Campus Crisis Response: Part 2

Hello everyone! 

First, thank you for all of your questions after my presentation this past week — it meant a lot that you paid attention the whole way through! This blog is going to be a bit about the second half of my presentation — we have identified part of the problem but creating the solution may be complicated. 

In most things, accuracy and timeliness are crucial to business success in that the correct things must be available for consumers when they are needed. This is even more essential in crisis response, but often can feel messier. For example, while class selection is essential to be accurate and timely given that students need to know which classes are available, they were able to be corrected on the back end when things went south. In a student situation or in any situation when working with people or major facilities issues, it is important to be as accurate as possible. This may mean double checking or consulting multiple sources to be certain your next steps are 100% correct. The time spent doing this is well worth it, but can be costly. This is where changing systems or consolidating systems would be helpful. 

Currently we utilize the following services (that I know of): 

  • Maxient for our roommate conflicts, conduct history, disability services, and any mental health concerns, 
  • ScheduleFly & Google Calendar for RA/RD schedules  
  • StarRez for housing and billing 
  • Autodesk BIM 360 Ops for work orders and facilities repairs (non-urgent) 
  • Eagle Apps for class scheduling & student personal information (emergency contacts) 

We also use several pagers, phones, and walkie-talkies for the staff who are on call.

The RAs who are on call use the Flip Phones on the left. This has become more and more of an issue for a few reasons. While technically functional, ther service on campus renders them useless if they are in a deadzone. There is also an issue of the technology aging out — one night I had a call from an RA who stated the flip phone was broken and would not turn on. They said they kept holding the button on the side down but nothing was happening (cue my internal reaction of how old am I really????) After they realized the power button was on the inside of the phone on the call/send button, they hung up and I had a quiet moment and a drink.

In an ideal world, a dashboard would exist of any issues a student may be facing, with the ability for anyone to submit a report that could be easily accessed by the on call staff members (faculty, staff, students, grads, etc.) so if someone is failing their classes, going through a roommate conflict, loses their laundry, AND does not show up for their counseling appointments, we can flag their account and respond accordingly. Currently 2 people are responsible for that work alongside a committee of other high-ranked staff members (our Behavioral Emergency Team or BET). 

Context is critical when addressing and responding to student behavior and crisis situations. While we consider them and treat them like adults, advocating for their needs may be a new skill they are working on. By knowing their context in a non-intrusive way, it is helpful to identify potential resources even before reaching out. 

StarRez is the closest thing that currently exists to this process. The Cloud-based residential community management system has some pre-existing processes that are part of most every higher education process (housing selection, billing, etc.), but offers customization in a way that allows the unique needs of higher education institutions to be fulfilled. This page offers some insight into their offerings, but the system is fairly easy to use and create processes for. We have currently customized the process to match our fairly complex housing selection process, our housing appeals process, and for our leave of absence form. Ideally, we would easily be able to incorporate hiring and scheduling into this system, all work orders, and most resources needed from the student perspective. This would allow for us to create a profile of each student and be able to easily see all the parts of their experience. 

Essentially, this is the product that is best suited for the needs of our office, but this may not be the best suited for everyone. Maxient is the premiere conduct software in our field (if that even exists) and holds all of the private information well. Maxient does half of what is needed, in organizing the information related to their student experience, like conduct violations, mental health concerns, or any accomodation-related information. 

For the sake of honesty (and a peak into the world of Student Affairs), the issue is the silos. Student Conduct oversees Maxient, Facilities and Housekeeping oversee the Work Order Center, and ResLife oversees StarRez. StarRez is great from a residential life staff member perspective, but not from a facilities perspective or academic perspective. To be able to create a system that would meet all of the needs each party would ask for would be literally millions of dollars. This, believe it or not, does outweigh the cost of the flood from a financial perspective in the eyes of our leadership. While each department is responsible for ensuring our students are successful, the web of systems we have created is indicative of a division that does not communicate our needs well with each other. 

So, instead we work within the systems we have and create the processes that are functional but not ideal. I am hopeful with our new leadership in the VPSA role with Dr. Shawna Cooper-Gibson, she is able to see from a bird’s eye view and find ways to make this process more efficient and effective for everyone involved. Fingers crossed she took a Digital Transformation class in her EdD program!

