On Nov. 25 and 26, McMaster experienced a major disruption in its Internet service. Beginning at approximately 11 p.m. on Nov. 25, students off-campus were unable to access any form of McMaster’s online services, which included Avenue to Learn, @mcmaster.ca email addresses, and all domains of the Mac website itself.
Internet access on campus was also compromised, as network connections, including wireless Internet, were unavailable.
The blackout was caused by a single cable being cut by a work crew, kilometres away from the Westdale campus. Upon being made aware of the situation, the university’s Internet provider worked through the day to remedy the problem, finally restoring service by 7 p.m. on Nov. 26.
Though beginning at night, university officials did not address the situation until Tuesday morning, meaning students looking to access library resources or submit assignments for a midnight deadline were left in the dark for nearly 10 hours.
The University acknowledged the blackout and announced that all classes and tests would proceed as scheduled through the day. This, as well as other updates, were largely circulated via the McMaster Daily News website, much to the ire of students who couldn’t access the site off campus.
In response to widespread concern from students with assignments due the same day, Provost David Wilkinson initially issued a mass extension 24 hours on all work.
While considered a blessing by some students, others took to the university’s Facebook page and Twitter to express their discontent with what was called a “Band-Aid solution.”
“Why are you only extending this for assignments due today? Being unable to access resources for classes impacts all students. Not just the ones with their assignments due today,” wrote Social Sciences student Eric Gillis.
“This is especially unacceptable with some faculties, such as Social Sciences, adopting a paper-free policy. Having received no hard copy of my syllabus, you are placing the responsibility upon students to then use your service to access it online.”
Fellow McMaster student Ashleigh Patterson echoed this sentiment.
“You still don’t seem to understand or at least aren’t acknowledging that off campus students can not access any subdomain of mcmaster.ca…we can not do research, submit assignments, or communicate with our faculty and classmates.”
Students also criticized the university’s lack of a contingency plan for the situation, and their set-up not being based on an external service provider. Frustration was especially high considering the time of year, as students faced not only tests, but also final projects and essays that relied heavily on library resources, for example.
By mid-afternoon, more than 12 hours after the blackout had begun, officials responded to students’ comments by offering extensions for all work due Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
However, the response did not address the cases of tests, presentations, and labs, all of which remained unclear. The end of semester test ban, a required part of every semester, was eventually dissolved so as to allow professors to push back any assessments as needed into the last few days of classes.