Seton Hall University
Department of Sociology/Anthropology
Internet Sabbatical Project Report:

(Project One)


Philip M. Kayal, Ph.D. 
Sabbatical Year F'2000-S'2001


Title: Seton Hall HomePages as Reflections of Corporate Identity and
Effective Pedagogical Tools: A Consumer's Perspective

Goal: My original intent was to assess the usefulness of faculty homepages as pedagogical tools, that is, did they serve an educational function, were they vehicles of communication with both students and the general public, and did they reflect and support the corporate identity of the university. In a word, if future students and parents wanted to check the university out on the web, what impression would they get after checking the homepages of our colleges/schools, departments and faculty? I approached the project from the perspective of a consumer who would be influenced by the way an institution's corporate identity is presented.

It was my assumption that our "high tech" university expected the faculty to communicate, indeed educate, via the web. I had noticed over the years that some homepages had incredibly useful information on them that students could use in their research. Others, of course, were embarrassingly simple, irrelevant or indifferent. This is not to say that other vehicles were not available for communication, say Lotus Notes or Learning Space, etc. In my mind, however, the homepages would be the first place parents or students would look when assessing the viability and efficiency of the university, its schools, departments and teaching staff. I assumed that all faculty would at least have office hours, their office location, course offerings, and syllabi, etc., listed on homepages and that potential students could use the pages to understand program requirements and to assess faculty credentials and course offerings.

Getting Started:

Regarding the above goals, here is what I found and what I had to do before even getting to the immediate project of faculty homepage assessments. While I had not intended to do so, it became necessary to backtrack. To understand faculty pages, I needed to review each department, then each school and even the university page. They are intertwined and impact on each other. This also put me into the thankless role of critic. In all honesty, being a faculty member in Arts and Sciences shaped my biases. I had access to the Dean's office in A&S and our webmaster was always available to me. Competition being what it is, I did not feel obliged to report on the "imagery problems" presented by the Business or Nursing Schools, etc., to their deans. I acted like a consumer of a product or a customer service representative, but was not inclined to correct what I thought were problems for the whole university, though I ended up making countless suggestions to countless administrators. All this was beyond the scope of the project.

Passing on my observations to the "ever-changing-powers-that-be," meant numerous correspondence with Marie Somers, Nancy Mustachio, Bert Wachsmuth, Steven House, and the staff of the TLTC. All I can say is that "things are in process." Now that we are a complex organization with a division of labor that is indecipherable, it is not so easy to get things done. University affairs, for example, and computer services may not see eye to eye on say "the corporate image" or the content of the SHU homepage, but that is another story.

Regarding the Seton Hall homepage itself, I learned (perhaps erroneously) that we have farmed out its maintenance to a vendor. I have no idea why this would be the case. Given the overstaffed and over paid "computer service division" (my title), one would think we could maintain the page ourselves with ease. I find the current page to be glitzy, uninviting and, frankly, distracting. Flashing adjectives, etc. The library is hidden behind "Current Students" or "Academic Programs and Resources." Try to easily find webmail or even faculty homepages. In fact, type these words into the miniscule search box and see what comes up. I tried it and ended up in the Nursing School! But, it could be me and my lack of skills. I doubt it.  By comparison, the Princeton page, of course, is elegant and easy to negotiate.

If one word could be found to summarize my findings regarding how schools present themselves via the web, it would be inconsistency, followed closely by incompleteness. Data or access to information varied by schools. Some had, for example, immediate access to application forms, others had scholarship and special program information immediately available. Data was often old--names of Deans had not been changed, programs not updated, etc. Though a task force of sorts has been formed (and actually met twice) to put a rime and reason to the homepages, nothing has really been formally implemented yet. But a template is in the workings for schools, departments, and faculty.

School Pages:

In my judgment, it would be useful for each school or college page to open with a statement about its philosophy, goals, and uniqueness. Why, for example, is a Liberal Arts Education at SHU good, important and special? Emphasis could be on a broad based curriculum, exposure to ideas, critical thinking, social issues. What distinguishes our Business, Nursing schools from others? Identifying accomplished faculty might be helpful. An informed, intellectually challenging welcome by the Dean would be nice. Outstanding faculty and programs could be highlighted.

The structure of a school should be outlined; names of Deans and their functions (and how to access them) should be current and identified. School Program/majors should be indicated and links to them and faculty offered. There should be a consistency of language. Is a major, a department and a program the same thing? Consistency of formatting would help, but more important is content of school page. Is the information up-to-date? Each should have links back to the University, perhaps other schools within the university, and to faculty. Links should be operable (This is a totally other issue, but there were way too many dysfunctional or even counterproductive links on some pages).

Since SHU is a collegial enterprise, it is not my intent to "compare and contrast" for the sake of criticism. Colleges and schools can learn from one another. Arts and Sciences has an effective and newly worked homepage, the School of Theology is easy to maneuver, but lacks faculty links (and assumes a Catholic audience), the Stillman School of Business homepage is very attractive, has on-line graduate school registration (as does the school of Education), but has inconsistencies in its content and usefulness of its links. The School of Nursing is well formatted, has an attractive introduction, but lacks useful links. Its information is presented in one continuous roll. The School of Graduate Medical Education was very confusing, contradictory, and was missing much information at the time the review was done.