8 comments

  1. Thanks for the reminder of how old I am, knowing how to turn on/off a flip phone with the “dial” button! The fact that users can’t even turn on the technology should be a big enough flag that it’s out-dated and needs change. It’s even more unfortunate that the cost (both financially and to the school’s reputation) of that flood you talked about in class does not outweigh the cost to put in a more convenient and therefore effective system… While it makes sense to keep a lot of those platforms like StarRez, as they are so good at their specific function, I would hope that simply updating the hardware technology to modern-day phones where all of those apps can be accessed from a single device would be a relatively easy change to streamline communication. Hopefully the new leadership prioritizes these issues.

  2. I enjoyed your presentation very much last week, and your blog is an excellent follow-up. You have made a perfect case for why BC should invest in a new system to solve these issues. I live in an apparent building, and all the residents and staff use Activebuliding to make appointments, request maintenance for our unit, reserve the gym or a conference room, sign for events, make payments, etc… It is similar to StarRez, but the app is pretty glitchy, so I am not sure is if the right one for you. Regarding the service issue, walky-talkies and radios are way more reliable than phones, so this might be considered when making the switch. I am excited to see the change you will make at BC if you can convince them to implement your ideas.

  3. I echo Carlos’ applause – great post and presentation. This is a really cool insight, especially from someone who went to BC for undergrad.

    I believe I commented something similar on Karl’s nonprofit blogpost last week: when you’re talking about StarRez and the platforms used by Student Conduct/Work Order Center, I’m also curious about whether you actually think using different apps makes sense. You seemed to indicate no in your presentation, and I would agree. The CIO at my company likes the method of using a bunch of different softwares and using them for their discrete best feature, instead of using a one-stop shop/jack-of-all trades type. I see the benefit, but I think there’s a very fine line and it is easy to go overboard –> technology fallacy. So, it seems to me like you need to figure out a one-stop-shop and, no offense to Bryan, not just go back to a system with all apps, albeit one that can at least access the apps easier. Have you tried a no-cost solution, like Teams? There are so many apps on there and, at least I’ve found, that you can manipulate the apps to your specific function (take a look at my Gimmie a K! blogpost earlier this semester).

    I’d bet that with the right delivery, someone with open ears would absolutely get on board with a better technological process because – obviously – the costs of floods add up! And, when it comes to safety, there’s no negotiating.

  4. Thank you for explaining this issue further and making us more aware on the current SaaS in the market. Why is the housing process so complex?

  5. I love that you’ve continued your presentation onto this post, without skipping a beat.

    And I think you highlight how much more difficult it is to implement some sort of system wide technology adoption as an improvement over existing services vs starting out from scratch. And really this could be a case in any one of our MBA classes! How much is any inefficiency is due organizational structure vs technology?

  6. I loved how engaging and insightful your presentation was! It is alarming how antiquated the technology and processes that are being used at Boston College are. It seems as though they are taking the approach of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, but in reality several key facets may indeed be broken.

    Are you or your colleagues able to attend conferences or webinars on campus life/safety? In my job I always look to educate/benchmark what my company is doing compared to others. This helps me build the business case for pursuing new technologies or ideas. I ask this question because I hope a lot of top universities around the country are using more advanced technologies and this can be used as a business case for Boston College.

  7. Loved your presentation last week! I have the same question as Chris, why do they make the housing process so complex? I currently live in an apartment building and to call maintenance, we have to go through the main line that anyone calls on (its the main number listed on google) and its really difficult to get a hold of them. The line almost never goes through and when it does it you always reach an answering machine. They are good with following up and calling you back but the initial process of getting in touch with them is made super difficult. Same is the case with getting a hold of the property managers – it’s almost impossible but when you do they are really helpful. I wonder if this is done so that people only contact them when they absolutely need to do so and not for unnecessary things.

  8. Your presentation was extremely engaging so this is great to see follow up! As a fellow BC employee, it is consistently shocking to see how backwards and outdated technology can be at such a highly ranked university. While it may be slightly outdated, a “facebook” of contact information for all RAs that is updated consistently. Is it a safety issue if people on call use their own technology to contact each other? A central database or hub with directions to each process and links to necessary information seems like a fix that can be implemented with your help of a new authority figure. You have made a great case as to why these tech implementations are important.

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