The tentative 2016 SA budget released last week showed how the organization spends its chunk of cash. And they spend a lot of it on TU OrgSpace.
For the upcoming year, SA has budgeted $5,250 towards the site. This amount, the same as the previous year, is larger than the homecoming bonfire ($5,000), the orientation camp ($3,000) and sexual assault and prevention efforts, which goes to the organization Advocacy Alliance ($5,000). But unlike those other expenses, TU OrgSpace seems, at best, an inefficient and unused way to interact with students.
TU OrgSpace originates from Symplicity Corp, a company that creates a variety of online systems for educational institutions, businesses and federal agencies to use. Community, the specific system TU OrgSpace is built on, is described by the company as a way to “bring your campus community together with an integrated solution that facilitates and encourages student alumni networking.”
The company itself has had its fair share of problems. In 2014, Symplicity made national headlines as its CEO plead guilty to conspiring to hack into two competitors’ computer systems in order to improve their own software development and sales strategy. TU has been using the site since at least 2013. Why is student money going towards a company with such clear ethical issues?
According to SA’s Executive Director of Technological Development Tali Harris, the website is “fairly cheap compared to other similar services,” and serves a multitude of purposes. Organizations can use it to store data, but also documents and account numbers for reimbursement. SA can use it as an email system to contact clubs. It also host co-curricular transcript, events and polls. Mainly, however, students can use it to get in touch with clubs.
But the main issue with TU OrgSpace is its lack of users in general. Most organizations don’t post much to the site, either because of or causing the lack of student use of the site. It’s a chicken and egg situation.
Looking over organizations on the website, it seems that very few people actually use the site. No upcoming events were listed, and as for past events, only one was in 2016. It was in April. The rest were in 2015 or previous, several of which were sporting events and weekly church lunches. If you had to judge TU based on it, you’d be likely to say none of the clubs on campus did anything; instead students just hung out and maybe got free lunch once a week. Some students — juniors, in fact — didn’t even know the site existed.
If no clubs are listing their events, how is this site useful for students? By browsing the site, students can get a glimpse of the clubs available to them, yes, but the official TU website also offers this. Students couldn’t know what was going on by just using TU OrgSpace.
The other options the site offers are a blog, group details, and photo gallery. Looking over a few of the organizations listed — including The Collegian itself, among others like Earth Matters — it is obvious they have not updated the information on who runs the organization. Given that, it would seem difficult for SA to use the site as an email list, if some of the contacts have already graduated.
Given the lack of updated information available on the site, SA could demand that organizations do checkups to ensure all is up-to-date. But seeing as how these organizations are still getting members and holding events, is that really necessary? The information gap on TU OrgSpace doesn’t seem to be preventing what campus participation TU has. Not updating the site seems to reflect individual organizations’ realization that the site is not essential.
SA should move away from the use of TU OrgSpace, and instead support what students already use: social media sites, flyers and word-of-mouth.
Instead of linking students to TU OrgSpace to get information on clubs, they should simply link students from the TU website, or their own, to the Facebook, website or other page of the organization.
These are the sites regularly updated with information, that can be easily and quickly checked no matter where you are.
And if SA, or the university, is set on creating another website for the clubs as a whole, they should run their own. The school is full of computer science and engineering majors, as well as graphic designers.
Students could be employed to create and design the website, using the money designated for paying Symplicity.
Getting student input, instead of a corporation’s idea of what students want, might actually make such a website popular. Surely students could, at the very least, make it more aesthetically pleasing than the current option. If keeping account numbers and documents on a website is essential, this could work as a cheaper, more efficient option.
That would just require initial start-up costs, to pay the students to design it, and upkeep. But the money saved from not annually paying Symplicity could go towards more advertisements, events or anything else that the student body actually needs.