About 300 Eastern Michigan University students had an early brush with the Y2K bug in April and May when reprogramming to head off future computer problems went awry, school officials said.
Students temporarily fell behind on tuition payments, and in some cases were left without money for books and living expenses. Special university checks tided some students over until the problem was sorted out.
According to school officials and others involved, the attempt to prepare for the financial aid system for the 1999-2000 school year rendered some 1998-1999 data unreadable.
Depending on who is doing the talking, school officials now say that the computer problems are entirely or nearly entirely resolved. But some student leaders question whether the problem should have happened in the first place.
"Certain things took longer to do, and problems ensued while converting the whole system," said Sherman Martin, lead programmer analyst for the University Computing Department, who was assigned to reprogram the financial aid system. "There were problems we didnt anticipate. Im not going to go into technical issues, its a difficult area, and Im not going to say any more."
The software supplier for Easterns financial aid department, Sigma Systems Inc., in Denver, Colo., flew a technician to Ypsilanti to assist with technical difficulties.
"Typically, we dont send an individual out on an emergency basis with only a one-day notice," said Raymond Timmons, CEO of Sigma. "Basically they had a year and a half to do this. Theyve had several people leave who were critical to the project, and had a brand-new programmer with not much experience on this project dealing with the financial aid department and financial aid regulations."
Timmons said the University of Michigan, Central Michigan University and Western Michigan University, which also use Sigma software, implemented Y2K programs over a course of six to eight months. He said he doesnt believe they experienced the same problems.
Todd Heft, EMUs Student Government student concerns co-chair, questions why Sigmas technician wasnt there at the beginning of the reprogramming.
"For a system as large as he was working on, it wouldve been ideal to have the technician there," said Heft. "When youre dealing with something as important as financial aid, you shouldnt be guessing, and you should have someone there so you dont have to guess."
Timothy Rich, former president of Easterns student government and now an EMU alumni, said there was no excuse for the delays that students encountered. Although special checks were issued to students within 48 hours of problems being discovered, he said "that can be too late. Theres no excuse for these delays."
Pat Mroczek, manager of news services for EMUs public information department said all programming problems have been resolved.
"The software issue has been resolved, and we are pleased to announce our system is Y2K compliant, fully operational and that all programs are running successfully," said Mroczek.
However, Bernice Lindke, director of the Office of Financial Aid, said minor problems remain.
Looking ahead, Carol Gorney, financial aid adviser, said the university has authorized overtime to ensure that students have their money for fall term in a timely fashion.