March 27, 2019

TRUSTEE VIEWPOINT | We Need to Talk About OrgSync

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Last semester, we had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting between President Pollack and a group of graduate and professional student leaders. These meetings are regular opportunities for students to communicate issues directly to senior administrators. Topics range anywhere from event management to support for student-parents to diversity and inclusion on campus. At the end of this meeting in particular, as students were packing up and preparing to leave, one of us casually mentioned, “At some point, we should probably talk about OrgSync too.” Everyone paused. The energy in the room changed. One after another, student leaders began to articulate their frustrations with OrgSync. Not a single person had anything positive to say about the system. It became clear that everyone shared a similar sentiment — OrgSync sucks.

If you’re not familiar with it, OrgSync is an online community management system specifically designed for higher education institutions. It is designed to help universities communicate directly with students and staff, track student involvement and manage campus organizations and events. Student organizations using the system can manage their events, members, communications and even make a website for their organization. All student groups must be registered within the OrgSync system, and as such, both the Student Assembly Finance Committee and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Finance Committee use the OrgSync system to approve funding requests from students.

It is these last two capacities of registration and budgeting that make using OrgSync inescapable for any student group. In fact, it is often only in these capacities that student organizations use OrgSync, leaving much of the other OrgSync functionality redundant.

But even using it for these two basic purposes can be cumbersome. To register a student group, at least three of the organization’s officers and the advisor must fill out a series of electronic forms. Similarly, both officers and the advisor must comment and approve all budget requests manually, often leading to mistakes. Even simple changes, such as changing the organization logo or the name of an officer, requires all officers and the advisor to go through the same process again in order to reset the system. The most well-intentioned and active student leaders can accidentally miss that their organization registration or their budget request may be incomplete because officers are required to do manual budget approvals. These errors can have serious budgetary consequences for numerous groups each semester either scrambling to find funding or flat-out rescheduling their events.

This might sound like just a mild annoyance, but it is critical to have a student organization management system that actually supports student needs. Student groups play an essential role in the student experience. Students volunteer their limited free time to help plan events that connect students not only to each other but also to academic and professional resources. We repeatedly stress the importance of creating a sense of community on campus, and student groups play a key role in achieving this goal. They deserve a system that facilitates, not hinders, their success.

Cornell is currently in the process of choosing OrgSync’s replacement. OrgSync will no longer be supported after June with plans to transition to a new service by this Fall. In addition to a streamlined registration process, the new system must easily integrate with social media platforms and online calendars to support advertising and networking efforts. Most importantly, the system needs to be well prepared to handle the budget approval process. Features that allow for automatic approvals and keep students informed of their budget completion status or the amount of money they have spent can significantly increase the ease of submitting and reviewing budgets. Ultimately, the new system needs to minimize the amount of work student leaders put in to host the events they want.

Finally, as we prepare to transition to a new community management system, organizations that currently rely on OrgSync to allocate funding (particularly SAFC and GPSAFC) will have the opportunity to re-examine the funding allocation and reimbursement process in its entirety. Submitting budgets via OrgSync is just one step in a larger, more complex process used to fund events. We also routinely hear complaints regarding the reimbursement process, particularly the requirement for physical receipts, needing to submit requests in person and the lengthy processing times for payments. We encourage the Campus Activities Office, Student and Campus Life and funding organizations to use this opportunity to think about additional ways this process could be revamped in order to make students’ lives easier.

Programming designed and offered by students is key to developing a sense of community amongst the student body. Online community management systems might not seem important, but, depending on the software, they can turn what should be a simple process into a complicated one. As Cornell prepares to replace a system that is clearly not serving students effectively, we should begin to brainstorm ideas for what a better event planning and reimbursement process should look like and what must happen to get us there.

Manisha Munasinghe is the graduate and professional student-elected member of the Board of Trustees and a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University. She can be reached at mmunasinghe@cornellsun.com. Ekarina Winarto is the president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell. She can be reached at ew385@cornell.edu. Trustee Viewpoint runs every other week this semester.