Suggestions: Pictures would help. There could be a FAQ section for each school. And pages should be maintained, that is, updated regularly by a stationary webmaster who is identifiable at each school.

Department Pages:

The diversity of department homepage (in terms of content, formatting, coloring, layout, etc.), while attractive on one hand, often reflects either indifference or incompetence on the part of the "webmaster." Someone produces a department homepage. It could be a staff member, a student, a support staff person from TLTC or the CAT (whatever the current acronym is). I tracked a few down and discussed some issues with them, and generally they responded well. Others did not have a clue, or worse, a concern. This goes beyond the problem of inconsistency. Not having the name of the current chair, or the department location in the right place is not a good thing. Outdated, program requirements, faculty rosters, office locations, and inoperable links etc., characterized several pages.

The most annoying or puzzling characteristic of several department pages was that their own page did not contain their own programs, but rather sent you to the SHU catalogue for the courses. This meant going to a link, but you ended up in a" roll," that is, part of the whole catalogue. When you scrolled through the program and reached the end, it took you to the next department. I guess this is ok, but I found it annoying and lazy. I would suggest locating department programs in the department homepage and then perhaps a link to the larger Seton Hall catalogue

When I met with legitimate, competent, and responsible SHU "computer personnel" we agreed that department homepages should at least have the following, easily accessible information and links:
Location of Department with an email address
An identification of chair and other faculty with official roles (like student advisor)
An email address for chair and department secretary
a Dept. phone number (chair and/or secretary)
List of Department faculty and links to their pages
Major and Minor Programs (requirements, etc.)
Course offerings or catalogue and course descriptions
Course offerings in current and upcoming semesters
Useful links to related resources
name of page webmaster
all departments should link back to their colleges and to the University page

Like the university and every school, each department should have a webmaster since staying current is the most significant, if not arduous, task at hand. Pages need to be constantly maintained. It is assumed faculty are their own webmasters and that maintenance is equally required of them (more on this below)


Faculty Page Review


The faculty pages selected for review were all listed in the Faculty/Staff section of the SHU homepage. Not everyone listed was eligible. I was concerned only with full time faculty in the College or Arts and Sciences, Nursing, Business, Theology and Education. No librarians, law school faculty, adjuncts were included. All in all, about 170 faculty pages were evaluated and eligible, though the SHU catalogue lists over 310 potentially eligible faculty. This in itself is telling. I assumed all faculty on campus would have a web page in the SHU directory. Some schools were better than others. In order of compliance were the College of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Nursing. (Missing faculty may have pages buried some where, say in the Department, but they were not in the SHU listing).

What should have been a relatively simple procedures proved to be anything but. There were literally hundreds of SHU student homepages mixed in with those of the faculty. This took dozens of emails and campus visits to straighten out. List is still not perfect and probably never will be.

There was also the occasional problem of two sets of homepages. The contents of entrees in the department sections did not always match those in the Faculty/Staff listing on the SHU page. I frequently had to double check to see what was what or who was who, but stuck to my population parameters as stated above for my review below. There were other time consuming problems. I soon discovered that a faculty member could have a page located in a department, but not in the SHU faculty/staff lasting. For the sake of order, these were dismissed. There were also listings of names in the SHU directory that were empty of content. They too were ignored. I frequently had to check the main printed 2000-2001 year catalogue to see if a faculty member was still current. Often they were no longer employed here for whatever reason.

Faculty Pages:

Some were ingenious, high tech, beautiful to look out and easy to use. Others were embarrassing, disgraceful, inept, and dated. Example, the schools area code has been 973 (not 201) for some time now. Even longer has been the change from a "lanmail" address to a address. Let's just say there were far too many "errors" in this regard than any reasonable person would expect.

There were also too many template homepages. An easy way out, but ineffective as a way of impressing or communicating with the public or students. More often than not, the template pages were not completely filled out. I found the template itself was inadequate, if not dysfunctional.

Just two more observations before we begin the faculty assessments. Two of the sixteen categories or measurements I used were "negatives" - such as bad coloring and useless links. The first referred to the readability of a page. Nearly 20 pages out of 170 (8.5%) were too dark to handle, i. e., could not be easily read. Useless links meant, the link took the reader no where useful or relative. About 5% of the faculty had irrelevant links. Most distressing to me, however, were faculty links to other colleges, normally their alma maters. I thought it was odd that we should facilitate potential student/family searches of rival schools. I am willing to admit, I may be wrong here, but why would you want to impress a student who is interested in SHU with a competitive school's programs?

Variables: I first identified faculty by school and department, then rank. The former was easy, the latter not so. While everyone was full time, only 27% indicated their rank. As a consumer, I would have wanted to know the faculty member's rank There was no variation by school, dept., or rank. I did not use school affiliated with as an independent variable in any case, though templates were more likely to be used by the school of business.

