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Sherman Ave Freshman Guide: Northwestern's Inoperable Online Overlord, CAESAR

Sherman Ave Freshman Guide: Northwestern's Inoperable Online Overlord, CAESAR

Look at me (this article.) Then look at Facebook. Now back. To me. In the time it took you to switch pages, you would’ve been logged out of CAESAR, Northwestern’s all-purpose online tool for everything from bill payments to class signups and beyond.

That’s right. This shithole piece of software is both a fair-weather friend and an idiot. But we’re FORCED to hang out with him, because we depend on the resources he holds in his sweaty, inept hands – essentially, CAESAR holds the keys to our lives as students, the power to dictate our futures and our course schedules. It’s like – well, it’s kinda how I’d imagine hanging out with the real Caesar would have been, if the real Caesar had been hideous, even more ruthless, and totally impractical. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present you all with a short list of why the term “student information portal” is actually rather misleading – why, in reality, CAESAR is actually a portal into the FUCKING UNDERWORLD.

1. It is FUGLY. Last time I checked, a color scheme of boring-link blue, even-more-boring industrial death blue, semi-lime green and deep purple was hardly conducive to my course signup. Having five or six different and uniquely hideous fonts that were probably selected by Stevie Wonder on every page doesn’t really add to the aesthetic qualities of the site, either. The whole thing is totally against the principles of both graphic design AND Feng Shui. And at a school with so many design nerds (thanks, Medill!) CAESAR ought to be ashamed of itself – for some of our students, signing up for classes using CAESAR is a bigger joke than  my pet dachshund teaching equivalence relations to mathematics majors at MIT. Which, by the way, would be awesome.

2. It is more difficult to use effectively than a degree in Art History with – gasp – little to no extracurricular involvement. You cannot press backspace. It’s incompatible with Google Chrome. I have to click on more buttons to get to my transcript than there are outsourced telemarketing jobs in India. Sometimes, when you press buttons, the subsequent page pops up in another window just for funsies. And when you get locked out of a class by 15 minutes because a page failed to load, or you got logged out of the site due to “inactivity,” you’ll be ready to pull an Asterix and rebel against our shitty Roman overlord.

3. There are more false alarms and potential heart attack-provokers than a Northwestern football game. Where are my grades? Oh, shit…I’m looking at the Fall Quarter for 2010. How do I get to Spring 2012? I’m NOT ENROLLED IN ANY CLASSES?!?! WTF?!?!?! DIDN’T I JUST SIGN UP FOR THEM?!?! ….Oh wait, it’s technically “summer quarter” now. Where’s my Fall quarter schedule and how do I view it? Ugh, this is so complicated. Oh fuck, I forgot to evaluate my teachers – now I can’t view the nearly illegible and conflicting “CTEC” reports (more on those later) and I CAN’T FIGURE OUT WHICH MATH IS THE EASIEST!!!! AAAH and what is “special topics in english: racial phantasmagoria and the industry of hate” anyway? Is there a course description or book list? NO?!?! WILL THERE BE A 20-PAGE RESEARCH PAPER ON UNCLE TOM’S CABIN?!?! I’M SO SICK OF UNCLE TOM’S CABIN!!!!

*deep breath* I’ll just ask my slacker friend what he recommends instead.

4. CTECs are a great way for students to bitch and teachers to ignore their stated shortcomings. Also they are like hydrogen monoxide for easy distros. CTECs are compiled student evaluations of classes that we conscientious Northwestern students fill out every quarter in order to tell our peers which classes require the least work and also are the most fun.

Some sample CTECs:

From Introduction to Law in the Political Arena:

“SO MUCH READING YOU WILL LITERALLY DIE, i mean it's interesting stuff, but the 29347234732 pages of reading kinda killed all the joy i could have had this quarter.”

From Nature of Plants:

“THE EASIEST CLASS I HAVE EVER TAKEN, AUTOMATIC A/A solid learning experience.”

“The course should really be called [the professor’s] Favorite Things to Eat and Favorite Flowers... since that is all she talks about. Waking up at 9:30 am for this class was brutal and every time I attended I found that I learned nothing.”

The CTEC system is in theory a good idea. However, the downside of this ostensibly kind, anonymous advice-giving student network is that it’s also accessible to the administration and the professors who teach and allow the courses, and in practice the process usually works against the students.

Here’s why: It is almost definitely easier to make tests harder than to improve the overall quality of a course or a professor. The former is a complex and multi-layered beast, unmeasurable by any particular quality, while the latter is generally dependent on which professors have tenure. That electrical engineering prof with across-the-board 2s on his CTECS? He has tenure, so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Oh BTW – he’s also a Holocaust denier! Go, U Northwestern. Break right through that line…of ethical standards.

So by rating classes a 1 out of 6 on the “difficulty” scale we inevitably make those professors feel like shit and make their classes ten times trickier later on. Nature of Plants students, I’m looking at YOU. WHERE HAVE ALL THE EASY NATURAL SCIENCE DISTROS GONE? Oh, right – they’ve been conquered by the might of CAESAR. Veni Vidi Vici, amirite.

5. Cash Rules Everything Around Morty Oh well. We’re stuck with this cunt of a system because some Northwestern alum who donated a lot of money invented it. And there’s another thing that, as a bright-eyed baby freshie, you should probably know. Like a psychotic ex-girlfriend, Northwestern University sometimes cares more about the people who are done with it – and occasionally throw large sums of money at it – than the people who contribute regular funds and most of their waking hours.

Which means that our quarterly sessions with CAESAR are really let's-get-back-together sex sessions with our batshit crazy cyber ex-girlfriend, illuminating why our time with CAESAR can be so frustrating, emotionally disconcerting, and ultimately unsatisfactory. It's probably because there are so many buttons to push.

Let’s totally just stab CAESAR.

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