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  • Kate Snyder, Staff Writer

Opinion: Willamette’s unpreparedness for the network outage put pressure on students, professors

Graphic by Alice Thornes

On Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 5:21 a.m., Willamette students and faculty were graced with a brief email from Casey Feskens, the director of Willamette University Integrated Technology Services (WITS) Infrastructure & Operation team, reading: “We are currently experiencing a network outage affecting core services on Salem and Portland campuses. WITS Staff are looking into the issue.

This email didn’t come as a shock to most Willamette students who are used to similar messages regarding power outages in dormitory buildings or the occasional Wi-Fi outages occurring throughout the academic year appearing in their inboxes. While frustrating, these small, day-long outages are to be expected when attending a small university and need little to no academic accommodation. However, those outages were generally pertaining to either the Portland or Salem campuses exclusively, indicating a larger issue was happening with this outage — perhaps one that Willamette should have been better prepared for. 

Students were left in the dark on the cause of the outage until Feb. 22, when a lengthy email from WITS gave students and faculty a glimpse into the issue: “On Tuesday, February 20th, our teams detected suspicious network activity and subsequently implemented our incident response protocols. … The initial results from this investigation indicate that the network outage is the result of a cyber incident. … Currently, we do not have an estimate for when network access will be restored.” This email made Willamette faculty and students aware of how serious the situation was.

A similar cyberattack happened at Lewis & Clark College in March of 2023 that left their students and faculty without network access for weeks. Another happened just a few weeks ago at Clackamas Community College just outside of Portland, which stopped classes for a week while they investigated the cause. With cyberattacks being a common occurrence for smaller institutions, one may have hoped that Willamette would have a stronger safety net or that its staff would be trained to have alternative teaching methods not reliant on technology.

The duration of this outage has put a damper on both students’ and faculty’s daily activities. Students have struggled to access Wi-Fi unless they go to a local coffee shop or other nearby businesses, which can become costly quickly. Institutions that offer free Wi-Fi, such as the Salem Public Library, are only accessible by car or on foot. Mackenzie Lorenz (‘26) detailed her experience in navigating classes without network access. “All of my classes use Wise or Canvas for class material, and most rely heavily on electronic media, which obviously I couldn’t access without the internet. Only one of my classes was able to switch easily to classic pen-and-paper, but again, the others rely on electronic media such as web sources and PDF documents.”

Not having access to online submission sites or class lectures forced professors to shift their already tight syllabi in order to accommodate students' lack of access to reading material, lectures and submission forums. Lorenz said, “My professors have been accommodating in terms of due dates. Some even switched the schedule entirely or asked the class for our input on the situation,” she said. The same sentiment was shared by Abbigail Richeson (‘26): “Professors have been great, pushing back deadlines on assignments and understanding that we don’t have access to all campus resources; however, professors aren’t cutting material, which means my schedule is busier than ever.”  This accommodating nature professors have held is appreciated by students. However, it only forces more rigorous schedules for students down the line as the last weeks of the academic year creep up. 

On the other hand, this time without the internet has allowed students to engage with their hobbies. “I’ve been able to lay on the quad and read, visit coffee shops I otherwise would’ve never gone to,” Richeson said.  Lorenz stated similarly, “I’ve been outside, reading and spending more time on my hobbies during the times which I would’ve been studying.”

Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. On Sunday, Feb. 25, Salem students were notified of temporary Wi-Fi, “WUTemp.” On Monday, Feb. 26, WUTemp was made available to PNCA students. At the time of writing this, most of Willamette’s applications and networks have been restored.

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1 Comment

Mar 14

You would expect teachers to have a better backup plan. It happens every where and in almost all places, so a plan to keep on teaching should be mandatory, college cost so much money it should not be interrupted simply by no internet.

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