Maxient, NIU looks to improve transparency

By Batul Cutlerywala

DeKALB — University officials are looking into ways to better inform the campus about its use of Maxient, a software system that collects and stores students’ data.

Kristen Foley, a parent of a Greek student, said during a Feb. 15 Board of Trustees meeting how she thought it was unfair for Greek students, who are put into the software to ensure they’re complying with the various conduct standards, to be lumped in with troubled students.

Maxient Co-owner Aaron Hark said universities and colleges use his software product to keep track of incidents and compared the system to news reporters’ usage of Microsoft Word to type an article.

“We provide a software product that colleges and universities can use for receiving incident reports, those can be behavior related, academic integrity or plagiarism,” Hark said.

Hark said his company does not actively monitor NIU students, nor is it directly connected with students on an individual level. Maxient cannot access what NIU administrators put into the software, he said.

Hark said university officials decide who can access Maxient incident recordings, and their level of access depends on their position. The software company allows each institution to decide the details of the program to let it benefit the students and staff.

The type of reports his software could hold may include any incident that concerns the administration, such as violations of academic or conduct policies.

“We figure out a platform for them to get those reports and then for them to store the records of what they do related to them,” Hark said. “It gives them a sorting mechanism by which they can upload documents, they can send letters, they can deadline dates and follow up.”

Steven K. Priepke, senior associate Dean of Students and director of Judicial Affairs at University of Miami, said his university upgraded to Maxient around 2008 to efficiently “train and teach” the employees and students.

The students are made fully aware when they become part of the Maxient system. Every time there is a file made about a student, the student receives a notification in the form of an email directly generated by Maxient, Priepke said.

“Maxient is a discipline and case management software, so it makes it a lot easier for us to follow our cases, document our cases, conduct all of our business electronically,” Priepke said. “It’s just about easier and more efficient functioning of the discipline process and the case managements process for everyone, students and staff.”

Dean of Students Kelly Wesener Michael said the administration is looking into the best way to present the university’s data capturing system to students. She said she expects minimal progress to be made by fall 2018.

The student conduct budget for Maxient is $8,000 each year, Wesener Michael said.

Hark said he thinks the administration missed a “teaching moment” because they could have articulated Maxient better to students. He said the negative connotation of the term watch list by NIU administration is not a shared opinion; however, if consumers have improvement recommendations, Maxient is willing to listen.

Hark said NIU has been more public about the usage of Maxient than most universities and colleges by recognizing his software on the university’s student conduct webpage.

“Hopefully they do a better job at explaining the system, the watch list and why these features matter, especially in a school the size of NIU,” Hark said.