I then searched to see if faculty pages included: their physical location (office #), a phone number, fax #, a means of contact (email), a biography of some sort, links back to college and/or university, other useful links, syllabi, teaching areas, resources, research interests, and whether their page was up-2-date

Physical Location-Where is the faculty member's office located: building, office number. Using round numbers, only 69% of the faculty pages correctly indicated their office locations.

Phone Number- It would seem that an operative phone number would be a given. This was not the case. Only 65% of faculty pages listed a correct or operable phone number.

Fax Number-Granted, this could be a luxury. But the truth is that every building and many departments have fax machines. Just 32% of the pages had fax numbers on them.

Contact-As could be expected, this was the highest compliance, with 145 respondents having their email address listed, though about 10 faculty had lanmail addresses. Just about 80%, therefore, complied.

Biography-I thought it would be useful to have some biographical information available to the consumer. Because of the range of expression, I accepted anything here from where the faculty member studied, to what degrees they had, to their resumes. Despite the broadness of the category, only 85 or 50% the faculty indicated such on their pages.

Links To College/Dept-For ease of use, it would seem helpful to be able to get back from a faculty page to the department, college and/or university. While not a critical need, it would facilitate accessing information about the broader context. Just 33% of pages offered this option.

Useful Links-many faculty indicated "websites of value," basically general links to useful information, not necessarily related to a course or program. There were links, for example, about plagiarism, footnoting, bookstores, language histories, graduate schools, programs etc., All in all, 42% of pages offered such a service.

Syllabi-Least I be wrong, I had always thought that we were expected as a faculty to have our up-2-date syllabi on the web. This can be done in many ways, but the homepage of a faculty member would seem to be an appropriate venue. Just under 100 faculty complied here. Actually 11 of these pages were either outdated or "empty" when clicked on. That brings the correct total to 87 or 51%. I would say this number is shockingly low.

Teaching Areas-Elementary, or so I thought. Students and general consumers would probably want to know the specialties of the faculty or their teaching interests. This category was left broad---either specific course offerings, areas of expertise, or teaching interests (future). Yet, only 63% of faculty indicated such.

Resources-If homepages are to be used effectively, resources should be included. Resources were defined as links to specialized libraries, discipline related information, research institutes, etc. Sources for current events, health issues/information, political commentaries, visual tours, instructional materials, topical histories, discipline related dictionaries, etc., were often included on homepages. 32% of the pages included such useful links.

Research-The intent here was to see if faculty indicated what they were interested in researching personally and professionally. What are their research or academically related interests, what have they published, what are they studying or what are their special professional concerns right now? As with resources, just 32% of the pages indicated such.

Page Up-2-Date-Not an easy category to evaluate. Just 20% of pages were up-2-date. In many other cases, I simply could not tell. Some syllabi for example, did not have semester or year on them, some faculty were on sabbatical and others were partially current regarding some item or other. Never mind old email address or office locations.


Some homepages were simply excellent, complying with nearly all of the categories above. The condensed table below summarizes compliance. In a nutshell, 59% of the pages scored above 50% of compliance, while 40% were below 50%. The largest cohort was 23%, averaging out at 55%, followed closely with 18% of pages below 30% compliance.

Faculty pages grading at 90% or above:



Faculty pages grading between 80% and 90%:



Faculty pages grading between 70% and 80%:



Faculty pages grading between 60% and 70%:



Faculty pages grading between 50% and 60%:



Faculty pages grading between 40% and 50%:



Faculty pages grading between 30% and 40%:



Faculty pages grading under 30%:




Conclusions and Recommendations:

No one is to blame for any of this, since expectations have never been clearly articulated. There was an implied consensus as to goals, purpose and use of homepages. There was no monitoring, guidelines, or pressure to comply. The need to stay current, that is, update the homepages, is the major problem or unmet need. Who should do this is an all together different question. With the adoption of FrontPage, faculty could easily stay current. Whether they should be the technician here (as opposed to some official department or school webmaster) needs to be determined. Efforts in the past to have a competent "websupport staff person" in each building have failed miserably.

On a positive note, there are interested, committed and competent staff on campus who are working on a template. This does not mean format uniformity (though that could be a goal), but content continuity. I am referring here to an SHU Faculty Information page, not a personal page. Information would be uniform, layout could vary, and links to a personal home page (pictures of children, pets, vacation spots) could or even should exist on or from the information page. This would allow for individuality and creativity.

After several meetings with appropriate administrators/staff, it was "agreed" that the following items would be included in the "template:"
-Faculty name, degrees (year), education, specialties,
-Faculty Photo
-office location, email address
-links back to department (perhaps college and university)
-teaching interests, new courses, courses taught
-research interests, publications, current research
-publications of some significance
-committee work on campus, community service
-any awards, grants, works in progress
-courses taught in current semester
-syllabi of current courses being taught
-course expectations, outlines, work project assignments
No need to wait for a template. Ideally, the time to do is now.
Respectfully submitted
Philip Kayal
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