PeopleSoft a focus of budget fight at Calif. university

Concerned about budget shortfalls and the quality of software from PeopleSoft Inc., faculty members at California Polytechnic State University's San Luis Obispo campus are circulating an online petition that asks the school to halt a planned US$15 million purchase of more software from the company.

The petition has circulated for about two weeks and contains the signatures of about 200 of the more than 1,000 staff members on campus. It asks the university to reconsider a decision to borrow $15 million for the deployment of a Common Management System student administration software module from Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft. The petition also calls on the school to look at alternatives to PeopleSoft products.

Manzar Foroohar, a history professor and president of the Cal Poly Chapter of the California Faculty Association union that started the petition, said the key issues are the state's precarious financial condition and problems with the software experienced at some of the other 22 campuses in the California State University (CSU) system. She has written about the ongoing concerns in a union newsletter and is spearheading the fight.

"Basically, what we object to is the implementation of very expensive software at a time when we are going through a major budget crisis" and when the school is cutting staff and budgets, Foroohar said. "We cannot justify spending that much money when we don't have it."

Other campuses that have installed the student administration software "are yelling and screaming" about it, Foroohar said. "There are lots of bugs," including problems getting checks prepared on time. Another concern for the faculty, she said, is the takeover attempt of PeopleSoft by Oracle Corp., which has created fear about buying from a company with an uncertain future.

"Any angle that you look at this plan, it's a terrible plan," Foroohar said. "It's a basic mismanagement of your budget."

University officials dispute the faculty claims. For example, Jerry Hanley, the CIO and vice provost for IT services at Cal Poly, said the systems upgrade is "a very responsible thing to do" because the university is running an old SIS+ mainframe application from the 1970s for its student records and management that must be updated.

Several years ago, he said, some campuses in the CSU bought ERP software from PeopleSoft with finance, human resources and student administration modules. The first two pieces are already in place on the San Luis Obispo campus. "We're getting ready to implement the student administration system, and there's the rub," because the other purchases have already been made and are waiting for the final module to be installed.

"The decision has been made," Hanley said. "We've got to take the action now to migrate off that mainframe. The average faculty member doesn't get that."

He also disputed faculty concerns that the money being spent is affecting staff hirings and student class offerings. The money for this module won't come from existing state funding for the school, he said. "They're associating the money being spent as not paying salaries ... but that's one-time money, not annual money for salaries."

In a joint statement on Wednesday, Larry Kelley, the vice president of finance and administration, and acting provost Robert Detweiler said the decision to use the PeopleSoft products was made by CSU in 1998 and requires all 23 campuses to implement all three of the PeopleSoft systems, including finance, human resources and student administration, as part of the Common Management System by 2008.

"Cal Poly was represented in the selection process and concurred with the choice," they said. "Other products considered during the selection process were systems from SCT and Oracle." SCT is now SCT/SunGard.

The first two modules have been in use since 2001 and "both systems are working well," they said. "The cost to implement those systems was funded out of the general operating budget on a pay-as-you-go basis in a better budget climate."

The student administration component wasn't introduced at Cal Poly because the existing IT system needed to be upgraded first. Those upgrades have now been completed, clearing the way for the deployment. "The student administration system has been implemented on eight CSU campuses as well as other universities across the nation. It has been tested and is working well."

Because the old system from SCT/Sungard will no longer be upgraded by its manufacturer, the new system is needed, they said. "In order to provide quality reliable service to the students, faculty and staff at Cal Poly, a Web-based system using current user-friendly technology that is actively supported by the CSU and the vendor is needed."

Steve Swasey, a spokesman for PeopleSoft, Friday had no comment on the controversy at the school. "It's an issue with the California State University system," he said.

The petitions are expected to be submitted to Cal Poly President Warren J. Baker by the end of next week, Foroohar said.

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