- The Washington Times - Friday, March 3, 2000

Howard University officials Thursday vehemently denied a report in The Washington Times that widespread computer problems have resulted in errors on student transcripts that could endanger scholarships and applications to graduate schools.

But more students and faculty came forward Thursday with stories of incorrect grades and missing credits. Moreover, the contractor who set up the computer system said the school had a problem in transferring data from its old system to the new one.

"Computer systems are in order and working," university Provost Antoine Garibaldi said in a prepared statement. "Students can, and will, continue to be able to obtain accurate, official grade reports and transcripts."

The statement, which described The Times' report as "blatantly untrue and absurd," acknowledged "a very few instances" of "transitional challenges" but did not estimate the number of errors on student transcripts.

Taft Broome, chairman of university-wide faculty senate, said many on the campus are upset about the computer-generated errors and the administration's denial of the problem.

"The attitude of the faculty is that this is another show of incompetence," Mr. Broome said. "I don't think [the faculty] have any security that things are going to get better at all."

Mr. Broome said the administration never addressed the issue publicly until now and that professors only found out about it from their students. "We did not know until students came in and told us they could not get their grades," he said. "It was only by talking at the lunch table that we realized the extent of the problem."

"For the administration to say it's not an issue is ludicrous," said April O. Turner, editor of Howard's student newspaper, the Hilltop. "It's a lie."

Miss Turner said her own scholarship check was delayed because her grades from last semester were not corrected until last week.

"The administration's denial only makes it harder for us when we go to explain to a grad school or a scholarship fund why things are late and messed up," she said.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania firm that created the computer system, known as Banner, and helped Howard implement it, admitted that the university is having difficulties.

"They were converting from one system to another and that's obviously where the problem is," said Rod Everhart, president of SCT Global Education Solutions. "It appears obvious that in this case there was something flawed, but the good news is it is fixable."

Students have been complaining about faulty transcripts and registration problems since August, according to the Hilltop. Faculty and students estimate that hundreds of students have discovered missing grades, lost credits and wrong courses on their transcripts.

The Times reported Thursday that the faculty passed a resolution stating "the [computer] system is not generating accurate transcripts and the administration does not know whether it can resolve the problem before the end of the semester …

"If we do not act now, the [computer] system problem could endanger the careers of our students and the future of this university."

The faculty passed the resolution after meeting with top university administrators and systems information specialists on Wednesday and set a deadline of March 17 to correct the problems.

"The people who were in the meeting were very unfortunately misinformed or did not have the full set of information and facts," said Donna Brock, the university's director of communications.

Administrators told the faculty that summer and fall semester grades would be verified "hopefully" by Wednesday, according to sources who attended the meeting.

Ms. Brock said she could not comment on the numerous reports from students and faculty describing errors on transcripts. "There is no way I can speak to individual cases."

Many students and faculty members asked not to be named, citing an entrenched culture of retaliation against anyone who voices public criticism of the university.

While a number of students reported no problems with their transcripts, one interior design senior said she waited three weeks after semester break to complain about a mistake in her grade point average, or GPA.

"The lines at registration over mistakes were enormous," the student said. "There were so many mix-ups. But when I heard some students in line complaining that the system flushed them out of the university, I realized my problems were minimal compared to theirs."

Several students reported that they returned from Christmas break to find that their records had disappeared and were told that they were not enrolled at the university.

The senior, who asked not to be named, said her transcript erroneously reported her GPA, normally a 3.3, as a 2.4. Some of her grades also were wrong. She added that there was little problem getting the transcript fixed, once she braved the lines.

Another student, a government major in his third year, was one of those who were flushed out of the system. "It was ridiculous," he said. "I just showed up to class anyway and talked the professors into letting me stay until the mess was cleared up."

Both students were surprised upon being told that the university has denied wide-scale problems.

"They need to own up to their mistake," said the design student. "This has caused a lot of problems for students."

She added that an employee in the department of information technology told her after she had complained about her transcripts that the department had recommended against the university implementing the new system.

"The university can't deny that there has been problems," said one professor, who asked that his name not be used. "During the transition from an old system to a new one, there is always problems. Everyone here has seen some inconvenience."

Mr. Broome said the faculty will believe that things are fixed only when they hear it from their students. "We cannot rely on the administration to tell us when this has been fixed."

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