Server crash endangers ENMU data

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Eastern New Mexico University officials are assessing the scope of a computer malfunction last week and whether lost academic data for thousands of students taking online courses can be retrieved.

Data retrieval experts have been brought in to work on the server in hopes of saving some data, according to ENMU President Steven Gamble.

A temperature rise in the room where the server was stored led to the crash, according to technical experts.

“I have not a clue if they will be successful in bringing anything back up,” Gamble said.

“It was a piece of equipment that failed. It happens every now and then, (but) the worst part about this was the fact that the backup was inadequate,” Gamble said, citing poor planning at the root of the issue.

Gamble said he believes faculty have enough of a basis for reconstructing students’ grades because most of the semester has passed, and stressed fairness to the students will be a priority.

“I think bad things happen to good universities,” he said. “Anybody can have these problems. We just were not prepared nearly as well as we should have been. There’s not a nice, euphemistic way of saying it.”

The problem surfaced toward the end of April, said Bob Vartabedian, ENMU’s vice president of academic affairs. The extent was not realized until the last couple of days, he said.

The system, called WebCT, is used to conduct online courses, and is also utilized by faculty to hold class discussions and store grades and by students to turn in assignments.

Vartabedian said meetings were held Thursday and Friday with faculty and students to discuss the matter.

Trish Maguire, director of distance education at the Portales campus, said there are around 100 Internet and hybrid Internet courses that utilize the Web server in addition to faculty and students who use the system in other ways.

Maguire estimated about 2,000 students at the Portales campus were enrolled in online classes and said there were more in Roswell and Ruidoso.

Lauren Wilson, a senior who will be graduating in May, said she was enrolled in two online classes. The system was vital to those courses, she said.

“I definitely think it’s a learning experience,” she said. “Personally, I save all of my work. I know a lot of students who would do work on a public computer, so they may have to redo some stuff. I think students just learned they need to back up their stuff as well.”

—Freedom Newspapers writer Kevin Wilson contributed to this report