NYU's Information Services Suck

An example of how frustrating reliance on bad technology can be consider the following. NYU publishes a course catalog for the subsequent semester. However, NYU often does not publish enough such that I get a copy. The standard rejoinder is to use the web site. While I would object in principle, I think NYU should have a paper copy available for me, I certainly object on the basis of utility: NYU’s information technology resources are extremely difficult to use. Trying to find and register for courses is a nightmare.

To get a listing of courses, and register, one has to select various options in a JavaScript pop-up menu, which is very sensitive to losing focus. So for example I want to figure out what courses are available. Under the “registration” option there are among other options: registration status, course status, register, registration schedule. The appropriate selection is “course status,” though it is always the last one I think of. Having selected that, I’m presented with a number of forms fields whereby I can “search” for a course. A course listing typically looks like:

E38.2008 (12345) - Sem Media Criticism II SEM 4.0 .

  • E38 = Course subject2008 = Course Number
  • 12345 = Call Number
  • Sem Media Criticism II = Course Title
  • SEM = Course Type
  • 4.0 = Course Credits

In order to perform a search, I must know the course subject (of which there are 300 entries in a pulldown menu!) and the course number (2008) or course level (graduate). The course subjects are listed alphabetically, so if I only know the token “E38” – which is how we refer to our Media Ecology classes – I have to scroll through the menu of 300 entries or, as I “prefer,” open a HML source view of the document and search for the “subject” corresponding to E38. The sad irony here, is that many of the 300 entries are actually duplicated and only differ with respect to whether they are graduate and undergraduate subjects. If this is the case, then why would I need to specify the “course level”? In any case, what is unfortunate is that:

  1. It is not possible to search for courses based on words that appear in their title or description. So, for example there’s no chance of me being able to search for courses with “social” or “technology” appearing in their description or title.

  2. Should I actually find of course, and want to register for it, I cannot click on it to do so. I have to write down the call number, go back up into the confusing JavaScript pulldown menus, and fill in the registration form.

Now, the really annoying thing about all of this, is that you’re not allowed to use the back button. If you do so, at some point you will likely encounter the error: “Your access to the system is denied because of improper authorization. Return to the login page to re-enter the required user authentication data.” This means I lose my browsing context and have to go to the login page re-login! This happens on Windows and Linux, in the Mozilla, Konqueror, and Internet Explorer browsers. (“Not using the back button” seems a wholly inappropriate recommendation.) And in general, the site violates numerous accessibility and usability guidelines that I won’t even bother to detail here.

If one was lucky enough to get a paper course listing, one should just punch those course call numbers into the registration form. Otherwise, don’t expect to find any courses for which you don’t already know the details. Information technology, in this case, is no improvement upon, or even replacement for, the printed catalog.

On the good news front, I may finally be able to use SSH. By policy NYU blocks all ports except Web, and some FTP access. So, I cannot access my home or web host from school. After negotiating the appropriate levels of bureaucracy, including having a form signed by my advisor and the financial dean of my school, I now have a shell account, which I think will permit me to SSH out of NYU!

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