UTEP staff and students react to campus network shutdown

Anahy Diaz, Editor In Chief

With UTEP’s network system continuing to experience delays since Friday, March 5, students and staff have expressed concern over the potential academic setback this shutdown may imply.

According to UTEP, the shutdown was a result of a ‘potentially malicious intrusion’ that has led to phones, email, and websites being temporarily taken offline. The Blackboard learning system was restored Monday morning for some teachers and students, but due to the server being overly saturated, access to the learning device is limited for others.

Kayla Mari, a biological sciences student at UTEP, said her biggest concern is her grades.

“This has caused an increase in stress and anxiety because of missed deadlines,” Mari said. “I am graduating this semester and my grades need to be perfect for graduate school and a zero on an exam or quiz can affect that.”

According to a Twitter post made by UTEP, faculty should work with students to adjust deadlines and coursework accordingly. However, Mari said some of her professors are still deciding whether to extend deadlines or not.

“I hope that UTEP can maybe have the professors be more understanding of situations such as these,” Mari said. “During online class, technical issues will always occur. Students shouldn’t be having high anxiety, worried about being penalized for something out of everyone’s control.”

UTEP said students who feel the accommodations professors provide for any missed work and tests are not sufficient, are encouraged to reach out to the department chair.

On March 8, UTEP announced students could access their email through Microsoft Office’s main page, but faculty, staff and departmental email remains down.

“Students, if you are attempting to email faculty, staff or departmental accounts, these emails are not being received,” UTEP wrote on Twitter.

Jose Garcia, a UTEP accounting student, said one of the most alarming issues for him is to get behind on school work.

“I work and go to school as it is, it’s very difficult to keep up and now this is making it a lot more difficult,” Garcia said. “I was not able to turn in my homework during the weekend, not being able to continue with my lectures is becoming stressful since I have my schedule set up.”

Like Mari, Garcia’s second concern is the possible lack of cooperation from professors.

“I have only reached out to two of my professors,” Garcia said. “One of them was willing to work with me, and the other one hasn’t reached out to me yet.”

Professors like Dan McGlasson, who teaches developmental mathematics at UTEP, is providing solutions for his students.

“I regret some instructors are not as flexible as you want, but I am betting the majority do want to work through this with you (students), for your success,” McGlasson said.

McGlasson uses ALEKS, an independent assessment program, which is where he has been able to communicate with his students while UTEP fully restores its services.

“Majority of my students were able to log on and had no problems at all,” McGlasson said. “I basically just said ‘work and here is my phone number if you need anything.”

According to McGlasson, the developmental mathematics department at UTEP decided to wait until Wednesday to reassign work and deadlines.

“We don’t want the students to be in a position where they’re not sure what’s happening and fall behind on things,” McGlasson said. “We’re never going to test students on something they don’t know.”

Although McGlasson said these are frustrating times, it’s also a learning lesson for students.

“This is helping train students for the workforce where there are going to be challenges that will come up, so ask what you can do to overcome the challenge, what is a creative solution we can use to get past this,” McGlasson said. “The professors are going to hold the students accountable, we cannot lose our standards, but we are going to do so knowing the syllabus is beyond the students control.”

In a news release sent out by UTEP March 8, as the university’s IT team continues to investigate the intrusion, it is not able to discuss the operational details that led to the attack.

Through comments made on Instagram and Facebook, UTEP said the unauthorized intrusion has not led the university to believe any personal information was compromised.

“This pandemic and now the network outage shows that we were not prepared, both as students and professors,” Mari said. “I just hope this is a learning experience to become better prepared.”

According to UTEP, updates will be provided to faculty, students and staff each day as they become available and can be found on its social media accounts. People experiencing issues accessing available services can contact the Technology Support Help Desk’s cloud-based account at [email protected]

UTEP’s spring break is set to occur March 15-19, with midterm grades due March 21.

Anahy Diaz may be reached at [email protected]; @by_anahydiaz on Twitter.