Academic Affairs Updates from the Office of the Provost Part VII: Academic Systems

March 8, 2023
NJCU Diplomas, 2021 Commencement IMG_1025

Dear Members of the NJCU Community:

Today, we conclude a series of seven updates regarding changes in Academic Affairs. These changes respond to our fiscal crisis and position us to focus more clearly upon our mission as a minority-serving institution committed to supporting our unique student population.

These changes reflect a reduction in administrative layers and renewed focus on student success and retention.

If you missed any of the previous announcements, they can be found on our new Academic Affairs Communications webpage.

Previous updates included:

Today's update will discuss our academic systems. Over the past year we have experienced challenges with academic systems. Many of these challenges stemmed from poor initial implementation, while others were caused by only having one individual accessing and overseeing the system administration.

When we received renewal notices on two of the systems, I made a judgement call to not renew them. First, the IDEA course evaluation system was not set up to function properly this fall. We’d experienced challenges in the Spring 2022 semester, and we knew that there was no way to make it operational by the end of the fall term. This system comes at a significant cost: $35,499. I could not justify renewing the contract given the challenges. I appreciate the challenges this posed this fall, and I know that Dr. Rachél Fester, our Associate Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness, is working with the University Senate regarding our path forward.

Second, the CourseLeaf contract for our Curriculum Inventory Management System (CIM) and catalog system was also due. It costs $21,034.06 annually. We initially paused this contract with the intention of pulling files from the system and using Dr. Christopher Shamburg's internal system as a pilot. We then reviewed the system developed by Coursedog. It holds promise for the future, but we realized that we are not prepared to stand up the system in time for the Fall 2023 semester. We ultimately paid for the CourseLeaf contract so that we can maintain our catalog system. We are still using the internal pilot system for any course or program proposals. We will continue to monitor the CIM system to discern whether its challenges were because of the system itself or its prior implementation. Dr. Navin Saiboo, our University Registrar, is working on trying to repair the issues within the system.

When we consider systems and services we are using with academic affairs, we need to consider the degree to which they enable us to do our work more effectively. Years ago, two scholars characterized bureaucracy as either enabling or coercive. I believe their characterizations apply to services and systems as well.

According to Adler and Borys (2008), not all bureaucracy is bad. Sometimes it frees us from the mechanics of our work so that we can focus on the more meaningful aspects of what we do. In contrast, bureaucracy (and services/systems) are problematic when they become coercive. Enabling systems and services provide needed guidance, clarify responsibilities, and help faculty and staff work more effectively.

For example, our curriculum approval management system should be designed in a way that it allows faculty to focus on the content and outcomes of the courses and programs. It should facilitate the work that must be done to move the program proposals from university approval to Academic Issues Committee (AIC) approval without requiring significant revisions. The process should not result in delays because the system is not responsive to minor revisions at each stage. Those proposing new curriculum should not have to attend to navigating the system more than to their actual content. As Adler and Borys (2008) argue, formalization within our systems should objectify structures and processes — not people.

As we review potential contracts for services and systems moving forward, I hope we seriously consider the scope and function of those systems and whether they enable us to do our work for effectively. How essential are the systems for our work and mission? Does our system for curriculum approvals honor our commitments to academic freedom and shared governance? Does a system for course evaluation support professional growth across all faculty? Does it provide opportunities to inform our continuous improvement?

Furthermore, as we implement new systems, we need to make certain we invest the required time to ensure they are set up effectively. We also need to ensure that multiple stakeholders understand and can manage the systems moving forward. Our systems and academic contracts are substantial investments in academic affairs; moving forward, we need to guarantee that we are conscientious stewards regarding their selection, implementation, and maintenance.


Donna Adair Breault, Ph.D.
Acting Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs
New Jersey City University

Reference: Adler, P. S. & Borys, B. (2008). Two types of bureaucracy: Enabling and coercive. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41(1), pp. 61-89.