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Thursday, August 18, 2022 — Houston, TX

A eulogy for Schedule Planner

By Robbie Foley     11/5/19 10:22pm

The opening of Schedule Planner toward the end of each semester used to be an exciting day for Rice students. For two weeks each semester, Schedule Planner was Rice’s favorite means of procrastination. College commons were filled with comments like, “Should I pick up the BUSI minor?” and “What about RELI classes?” If you walked through Coffeehouse on the right day, almost every laptop would be open to Schedule Planner. By the time the registration period closed, Rice students felt satisfied with their schedules for the coming term as they had spent plenty of time carefully constructing them. The glory days of Schedule Planner are over. Schedule Planner has been taken down, and without significant pushback from the Rice community, we will lose it forever.

Instead, we are forced to deal with Ellucian’s Banner, a time- and space-wasting monstrosity of a user interface that Rice is most likely paying too much for. For reference, Central New Mexico Community College paid almost $5 million for an eight year subscription. In addition, there’s no way to register for backup classes. How Rice administrators looked at Banner and decided, “Yes, this is better than what we currently have” is beyond my comprehension. Why Rice decided that an expensive product from an outside tech company is better than a tailor-made interface designed and built by a Rice professor for Rice students makes no sense. 

This is not just a complaint about an annoying user interface, although the user interface is definitely annoying. The implications of this decision lie much deeper. A core value of a Rice education is that students are encouraged to explore different areas of study. Students are told to take a variety of classes to find their passions and to broaden their horizons. While Banner does technically allow people to explore different classes and subjects, the poor design definitely does not encourage it. Who’s going to spend extra time exploring schedule possibilities on an interface that is so frustratingly difficult to use?

I have many questions for the Rice administration. To start, why switch at all? Was it really too difficult for students to copy and paste course registration numbers from Schedule Planner into Esther? As it stands, there was no clear reason given for the switch. Also, even if Rice is going to have us switch to Banner, why was Schedule Planner shut down? Schedule Planner was up and working with Spring 2020 course data as recently as Oct. 31. What possible reason is there to remove it other than to coerce student behavior? To force students to use a new and clearly worse system is paternalistic, and to turn your back on the Rice community that built Schedule Planner in the first place is antithetical to Rice’s values.

Schedule Planner was a great story of the kind of place that Rice strives to be. The Rice community saw a problem in the previous method of course registration, and members of the community decided to solve the problem themselves. This resulted in Scott Cutler, a professor in the computer science and electrical engineering departments, building an incredibly useful tool that vastly improved the course registration process. Rice has a computer science department full of professors and students who are eager to solve problems and who don’t demand multimillion dollar contracts, but for some unsaid reason the administration would rather pay an outside corporation for a worse product. The disregard that the Rice administration is showing to its community by replacing Schedule Planner with this “new and improved” system is very disappointing and, quite frankly, disrespectful.

I ask the Rice registrar to immediately reopen Schedule Planner for students to use alongside the new Banner system for this course registration period, or otherwise provide a legitimate reason why doing so is impossible. I also urge the registrar to seriously consider reverting back to the old system entirely for future semesters. To keep Schedule Planner closed represents a severe lack of concern for the Rice community’s interests and significantly hinders students in their pursuit of a diverse and well-rounded Rice education. In addition, I implore the Rice community to push back against the new registration system and not accept what is clearly a worse status quo. For the same reasons that we should always be pushing for changes to make Rice a better place, we should be pushing back against changes that make it worse.

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