling GW Information Technology to have the issue fixed, no one showed up to assist them. The frequency and persistence of these errors can be directly attributed to GW’s administrative decision to lay off dozens of IT staff members last year.
Lingering technological issues are not limited to the classroom. After submitting a ticket with IT support more than a month ago, I still cannot connect my Xbox console to GWConnect, the Wi-Fi network designated for gaming consoles and streaming devices. I’ve had to use up the entirety of my data plan’s hotspot allowance to connect my device to the internet. The pandemic has heightened the GW community’s dependence on technology and internet connectivity, requiring professors to utilize newly installed lecture capture technology to record classes and requiring students to access digital class content from their homes. The availability of a sizable IT support team is paramount to ensuring that the needs of GW’s students, faculty and staff are met. Administrators should bolster IT staff levels to continue reversing the layoffs they implemented last year to address the needs of the GW community.
As part of a string of pandemic-related layoffs, GW decided to consolidate its technological support systems into what administrators call a shared-services model, aimed at reducing overlap in what each individual IT division covered. Instead of separate IT departments across many of GW’s schools and offices, the shared-services model utilized a centralized GWIT department, placing the GW community’s IT needs in fewer hands and allowing for the University to reduce its expenses. The removal of these technology staff members has proven to be counterintuitive and resulted in the overworking of GW’s IT support team.
Officials claim this consolidation allows for more timely responses and greater levels of efficiency, a claim that has proven to be demonstrably false. It is rather obvious that cutting costs was the University’s principal goal. GW eliminated and subsequently reopened a significant portion of its IT positions, making them available for both current and potential GW employees. This allowed for the University to enact pay cuts and reduce benefits by hiring old IT employees to newly created positions. IT positions were cut regardless of the seniority or prior performance of those who occupied them, meaning that employees had to battle for the same positions as their former coworkers.
It should come as no surprise that in-person education amid a pandemic would result in a surge of technological issues and requests for IT assistance. It is certainly understandable that a university in a city as expensive as D.C. would need to make budget cuts during a pandemic, but the decision to cut members of the IT department was incredibly shortsighted. As experts have predicted the long-term prevalence of COVID-19 since the pandemic’s inception, the University should have anticipated the need for heightened technological support upon a return to in-person instruction, even if the demand for on-site support was low during remote learning. As a result, faculty GWIT support requests have more than doubled and total GWIT support requests have increased by 46 percent overall from the spring 2021 semester. The only way to rectify this error is to reinstate the IT positions that were cut.
The implementation of new classroom technologies designed to support a hybrid learning system is partially responsible for the increased demand for IT support. As many professors are unfamiliar with new technologies as it is, the installment of these new systems further complicates the teaching process. With issues typically accompanying the introduction of new hardware, the University should have expected that reinstating prior IT positions would be necessary to facilitate a learning environment conducive to hybrid learning. While faculty have been offered instructional training regarding the use of newly installed classroom technologies, it is unrealistic to expect professors to navigate these intricate systems and troubleshoot issues without the help of IT specialists.
It is clear that the GW community is in need of greater technological assistance than the GWIT department can provide at its current size. Stripping the University of vital IT employees is antithetical to the maintenance of a sound and productive academic environment. Without a sizable IT team, the precious time of GW students, faculty and staff will continue to be wasted dealing with trivial technological errors. The IT staff is stretched too thin and deserves to have more positions reinstated to allow for more efficient and timely assistance to the community.
Michael DiFabrizio, a junior majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.
This article appeared in the October 4, 2021 issue of the Hatchet.