Mosaic, mo’ problems

March 3, 2016
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By: Nicholas Moore

From their course selection experience this summer, most of the student body is aware that Mosaic has not been implemented properly. These problems extend into graduate student payroll, and there have been a plethora of problems resulting from this faulty and poorly managed program. These issues were, and are, far from trivial.

On Oct. 10, dental benefits for Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants were suspended because McMaster University had not remitted premiums it had collected for the insurance company for a period of four months. The premiums were paid quickly after the suspension of benefits, but this situation, which never should have happened in the first place, was laid at the feet of Mosaic.

Administration proposes a “standing loan” program to “bridge graduate student needs between payments.” Ludicrous. Will they charge interest on these loans? Most likely.

There have been innumerable instances of general mismanagement. Anecdotally, I was charged double the correct amount of tuition in September, which took a few weeks to fix. A friend of mine was charged two-thirds of the correct amount. Another friend of mine has not been paid the full amount of scholarship the University promised.

On Nov. 3, a letter was sent to graduate students from the Acting Provost and Vice President (Administration) which attempted to address the ongoing problems with Mosaic’s payroll system. In this letter, they acknowledge that there has been “ongoing confusion around ... scholarships, payments and benefits.” It is mostly a loose collection of vapid buzzwords, but somewhat sinister in its implications.

First, all they propose to do is improve “communication” with grad students and the throughput on our complaints. This includes setting up an email address for complaints, hiring staff to handle complaints, sending us emails more frequently and having “a series of open meetings” where we will be permitted to ask questions. They also propose to hand this functionality over to a brand new “customer service unit” that will handle this type of inquiry. This is a very telling Freudian slip, betraying the degree to which McMaster administration prefers to see graduate students as income units, rather than employees. No amount of communication, or “managing expectations,” will fix Mosaic.

Particularly egregious is the proposed “long term solution” to changes they made to our payroll system that have resulted in grad students going for entire semesters with only a couple thousand dollars in compensation. Students who don’t have a TA or RA position immediately after starting their grad studies have a particularly bad time. The old system compensated for this, and spread our pay more equally throughout the year. University administration proposes a “standing loan” program to “bridge graduate student needs between payments.” Ludicrous. Will they charge interest on these loans? Most likely. This is being paid in currency only tenable at the company store. This is Wal-Mart holding a food drive for its own employees.

The letter says they will “continue working on the technical and system issues underlying some of the problems.” Insofar as this is a circuitous, partial acknowledgment of faults in Mosaic, nothing further is promised, except to continue patching a broken system. No mention of increasing their efforts to get to the root of the problem, a fundamentally incompetent implementation of otherwise useful software system. I was shocked to learn that the University of Waterloo uses the same software package for the same purpose, but having implemented it competently, it is free from the deluge of ridiculous problems we have experienced with Mosaic. We educate software engineers here. It is not beyond the capability of this school to properly configure software.

Yet, here we are. Perhaps our administration is ensnared by the sunk cost fallacy, but they seem incapable of acknowledging something that anyone with a background in software (such as myself), and many with no background in software will tell you: Mosaic is a redo. Mosaic is a terminal patient, and the complaints resolution process is an iron lung. Mosaic is a hurdles runner hitting every hurdle because it has stale pretzel sticks for legs. Mosaic is a plantar wart; unless you crack it open and get to the root of the problem, it’s just going to get uglier and uglier.

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